Holy Mother Church has done it again. Amid all her brilliant statements on economic liberation in the year of Jubilee, defense of human dignity, and the imperative of confession (see the pope at Yad Vashem), one of the highest ranking cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church recently released documents that deemed the rest of the Christian family as "suffering from defects."
I'd like to be able to say that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, didn't really mean his declaration that all non-Catholics are in a "gravely deficient situation in comparison with [Roman Catholics] who have the fullness of the means of salvation." But he did mean it that way. The question is why?
For those of you who don't know Cardinal Ratzinger, he is affectionately known as "The (doctrinal) Enforcer." Every church has at least one. He has poked, prodded, reprimanded, defrocked, and silenced anyone who has suggested a model of church that is not clerical, dogmatic, and rule-bound. Inclusive language makes him queasy. Liberation theology and women's ordination give him hives. Now his shields are up against religious "relativism."
A little context is helpful. Cardinal Ratzinger is upset with some Asian bishops engaged in interfaith dialogue with Buddhists. He's also afraid of closer relations with the Eastern Orthodox church, which invests much greater authority at the level of bishop than Catholics do. He is also, undoubtedly, making political overtures to increase the conservative climate within the Vatican as he anticipates a successor to Pope John Paul II.