Why, an ecumenical colleague asked, did the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) feel it was necessary to restate these points, already expressed in Dominus Iesus in 2000? The short answer seems to be: to resolve an in-house disagreement.But, when it comes down to it, the language could have been a little more respectful
The main drafter for Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Belgian theologian Gérard Philips, prophetically said that rivers of ink would be spilled on the change from is to subsists in with regard to the relationship between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. He was dead right.
There has been an ongoing debate within the CDF itself around the meaning of “subsists in” which, in both classical and medieval Latin, signifies “to remain, to be perpetuated.”
As an example of the ongoing debate, in December 2005 the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano carried a substantial article by one of the CDF’s consultors, Fr. Karl Becker, SJ, as to whether the change from is to subsists in meant that the council no longer maintained that the Church of Christ is identified with the Catholic Church, but recognized that it is also present, though less fully, in other Christian Churches, so that the Church of Christ extends beyond the limits of the Catholic Church. His answer is “no,” the council maintained the total identity between the two.
In the June 2006 issue of Theological Studies, Jesuit ecclesiologist Fr. Francis Sullivan of Boston College took him on in an article entitled “A Response to Karl Becker, S.J., on the Meaning of Substitit In”. Sullivan argues that “what motivated the approval of the change from est (is) to subsistit in was that it would make it possible for the council to acknowledge the fact that outside the Catholic Church are not only elements of the Church, but that there are churches and ecclesial communities.”
Or, to say it in a more respectful way, they are churches of another type. When one looks at the historic record, it is clear that they have manifested a different understanding of the Church of Christ and have not exhibited a desire to be church in the Catholic sense.