The Vatican said Tuesday that Christian communities outside Roman Catholicism were not full churches. Protestant leaders were offended and said inter-denominational dialogue was now at risk. German commentators agreed.
Pope Benedict XVI has stirred controversay before
German commentators had a sharp eye on Pope Benedict XVI, himself a German, following the pontiff's comments that other Christian churches outside Roman Catholicism were "defective."
Benedict approved a document released Tuesday from his old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reiterated church teaching on Catholic relations with other Christians.
The 16-page document described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches, but said they suffered from a "wound" since they do not recognize the primacy of the pope.
However, the document also said that the "wound is still more profound" in Protestant denominations.
"Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress ... it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to them," the paper said.
Protestants not feeling warm and fuzzy about pontiff right now
The Vatican text reiterates the controversial document "Dominus Iesus," which the pope -- at that time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- issued in 2000.
With the current document, its authors said they sought to address "erroneous" interpretations and theological "misunderstandings" deriving from the adoption of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
The Vatican said it wanted to again stress the issue because it said some Catholic theologians continued to misunderstand it.
The document is the pontiff's second strong reaffirmation of Catholic tradition within a week, following a decree on Saturday restoring the old Latin Mass alongside the modern liturgy.
The Vatican document said dialogue with other Christians remained "one of the priorities of the Catholic Church," but it nonetheless prompted swift criticism from Protestants, Lutherans and other Christian denominations spawned by the 16th century reformation.
"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 World Alliance of Reformed Churches said.
Benedict made a landmark visit to Cologne's synagoge in 2005
"It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," the alliance wrote in a letter to the Vatican's key ecumenical official, Cardinal Walter Kasper.
Mainz's Allgemeine Zeitung said that "the path toward ecumenism -- if it is desired -- is based on respect from both sides. A fair dialogue cannot be achieved if one side asserts the claim of embodying the one, sole truth. For those seeking commonalities on the basis of the Christian message, these "answers" (from the pope) are just one more punch."
Mannheim's Mannheimer Morgen noted that the pontiff was merely sticking to his principles in his comments. "One may find the pope's remarks outrageous, but Benedict is actually just maintaining the stance he's always had. He has not transformed himself from a Conservative into a Liberal after taking up the papacy. He has always deflected popular notions of belief. By focusing on the leading role of the Roman Catholic Church, he is keeping in line with the logic of the Vatican. For those who believe in ecumenism, the pope's words were brusque. On the other hand, they can be grateful to Benedict: it is now clear that Catholics and Protestants will not forge closer ties during his papacy. Both sides know where they stand. That is certainly better than an elusory hope that will never become reality," the paper wrote.
The Pope said the Catholic Church is "true"
Münster's Westfälische Nachrichten took a pragmatic approach to Benedict's comments. "Texts in which the Church is only concerned with itself, in which doctrines and interpretations shift only very slightly, provide material for a theologians' circus, and for common rituals of critique. But they completely miss the realities in which believers live. Believers want help in their daily lives, to deal with their jobs, their families, living with spouses of different faiths, in raising their children to be responsible Christians.
Marl's Recklinghäuser Zeitung said that "people can disagree about how to approach ecumenism. One can debate about whether different faiths should share sacraments. But one should not belittle other people or willfully snub them. During the Second Vatican Council, the then young Joseph Ratzinger was one of the reformers of the Catholic Church in the midst of change. As pope, the one-time "rebel" now wants to re-establish the Latin Mass and dig up things that should have long been laid to rest. That's sad," the paper wrote.