Given all the negative and disheartening news we have been hearing about the Catholic church in recent years, it's good to be reminded of some of the positive things about Catholicism, in addition to its sacramental life and (sometimes) vibrant parish life.
So writes my colleague and friend Brad Malkovsky, one of the best and most popular teachers in the University of Notre Dame's theology department. He reports that his undergraduate students have responded "quite well" to what he calls the three strengths of contemporary Catholicism.
The first strength is Catholicism's openness to other religions, especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It must be noted that Malkovsky specializes in comparative theology and is an expert in Hinduism, having spent a good part of his graduate studies in India.
The catholic church, he says, has led the way here and has set an example of collaboration and sharing with other religions that is truly prophetic. Guiding this is the Vatican II document Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, which is better known by its Latin title, Nostra Aetate ("In our times").
Writing in The Tablet in 2002, the late Cardinal Franz Konig, archbishop of Vienna, referred to Nostra Aetate as "one of the most, if not the most, important" of all of the council's declarations. Because the short document spent so much space (its last three pages) on Judaism and anti-Semitism, Jews have rightly made a lot of the document.
The document underlines the point that the Catholic church "rejects nothing of what is true and holy" in other religions and stresses the importance of dialogue with them.
According to Konig, "This briefest of declarations owes its existence to three people without whose determination, dedication and patience it would never have come about."
They were Pope John XXIII, who was determined to put an end to accusations that the Catholic church is anti-Semitic; Cardinal Augustin Bea, one of the major figures at Vatican II who was asked by the pope shortly after John XXIII's election to consider how the Jewish question could be incorporated into the council; and Msgr. John Osterreicher, a native Austrian and a convert from Judaism who had fled from Austria to the United States before World War II.
In 1964, Pope Paul VI established the Secretariat for Non-Christians, and in 1988 Pope John Paul II gave it its present title, namely, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The second strength, according to Malkovsky, is the Catholic church's openness to scientific research. …