Christian Leaders Rebut Vatican's 'One True Church' Claim

Christian leaders have challenged the Vatican's claim that the Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ.

In a letter addressed to Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, the Rev Dr Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), questioned the Vatican's statement at a time when unity is at the forefront of the global church agenda.

"We are puzzled by the release of a statement of this kind at this time in the history of the church," wrote Dr Nyomi in the letter on Tuesday. "An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ ... goes against the spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ.

"It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church," the letter read. "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity."

The Vatican reaffirmed that only the Roman Catholic Church is "the one true Church of Christ" in a corrective document released Tuesday ratified by Pope Benedict XVI, according to Agence France-Presse.

In addition to clarifying confusion on the Catholic Church's identity, the text also claims to aid in holding effective ecumenical dialogue in the future.

"However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants, but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith," the document said.

The 16-page text had also explicitly declared "communities emerging from the Reformation" - the Protestant and Anglican churches - are "not Churches in the proper sense of the word", but rather "ecclesial communities".

In response, Dr Nyomi said, "For now, we are thankful to God that our calling to be part of the church of Jesus Christ is not dependent on the interpretation of the Vatican.

"It is a gift of God," the WARC head wrote in his letter. "Receiving this gift, we appreciate the Roman Catholic Church as a part of this family."

The WARC head speaking for his organisation said it hopes the Roman Catholic Church moves beyond "exclusivist claims" in order to further the cause of Christian unity.

The World Council of Churches, meanwhile, responded to the Vatican statement by recalling the affirmation of its 9th Assembly in Brazil last year, which concluded that, "Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it. Each church fulfils its catholicity when it is in communion with the other churches."

[With contributions from Maria Mackay in London]