Los Angeles Times, Saturday, September 9, 2000
Mahony Affirms Interfaith Dialogue Despite
LARRY B. STAMMER
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony sought Friday to
reassure non-Catholic Christians and those of other faiths
that the Roman Catholic Church remains committed to interfaith
dialogue despite a strongly worded Vatican statement critical
of other churches and religions.
The Vatican statement, "Dominus
Iesus"--Lord Jesus--said this week that followers
of non-Christian faiths have "gravely deficient"
chances for salvation. It also said that other Christian
churches have "defects" but could be instruments
of salvation by the "spirit of Christ" acting
with "grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church."
Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, took
note of the statement's tone, described by one Lutheran
bishop as "bullying." "The tone of 'Dominus
Iesus' may not fully reflect the deeper understanding that
has been achieved through ecumenical and interreligious
dialogues over these last 30 years or more," Mahony
But he said it was "discouraging" to read a headline
in The Times last Wednesday that said the Vatican had declared
Catholicism the "sole path to salvation." "The
declaration does in fact affirm that those who are not formally
part of the Roman Catholic Church can, indeed, be saved,"
The cardinal pledged his "unyielding support"
for continued ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
The Los Angeles Times,
Saturday, September 9, 2000
Priests in Britain Reaffirm Ecumenism
Catholic priests in England and Wales offered
a strong reaffirmation of ecumenism in the wake of the controversial
statement on salvation, "Dominus
Iesus," issued by the Vatican on Tuesday.
The National Conference of Priests of England and Wales,
which represents 5,500 priests in the two countries, held
its annual conference for the first time in Wales. The priests
asked the English and Welsh bishops "to give public
assurance at this time that the Catholic Church is deeply
committed to continuing dialogue with other Christians."
The Vatican statement emphasized the church's position that
people who follow other faiths have "gravely deficient"
chances for salvation. The priests' resolution expressed
concern that the document's authors "did not foresee
the way certain sections of the media have reported the
The Los Angeles Times,
Wednesday, September 6, 2000
Vatican Declares Catholicism Sole Path to
RICHARD BOUDREAUX, LARRY B.
STAMMER, Times Staff Writers
VATICAN CITY--Censuring what it called the
spread of "religious relativism," the Vatican
on Tuesday instructed Roman Catholics to uphold the dogma
that their church is the sole path to spiritual salvation
for all humanity. "This truth of faith does not lessen
the sincere respect that the [Catholic] Church has for the
religions of the world," it said. "But it rules
out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism
[that] leads to the belief that one religion is as good
The bluntly worded declaration by the Vatican office that
oversees Catholic doctrine said that followers of non-Christian
faiths have "gravely deficient" chances for salvation
and that other Christian churches have "defects,"
partly because they do not recognize the authority of the
The statement broke no new theological ground, but its categorical
assertion of Catholic primacy offended some non-Catholic
clerics. Critics said it seemed to contradict Pope John
Paul II's frequent appeals to non-Christian religious leaders
to find common ground in one divinity.
Aimed mainly at Catholic theologians, the 36-page document
was the latest parry by Vatican conservatives in a test
of strength with liberals in John Paul's deeply divided
flock. The 80-year-old pope has shown symptoms similar to
Parkinson's disease, and as he weakens with age, such battles
over doctrine are read as part of the jockeying to choose
a successor after his death or retirement.
A similar fundamentalist position prevailed in June when
the Vatican ordered bishops to avoid references to "sister
churches" and instead remember that "the one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church is not sister but 'mother'
of all the particular [Christian] churches."
Msgr. Tarcisio Bertone, who signed Tuesday's document as
secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, said it had John Paul's explicit approval.
But the document, titled "Dominus
Iesus," or "Lord Jesus," underlined a
contradiction of John Paul's 22-year-old reign: No other
pope has worked harder to mend rifts between Christian churches
and promote understanding with non-Christian religions,
yet he has rigidly upheld church dogma and traditions that
antagonize other faiths.
As a result of John Paul's efforts and those of his papal
predecessors since the mid-1960s, the Vatican has been involved
in sensitive talks with Eastern Orthodox Christians and
Protestants, along with Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians,
about issues ranging from religious tolerance and human
rights to the bridging of arcane doctrinal differences.
'Reassertion of What's Been Said in the Past'
In October, for example, the Vatican and the Lutheran World
Federation signed a landmark joint declaration saying that
they agreed on most major points of doctrine.
Bishop Paul W. Egertson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America said the Vatican statement had "a bullying
kind of quality to it." "It's a reassertion of
what's been said in the past, but we haven't heard that
reasserted for a while," said Egertson, who leads his
church's Southern California West Synod in Los Angeles.
"We were hoping that . . . the need for that kind of
domineering or magisterial kind of statement would have
The Geneva-based World Council of Churches, representing
337 church bodies, said it would be a "tragedy"
if the Vatican's assertions about the relative authority
of churches obscured 35 years of ecumenical dialogue. "There
are other voices from the Vatican that are less strict and
stern, but it's realistic to acknowledge that this is the
official Catholic position and we cannot simply wish it
away," said the Rev. Konrad Raiser, the council's general
secretary. "Nevertheless, the dialogue will go on."
Bertone, the monsignor, told a Vatican news conference Tuesday
that the document was issued to correct the "errors
and ambiguities" of unnamed moderate Catholic theologians
that have become "widespread."
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the powerful German prefect of
the doctrinal congregation and chief author of the document,
said that those theologians were "manipulating and
exceeding" the principle of religious tolerance by
putting all religions on an equal level, "as if universal
and objective truth no longer existed."
The document acknowledged that individual non-Christians
can achieve spiritual salvation--but not through their own
religious rituals, which it said lack divine inspiration.
"Objectively speaking," it said, "they are
in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those
who, in the [Catholic] Church, have the fullness of the
means of salvation."
Instead, it asserted, their salvation can result only from
a divine grace that comes, in some mysterious way, from
Jesus Christ. The document urged theologians to seek to
understand how exactly this happens.
'The Sole Redeemer'
Meanwhile, the document said, Catholic missionaries are
obliged to preach to non-Christians that Jesus is "the
sole redeemer." The inter-religious dialogue in which
the Catholic Church has engaged other faiths, it said, is
simply "part of her evangelizing mission."
That assertion was expected to stir unease in Asia and other
places where Catholics are a tiny minority. Some bishops
told John Paul during his visit to India in November that
exclusive language about salvation is offensive to Asia's
dominant religions--Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam--and provokes
violence against Catholic missionaries there.
Marco Politi, a papal biographer who reports on the Vatican
for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said Tuesday's
declaration was aimed at shutting off long-standing Catholic
theological debate on such questions as whether sacred beliefs
or texts of non-Christian religions are inspired by God.
"There are signs that the Vatican is putting on the
brakes," he said. "The document is a product of
fear of the modern world on the part of Vatican traditionalists,
who want the next pope to think more like them."
Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, director of the Center for Christian-Jewish
Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.,
said he has met five times with John Paul and doubted that
Tuesday's statement reflects the pope's views.
Of the statement's authors, he asked: "Who spoke directly
to God to know who's deficient?"
But the statement didn't faze a well-known Islamic leader
in the U.S. "We knew all along this is the Catholic
position," said Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the
Islamic Society of North America. "Our position is
the same thing--that the Catholic position is deficient."
The Vatican document divided non-Catholic Christians into
two categories, neither of which recognizes the primacy
of the pope. One group, Orthodox Christians, shares with
Catholics a similar Communion ritual and a linear succession
of bishops dating from the early Christian communities.
Others Not 'Churches in the Proper Sense'
Other Christian denominations, the document said, have not
preserved these links with Catholicism and therefore are
not "churches in the proper sense." But their
members are, through baptism, "in a certain communion,
albeit imperfect, with the [Catholic] Church."
The Vatican said that although these "separated Churches
. . . suffer from defects," they can be used as instruments
of salvation by the "spirit of Christ" acting
with "grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church."
The Anglican Communion, which is closer to Rome than most
Protestant denominations, said the statement ignored the
fruits of the Vatican's own ongoing dialogue with other
churches. "The idea that Anglican and other churches
are not 'proper churches' seems to question the considerable
ecumenical gains we have made," said the Most Rev.
George L. Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury.
from Don Mitchell... (co-editor of "The
Gethsemani Encounter" and
Professor of Comparative Philosophy at Purdue University)...
to Rev. Kusala
After reading the "Dominus
Iesus" statement and talking with theologians
about it over the weekend, I have come to appreciate the
document as being much more complex than the press has made
it out to be. Also, the document itself is rather unclear
in crucial places--open to different interpretations. So,
here are some reflections based on the LA Times
article that you sent to me.
1. The article claims that the statement says that the Catholic
the sole path to spiritual salvation for all humanity."
That seems to mean
that only Catholics can be saved, which is not the teaching
of the church.
What the statement says is that "Christ is the mediator
and the way of
salvation" and that "he is present to us in his
body, which is the church."
Christians have always taught that Christ is the savior
of the world, and
that his saving grace is present in the church. The question
this grace is also at work outside the visible boundaries
of the church.
Most evangelical Christians say it is not, the Catholic
church says it is.
Here is the way that the statement puts it: "For those
who are not formally
and visibly members of the church, 'salvation in Christ
is accessible by
virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship
church, does not make them formally part of the church but
enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their
spiritual and material situation.
This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice
communicated by the Holy Spirit.'"
2. The article claims that the statement says that persons
of other faiths
can achieve salvation, but "not through their own religious
it said lack divine inspiration." Two things here.
First is that the
statement says salvation is advanced by the practices of
Here is what the statement says: "Certainly the various
traditions contain and offer religious elements which come
from God and
which are part of what 'the Spirit brings about in human
hearts and in the
history of peoples, in cultures and religions.'" Later
the statement says
that "some prayers and rituals of other religions"
help to open the human
heart "to the action of God." So, the practices
of other religions are of
divine origin and aid in the process of salvation. There
passage where the statement says that the practices of other
not the same in efficacy as the Christian sacraments. But,
have always had a special place in Catholic life.
3. The second part of the above quote from the LA Times
is also wrong,
where it says that other religions lack "divine inspiration."
above quote from the statement itself it is clear that religious
"come from God." There is also another part of
the statement where it says that "Certainly, it must
be recognized that there are some elements in
these texts [of other religions] which may be de facto instruments
which countless people throughout the centuries have been
and still are
able today to nourish and maintain their life relationship
with God." The
statement goes on to say that these texts "often reflect
a ray of that
truth which enlightens all men." On the other hand,
the statement then
says that "The church's tradition, however, reserves
the designation of
<<inspired texts>> to the canonical books of
the Old and New Testaments."
This is a way the church marks off the Bible as Divine Revelation.
However, that is not to say that the texts of other religions
divine inspiration as the LA Times claims. In fact, the
concludes, "Therefore, the sacred books of other religions,
which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence of
their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ the
elements of goodness and grace which they contain."
If the texts' goodness and grace come from Christ, then,
terms, they are inspired by a divine origin.
4. The article claims that the statement says that persons
of other faiths
are in a "gravely deficient situation in comparison
to those who, in the
church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."
The statement is not
trying to insult persons of other faiths, but is saying
that if the full
revelation of the means of salvation has been given to the
those who do not have this full revelation are lacking something
I remember an interview with a Buddhist laywoman in Sri
Lanka who said
that the Buddha's way is superior to all other religions
in leading people
to Nirvana. People in other religions lack the Dharma, and
this makes the
attainment of Nirvana more difficult. So, if a Christian
is good and gains
enough good karma, he or she may be reborn in a good Buddhist
5. Finally, the article claims that the statement says that
dialogue is "simply 'part of her evangelizing mission.'"
Due to the
influence of evangelical Christianity in the US, "evangelizing"
has come to
mean converting. In the Catholic church, this word has a
meaning. It means to live the message of the Gospel: yes
to share the word of God, but also to bring aid to the poor,
to rescue those in danger,
provide for refugees, defend human rights, and work for
world peace, as
well as renew the liturgy of the church, educate the youth,
etc. One way
of living the Gospel is to build bridges of understanding
between peoples of different cultures, races and religions
for the benefit
of all humankind. So, to say that dialogue is part of the
mission of the church is not to reduce it to "simply"
a means for conversion.
Well, I hope the above is helpful. I am not saying that
the statement is
perfect. It is unclear in some places, and raises some issues
more delicate attention. But it is not as bad as the press
made it out to
We go ahead making the decision that the Ven.
Ratanasara asked of us: "to choose the path
of dialogue for the good of humankind." The path always
has ups and downs; but it is better to have
difficult moments in dialogue then to have no dialogue at