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Vatican: Our Brand <i>Is</i> Best

Asserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican issued a declaration Tuesday rejecting what it said are growing attempts to depict all religions as equal.

CBS News Correspondent Sabina Castelfranco reports the 36-page declaration accused some Catholic theologians of manipulating fundamental truths of the church to justify religious pluralism as a principle. The idea that "one religion is as good as another" endangers the church's missionary message, the declaration said.

"If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that, objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation," said the declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy.

Turning to other Christian denominations, the document said "they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Roman Catholic Church."

The document is certain to raise questions about the direction of the church's efforts for better relations with non-Catholics. Pope John Paul II has made inter-religious dialogue one of the principal goals of his 22-year papacy, but the document made clear that for the Vatican, equality refers to the "personal dignity" of individuals and not to religious doctrine.

Anglicanism's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, said "the idea that Anglican and other churches are not 'proper churches' seems to question the considerable gains we have made."

The World Council of Churches said it would be a "tragedy" if Christian cooperation was "obscured by the churches" dialogue about their relative authority and status - however important they may be."

Tuesday's document and remarks at a news conference by the congregation's head, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, repeatedly referred to a trend toward a "religious relativism."

Ratzinger said the "principle of tolerance and respect for freedom" promoted by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council are today being "manipulated" and "wrongfully surpassed." He didn't name any of the errant theologians.

Regarding other Christians, the document said "there exists a single church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him." But it said "baptism" in other denominations "tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ."

The declaration, a complex theological document, was titled On the Unity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. It underlined that it was only reiterating long-held teaching, citing a Second Vatican Council declaration that "We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church.">

The Vatican's missionary activity has come under fire in some parts of the world. During a trip to India last year, where he faced protests by some Hindus, the pope called for religious tolerance but said the church had the right to spread its message.

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, who is active in dialogue with American Jews, said he didn't expect any problems from the reiteration of the church position. He attended the news conference.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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