Catholic Pride in 'One True Church' Makes Enemies, Says Coptic Pope

Pope Benedict XVI's pride in the primacy of Catholicism is making him enemies, said the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church.

"The man (Pope Benedict) makes enemies every time," said Pope Shenouda III, leader of the 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, according to the state-run daily Al-Ahram.

"In his first statements a few months back, he lost all the Muslims," he said Saturday, referring to the Pope's speech in Germany last year when he associated Islam with violence. "And now this time, he lost a lot of the Christian denominations because he has begun to err against Christians themselves."

Shenouda was reacting to the pope's approval of a document last Tuesday that reasserted the Vatican's position on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the "one true church," while all non-Catholic churches are simply "ecclesial communities."

"Other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation," the pope was quoted as saying.

The Coptic head said the statement was the result of Catholic pride, as though "they were the only Christians in the world," according to Reuters.

"We're not opposed to Catholics having pride in their church, but that doesn't mean that every church that doesn't join them isn't a church," he said.

Protestant leaders have also expressed disappointment at the Vatican's position as it came amid the growing ecumenical dialogue between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.

"We are puzzled by the release of a statement of this kind at this time in the history of the church," wrote the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, in a letter response. "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," Nyomi added. "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity."

However, many Protestant denominational heads and scholars have also pointed out that the Vatican's statement is nothing new.

"Similar statements and perspectives precipitated the 16th century Reformation nearly 500 years ago," Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

"At that time Martin Luther said, 'Popes and councils can err.' Apparently that is still true today," he added.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., one of the nation's preeminent evangelicals, was also not surprised by the Vatican's statement, and therefore "not offended."

In a recent blog, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the Southern Baptist Convention's flagship school – said the latest development "is not news in any genuine sense."

"It is news only in the current context of Vatican statements and ecumenical relations," Mohler wrote.

"No one familiar with the statements of the Roman Catholic Magisterium should be surprised by this development," he also commented.

Mohler further noted that evangelicals should appreciate the "candor" in the document.

"I appreciate the document's clarity on this issue," he stated. "It all comes down to this – the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue."

The Southern Baptist theologian argues that the issue is "worthy of division."

"The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church," Mohler wrote. "Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church.

"This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question," declared the scholar, who is often seen on national television representing the Christian voice.

Despite the disagreement over who belongs to the "true church," many Protestant denominational organizations have publicly stated their continual commitment to ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. These groups include the Lutheran World Federation, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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