Catholic Church Charged With Soul Poaching

VATICAN CITY -- The Roman Catholic Church on Friday defended its "right and duty" to spread its message to nonbelievers and to welcome converts, particularly from other Christian churches.

A document from the Vatican's doctrinal department also rejected charges from some quarters that spreading the faith and receiving converts amounted to proselytism, or seeking new members aggressively or through coercion.

The document comes after the Russian Orthodox Church accused Catholics of trying to poach souls in the former Soviet Union and as a growing number of Anglicans are converting to Catholicism following deep divisions in their own church.

The 19-page "Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," was written by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict headed until his election as pontiff in 2005.

Evangelization, the document said, was "an inalienable right and duty, an expression of religious liberty," adding that the right to share one's own faith with others was not respected in some countries.

It said the note had been made necessary to contrast notions, including from some Catholic theologians, that attempts to convince others of the primacy of Catholicism was a limitation of their freedom.

"The incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and age. It is entrance into the gift of communion with Christ," the document said.

Previous documents by the same doctrinal department have angered other Christians. In July, one such document said Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism were not full churches of Jesus Christ.