The head of the Vatican's office for Christian unity has responded to concerns among Europe's Protestant church leaders over the Vatican's recent statement asserting that the Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ.
The 16-page document, ratified by Pope Benedict XVI in July, stated that the Roman Catholic Church is "the one true Church of Christ."
It also claimed that "communities emerging from the Reformation" – the Protestant and Anglican Churches – are "not Churches in the proper sense of the word."
In an attempt to temper the assertion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly currently taking place in Sibiu, Romania, that by claiming other communities "were not churches in the proper sense, we did not mean that these others were somehow false churches."
"We meant that the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) or the Church of England, for example, have a different understanding of what the church is," the ecumenical leader stated.
Bishop Wolfgang Huber, chair of the council of the EKD, said he regretted the negative phrasing of the Vatican's statement in deeming some churches to be "not churches in the proper sense." He added, however, that he was encouraged to hear Kasper's more positive description of communities having their own understanding of what it means to be the church.
"We continue on our journey together," said Huber, "with the Holy Spirit leading us."
The president of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, also pushed back concerns over the Vatican statement.
While noting that the statement did not reflect a Protestant view of the Church or of Protestantism, De Clermont said the Vatican's assertions were "nothing new" and should not be given too much weight.
"Ecumenical life does not issue from the summit, but from the base of the church," he said.
Currently, some 2,000 delegates from churches across Europe are gathered for the Third European Ecumenical Assembly to share their vision and hopes for renewal and unity on a continent that both secular and religious press have described as "post-Christian" and thoroughly secularized.
The assembly, which has as its theme "The light of Christ shines upon all. Hope for renewal and unity in Europe," is being organized jointly by the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of Europe (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) – which groups most Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches in Europe.
According to reports, European identity, other faiths, migration, creation, justice and peace will be on the agenda for the Sept. 4-9 assembly, alongside questions of unity, spirituality and witness.
Delegates will also share in prayer and worship from different traditions; discover the Christian heritage and hopes of Romania – a nation which looks forward to playing a full part in Europe; and set an agenda for common witness and action across Europe at a time of tremendous challenge.
Christian Post reporter Eric Young contributed to this report.