BY SIMON CALDWELL
RELATIONS between the Catholic Church and the Anglican communion threatened to reach a new low this week after the Vatican declared that Protestant denominations should be known simply as "ecclesial communities".
A document authorised by Pope Benedict XVI said Protestant communions are not true churches and that their priests are not genuine ministers.
The four-page clarification of doctrine is likely to put farther strain on relations between the Anglican and Catholic communions, which are already being tested by plans to ordain active homosexuals and women as priests and bishops in the Church of England.
The document addressed five questions on the Church and its relation to other faiths. The response to the first stated that the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s did not change any Catholic doctrine but rather "developed. deepened and more fully explained it".
The final question asked why official documents of the Coun . cil did not use the word "Church" with regard to "those Christian communities born out of the Reformation of the 16th century". The document then explained that such ecclesial communities cannot be called churches "in the proper sense" because they broke with the Apostolic succession. It said that as a result they have "no sacramental priesthood".
It said that the Catholic Church was the "one true Church of Christ" and that although aspects of the truth of the Christian faith can be found in other churches they lacked "all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church". It was signed by Cardinal William Levada, the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
Its publication threatens to reignite the row that ensued with the 2000 publication of Dominus Jesus, a document issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which was condemned by Protestants for asserting the primacy of the Catholic faith above all other religions.
Anglican leaders later made their anger known by snubbing an invitation to join Pope John Paul ii as he proclaimed St Thomas More the patron saint of politicians.
Catholic officials in London said this week they were hoping for a "measured responsefrom their Anglican counterparts.
Mgr Andrew Faley, an assistant general secretary of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, said: "This doesn't say anything that we don't already know about between the two communions. that we don't already recognise and have reflected upon. The Anglicans aren't going to feel themselves being pushed into a corner."
But the Church of England said the text sent out confusing signals about the Catholic Church's commitment to dialogue.
Canon Gregory Cameron, director of ecumenical work at the Anglican Communion office in London, said: "It is paradoxical for leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to indicate to its ecumenical partners that it no longer expects all other Christians merely to return to the 'true Roman Catholic faith' but then for Rome to say that it alone has full identity with the Church of Christ and all others are lacking."