Egypt’s Copts says Catholic primacy claim ‘fans tensions’

172.jpgEgypt’s Coptic Church on Wednesday rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be “the one true Church of Christ,” saying such provocative declarations unnecessarily stirred up tensions.“Such words fan tensions and arouse negative emotions,” spokesman Father Yaqub Suleiman told AFP. “You shouldn’t fan tensions or provoke others. We really don’t need that.”

The Vatican on Tuesday issued a document reaffirming the primacy of Roman Catholicism, setting itself on a collision course with rival Christian denominations and reviving a centuries’ old debate.

Other Christian churches, including the Orthodox Coptic, “lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church,” said the document released by the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and ratified by the pope.

But, said Suleiman, “no one can exclude someone from God’s grace because the path to salvation is open to all and God is the only judge.”

Suleiman also disagreed with the Vatican’s opinion on the infallibility of the pope saying such a view was “completely erroneous. Only God is infallible. The pope is a human being, and as such liable to make mistakes.”

The head of the Coptic church, Pope Shenuda III, refused to comment on the Vatican document when he returned to Cairo on Wednesday after seeking medical attention in the United States.

The document claimed to be aimed at clearing up “confusion and doubt” which has crept into the Church’s relationship with other faiths and “offers valuable indications for the future of ecumenical dialogue.”

Pope Benedict XVI made unity with Protestant and Orthodox churches a priority of his pontificate in his first message as pope in April 2005.

“However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants, but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith,” the document said.

Central to that identity is the idea that eastern or Orthodox churches were suffering a “wound” because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope.

The document does, however, ackowledge them as “particular or local Churches.” It says that, although separated, they “have true sacraments and above all — because of the apostolic succession — the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds.”

Despite its apparently provocative stance, the Vatican document did recognise the “many elements of sanctification and truth” in other Christian denominations.

Suleiman sought to give the Vatican the benefit of the doubt: “Perhaps they were talking about those who have left the Church or rejected their faith?”

Copts are estimated to form six to 10 percent of Egypt’s 76 million people and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

The Copts have been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, when they took a different position over the nature of Christ from that of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, then still in union.

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