At least that is what the Pope is saying.
Now, before we go off the deep end, we must understand what is being said. According to a "Catholic" friend of mine, you could fill 500 pages with the definition and discussion of what constitutes a church.
In a nutshell, though, the Catholic Church defines a church by:
1. Having an ordained minister with apostolic succession. Apostolic succession means the pastor can trace his ordination back through the history of the church to a disciple of Jesus Christ. That is Peter, mostly, in the Catholic tradition.
2. Maintained unity and fellowship with the "one" church. This means that they haven't broken away from or rejected the Catholic church. The Catholic views itself as the "one" church because it has descended directly from the disciples. They recognize they have had their problems, but they have stuck it out and haven't gone off in a huff to start their own church.
While stating that Protestants are not really a "church," the Pope does recognize that the Spirit of Christ is at work in what the Protestants are doing. For Protestants, though, that may not seem like much encouragement.
But let's take a different view.
The Pope is attempting to protect the integrity of the ordained ministry and the word "church" as he sees it. It seems that any yahoo with an inkling can start a church and call himself/herself a pastor. There is no one there to say, "You don't have the qualifications," "You are teaching heresy," "You are not really a church." We have also seen the destruction caused by someone getting mad and running off to start their own church. We are called Protestants for a reason!
Let me give you an example. I spent 8 years learning the theology of the church and how to interpret the Bible. I didn't learn everything about doing ministry, but I received a good, foundational education. Not that this makes me better than anyone, it was just what I felt God wanted me to do to be prepared for the ministry of His Word. However, a friend of mine got on the internet and purchased an ordination certificate. The she started performing weddings. She had no training. She had no understanding of what she was doing.
It would be like purchasing a certificate that allowed me to do brain surgery or practice law.
I am not saying that seminary is the only way to educate or prepare oneself for the ministry. But, I am saying that being a pastor, and being ordained, is not something that should just be taken on a whim with an internet certificate. I believe that the role of the pastor is demeaned when we cheapen the entrance into it. Those called to professional ministry are called to a ministry of service with high expectations. That means being able to both do the job well and to do it with theological integrity.
Every time I hear of another internet ordained minister, I want to scream. It cheapens the role of the ordained pastor. And, I think that is how the Pope feels. The Catholic church is not the one who got angry and left. They have had their problems, and I certainly don't condone some of their actions. But, the Pope's point is that by their definition the Protestants are not a church. It is his attempt to protect the integrity of the word.
Viewed from that angle, I understand the Pope's statement without anger. I, however, disagree on his definition of church. Though I do believe we need to find (or found) some ordination standard so that some internet-savvy idiot can't claim to be an ordained minister. I could go on and on.
Here is a link to the original Papal statement.
What do you think? Does it cheapen the ministry? Does having different church denominations and governing bodies break the "unity" of the Church Universal?