The Los Angeles Times, Saturday, September 9, 2000
Mahony Affirms Interfaith Dialogue Despite Vatican Statement

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 conceded.

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," he said.
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
Religion News Service

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 document."

The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, September 6, 2000
Vatican Declares Catholicism Sole Path to Salvation

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 as another."

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 pope.

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 declined."

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.

e-Mail 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 church "is
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 is whether
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 with the
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 and is
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 rituals, which
it said lack divine inspiration." Two things here. First is that the
statement says salvation is advanced by the practices of other religions.
Here is what the statement says: "Certainly the various religious
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 is another
passage where the statement says that the practices of other religions are
not the same in efficacy as the Christian sacraments. But, the sacraments
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." From the
above quote from the statement itself it is clear that religious elements
"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 by
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 lack any
divine inspiration as the LA Times claims. In fact, the statement
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, in Christian
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 church, then
those who do not have this full revelation are lacking something important.

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 family.

5. Finally, the article claims that the statement says that interfaith
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 much broader
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 and respect
between peoples of different cultures, races and religions for the benefit
of all humankind. So, to say that dialogue is part of the evangelizing
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 that need
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 all.