This post presupposes that anybody desiring to comment will have read the two previous posts on Ecumenism. It also presupposes that they are familiar with Communionis notio (1993) and Dominus Iesus (2000), documents issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during Joseph Ratzinger's stint as Prefect (and ordered to be published by the Sovereign Pontiff). Lack of such familiarity would render criticism of distinctly limited value. Otherwise, I welcome help. As a poor schismatical Anglican, I have no right to expect to pontificate on Roman Catholic teaching without the risk of correction.
We have seen that authentic sacramental ecclesial life can exist outside the canonical boundaries of the RC Church - what it seems to me convenient to call the Roman Unity. This is not the opinion merely of slushy post-Vatican II liberals; it is the praxis of Rome which has developed since very early days. But how can this be reconciled with the bed-rock tradition that the Roman Unity is the one true Church of Christ? - a tradition which I do not dispute. The answer lies in the teaching of the two CDF documents which I have noted above. They concentrate, not on 'denominations' or 'communions', but on the Universal Church and particular Churches. Such a particular church is, normatively, a local eucharistic community of Bishop, Presbyterate, diaconate, and laos. And even where canonical bonds with Rome are broken, such corporate entities remain true particular churches (the documents, of course, have the Byzantines and Orientals mainly in mind), although the absence within them of the ministry of the bishop of Rome means they are lacking an element of the fulness of what it is to be a Church. And they are true sister churches with particular churches within the Roman Unity. Careful: in the strict sense, the RC and Orthodox Churches are not, considered as denominations, sister churches. Quite the contrary. What I mean is that - for example - the Byzantine diocese of Patras (Bishop, Priests, deacons, and people) is a sister church of the Latin diocese of Palermo ... and of the Coptic diocese of Fayyum ... and so on. The Roman Unity is the One True Church; but outside that unity are elements which totally and exclusively belong to that one true church. In the case of Christians who possess valid Orders, those elements include the wholeness of authentic sacramental ecclesial life with all that flows from it. Ratzinger adds that such separated particular churches are wounded by their separation from the See of Peter; a statement which he neatly complements with an admission that the Roman Unity (my term) is itself wounded by the separation from it of ancient embodiments of authentic Christianity in other cultures.
Brilliant, in my view. There is only one Church; it is the Catholic Church; and yet separated particular churches are true particular (that is, local) churches (I iterate: this does not mean that, as old-style Anglicans liked to dream, the Roman, Eastern, and English 'Churches' are three great branches of one tree). Ratzinger has provided a rationale for the praxis which Rome had de facto applied in its ecumenical dealings for hundreds of years, and a basis for real ecumenical advance. Lefebvreists and other 'integralists' may accuse Ratzinger of 'liberalism', but I suspect their cupboard would be pretty bare when it came to giving an alternative theological explanation of the ancient and deeply traditional praxis I have described in my previous posts. As for liberals both inside and outside the RC Church who dislike the assertion that the Roman Unity is the one and only Church, well, I think they ought to grow up and try to get a real eccesiology. And as for all those who made such a rumpus when Dominus Iesus was published, I think they were intemperate bigots who ought to have read it. I don't exclude poor George Carey from these strictures.
Oh dear. I still haven't finished.