The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Roman Catholic Church recently issued a document entitled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church." This document has elicited strong reactions from many Protestant communions, including the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, in his response to the CDF document, reaffirmed the ELCA's commitment to on-going dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church particularly with regard to the difficult questions of ecclesiology and ministry.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity, in a Vatican Radio address, sought to reassure Protestants that the Roman Catholic Church is still committed to ecumenical dialogue. He stated that the "declaration is not taking back anything of the ecumenical progress already reached, but drawing attention to the ecumenical task that still lies ahead." Ann Riggs of the National Council of Churches, in her official response to the statement, reminds Protestants that this was an "in-house" document, i.e. written for Catholics, not for Protestants. Even so, she argued that "it affords us all an opportunity for more dialogue and more insight. This reaffirms that the ecumenical nature and purpose of the Second Vatican Council is still very much alive within and outside Catholic circles."
John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, offers a less sanguine perspective in this piece: "Struggle to Reassert Traditional Catholic Identity Scores Two Wins." The Catholic News Service, in its story on the document, also raised the question of why it was released at this particular moment. "The Vatican said it was because of possible confusion in theological and ecumenical circles. Those who see a grand design in Vatican actions, however, suspected it may have been another olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- just three days after the Tridentine Mass decree. In this reading, the Vatican has delivered a double demonstration, liturgical and doctrinal, that answers some of the Lefebvrites' strongest objections about the modern church."
As a newly appointed member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue (which is now in Round XI), my first reaction to the release of the CDF document was one of frustration even though it did not state anything new. Mostly, I was frustrated with the way in which the document was presented. Although it was written to Catholics, it was not written in a spirit of ecumenical sensitivity nor in a way that emphasized the real -- though imperfect -- communion that Catholics claim to have with other Christians in spite of our on-going differences in how we each understand "the church."