The Vatican just released a new document reiterating that protestant churches aren’t really churches because they don’t have apostolic succession, hence no sacraments. That’s boring–the Vatican II teaching there was pretty clear. What was interesting is that Papa Benedict felt the need to defend Vatican II against conservative catholics.
The text starts off with this:
First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?
Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.
This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation”. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention.
Now I personally love it when catholics claim their dogma isn’t reversing. It sends me back to the history books digging out anti-reformation catholic propaganda. 45 seconds of googling returned this interesting paragraph from the Council of Florence:
[The Roman Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.
Now let’s compare that with the text from Papa Benedict:
“It follows that 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”.
Sometimes the spirit even uses Protestant ‘churches’ to save people. Doesn’t that beat all? It’s almost as if somebody would have expected that no protestants would have been saved. But where would a good catholic have gotten an idea like that? Well, the Council of Florence (among others) implies it. If no schismatics will go to heaven and all protestants are schismatics, then no protestants will go to heaven. It’s that simple. And indeed for generations of Tridentine catholics it was just that simple.
Fortunately nobody in the post Vatican II world believes that any more (which is all to the good). But now the Pope has the unenviable job of trying to tell everybody in the world with a straight face that this is what the Vatican has been saying all along when anybody with ten minutes and an internet connection can look at the texts and show him wrong.