Q. Why did the pope say that all the Protestant Churches are not really Churches in the recent Vatican document?
A. Because the definition that the Catholic Church has for “church” is very specific. This was not published as a put-down of the Protestant’s. It was a point of clarification about the definition that the Catholic Church has for the word “Church”. The Pope has a right to express what we believe. The Catholic Church sees herself as The Church founded by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. She does not see herself as just another denomination among many.
A body of Christians would be classified as a CHURCH if it has retained authentic sacraments even though the church itself is not in union with the Catholic Church. Thus, the Eastern Orthodox CHURCHES, although separated, have maintained true apostolic succession-the priesthood and the Eucharist.
However, the Protestant “churches” rejected physical apostolic succession, sacraments, and the Eucharist as celebrated in the Catholic Church, after the Reformation. Therefore, they do not possess apostolic succession, nor do they even claim that their ministers have all been ordained, in an unbroken, physical line back to the apostles, by the laying on of hands. And, except for Lutherans and Anglicans most do not believe they are receiving the real body and blood of Christ in communion. For this reason, we call them Ecclesial Communities. But as you will see from the quotes below, these communities are related to the Catholic Church and Christ.
In the document the Pope says
“we affirm that the Church of Christ is present and operative in Churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in union with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. “
It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance or 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”
Thus we say with sacred scripture,
There is ONE body and ONE Spirit—just as you were called to ONE hope when you were called— ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism; ONE God and Father of all..” Ephesians 4:5-6