The Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has now made it abundantly clear that the Church means what it says when it says the Holy Catholic Church of Rome is the place in which the Church on earth "subsists."
The document includes a delicate nuance on what is is, and more importantly, is not, at least in distinction from "subsists."
Third Question: Why was the expression 'subsists in' adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?
Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity.'
Protestant bodies (including Anglicans and all "Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century") are not proper "Churches," and aren't to be called such under this understanding. There is One Church, and it subsists in the entity with the successor of Peter at its head, and the Bishops in union with him. The rest of us must be content with the scattered "elements of sanctification and truth" we might have stowed in our baggage before we ran away from home. Whatever of value we have is derivative, and we bring nothing to the table that we didn't take from it. And of course, according to the Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the things we left behind was the Apostolic Succession. Lacking the valid priesthood, there is really very little we could bring to the eucharistic table.
This document makes it abundantly clear that the old model of ecumenism is still dominant: come home, prodigal children; Mother will forgive you. It is the same model of sedentary unity (unity around the Chair of Peter) that I contrasted with the more collegial model favored by William Reed Huntington some years ago. Anyone interested in the comparison can read the paper here. I submit it still holds. This document will be a blow to ecumenism, but it really is nothing new -- just a reminder of the costs and expectations in the wounded body of Christ.
Tobias Haller BSG