Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

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Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Exclusive Claim

Article excerpt

New Vatican document asserts superiority of Christian faith and Catholic church

Aiming to stop a new movement in Catholic theology in its tracks, the Vatican issued a major document this week emphatically denying that other world religions can offer salvation independent of Christianity and insisting that making converts to Catholicism remains an "urgent duty."

The push within Catholicism to accept other religions as vehicles for divine revelation and saving power is often called the "theology of religious pluralism," and is most closely linked to theologians and bishops in Asia. One consequence of this view is that dialogue with members of other religions, rather than attempts to convert them, becomes the focus of interreligious exchange.

The new document, titled Dominus Iesus, or "The Lord Jesus," and presented by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a Sept. 5 news conference, firmly rejects this stance. Ratzinger, the Vatican's chief doctrinal officer, was joined at the news conference by his top assistant, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, and by two priests who worked on the document: Salesian Fr. Angelo Amato, vice rector of the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome, and Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, vicar general of Opus Dei.

While allowing that followers of other religions can be saved (though only in a mysterious fashion and only through the grace of Christ), Dominus Iesus insists they are nevertheless in a "gravely deficient situation" in comparison to Christians who alone "have the fullness of the means of salvation." The full name of the document is "Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church."

The document was swiftly branded a "pastoral disaster" by theologians involved in interreligious dialogue. In Asia, some experts predicted it could inflame already tense relations between Catholicism and other religious communities.

Bertone said the teaching in the document touches core matters of the faith and therefore is "definitive and irrevocable."

In a signal that the Vatican intends to back up its words with action, Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis was summoned to a meeting with Ratzinger Sept. 4, the day before the news conference. Dupuis, an expert on world religions, is regarded as a standard-bearer for many of the views the new document rejects. Officials asked Dupuis for reactions to a document citing errors in his work. He voiced disagreement, leaving the outcome of the case uncertain.

Dupuis declined a request for comment on the meeting.

Coming on the heels of recent investigations and censures of theologians working in the area of world religions, the document has prompted some observers to make comparisons with the Vatican's anti-liberation theology drive of the 1980s. Like liberation theology, which sought to align Catholicism with movements for social justice in Latin America, the theology of religious pluralism is rooted in the Third World. Further, both theologies draw strong support from the progressive wing of the church in the United States and Europe.

Church officials, on the other hand, said the document contains "nothing new" and predicted that it would assist interreligious dialogue by helping Catholics to be clear about their presuppositions.

Directed at Asia

The document seems primarily directed at Asia and the Catholic encounter with Asian religions. At the news conference, Ratzinger said it had been prompted in part by "a worrisome influence" of "the negative theology of Asia" in the West. Ratzinger has previously expressed concern about the tendency of Asian religions to regard God as infinite and any particular revelation of God as incomplete.

Ratzinger also said the document aims to combat a post-Vatican II "ideology of dialogue," which has rejected the "urgency of the appeal for conversion."

Ironically, both sides in the debate appeal to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). …

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