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  • Strong reactions emerge to Pope's exclusivity assertion

    Protestant and Catholic clergy lament Pope Benedict XVI's statement that non-Catholic denominations 'cannot be called churches ...'
  • Pope Benedict XVI's reassertion that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation drew strong reaction from local Catholics and Protestants this week, ranging from incredulity and outrage to suggestions that the statement was taken out of context.
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  • Pope Benedict XVI's reassertion that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation drew strong reaction from local Catholics and Protestants this week, ranging from incredulity and outrage to suggestions that the statement was taken out of context.
    "I was deeply, deeply saddened by that statement," said the Rev. Jim Clifford, director of Mission and Spiritual Care at Providence Medford Medical Center. "It's a slap in the face to our brothers and sisters who are pursuing salvation in Christ. To be pompous in our outlook is very un-Christian. I believe it will be a huge obstacle to the goal of bringing the different denominations together."
    Ted Myers, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ashland, said, "Pope who? C'mon, he's out of touch."
    Benedict approved a document released Tuesday that said other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches, riling Protestant leaders the world over and embarrassing some members of his own church.
    The commentary repeated church teaching that says the Catholic Church "has the fullness of the means of salvation."
    "Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," said the document released as the pope vacationed at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.
    The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles — and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said.
    The Rev. Liam Cary, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medford, said the pope's statements have been taken out of context. He said they refer to church doctrines pointing out how the Roman Catholic Church, which practices the original seven sacraments and traces its authority to the apostles, is distinguished from other "Christian bodies."
    "If you are going to have a conversation with people different from you, you have to be honest about who you are," said Cary. "The context is important. It's not meant to be demeaning to other people. It's a self-understanding of the church, a clarification of our identity."
    Calling himself a "very broad Protestant," Rich Lang, director of the interfaith, ecumenical Omega House at Southern Oregon University, said the pope is "an exclusivist, old-guard ultraconservative and I think he's circling the wagons."
    The Rev. Mike Walker, of Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church in Central Point, said he understood the doctrine of what makes a true church and that it started with Jesus, but he regrets that many people assume, erroneously, that the pope is saying non-Catholics will go to hell.
    "The pope doesn't believe that. He's saying we do have differences. But he's not changing the humanism of John Paul II or the theology of Vatican II. Other Christians do share in the plan of salvation," Walker said.
    The pope is not anti-ecumenical, he added, but he "needs to do a much better job on public relations, marketing and the way they do releases to the public."
    The papal document said the Roman Catholic Church alone is the mediator of salvation, though other beliefs can be its "instrument." It said, "These separated churches and communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."
    Pastor Kevin Gowland, of the First Church of the Nazarene in Medford, said that statement "seemed pretty gracious" but "I disagree there are defects "¦ the bottom line is that, if it were up to the Lord, he'd strip the denominations away and unite all Christians as one in him. He'd say, 'Boys, it's not about your religiosity; it's about your relationship with me."
    In his short tenure, the pope has triggered outrage with several statements, including one pointing out the violence and conquests of Islam and another saying indigenous peoples of South America welcomed Spanish conquest, as it brought them the faith.
    Local priests said these were taken out of context and, in fact, opened the door for constructive discussions with other faiths and churches.
    It was the second time in a week that Benedict has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-1965 meetings that modernized the church. On Saturday, Benedict revived the old Latin Mass — a move cheered by Catholic traditionalists but criticized by more liberal ones as a step backward from Vatican II.
    Methodist pastor Myers said the doctrine of superiority because of apostolic succession "does not hold water at all. He does that authenticity stance and that's what worries me. It can offend Muslims, Protestants and the Orthodox religions all in one breath."
    Clifford said, "This isn't the first time this (doctrine) has been espoused and it's not going to be the last. People of goodwill will have to look beyond this and recognize it's the way this pope sees it. We have to become more inclusive and welcoming."
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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