Western Church Must Respect Asian, African Churches, Says Phan

By Delvecchio, Rick | National Catholic Reporter, October 26, 2007 | Go to article overview

Western Church Must Respect Asian, African Churches, Says Phan


Delvecchio, Rick, National Catholic Reporter


The future of the Catholic church as a global force depends on shared power and mutual respect between the church's historic center in Western Europe and its fast-expanding population base in the Southern Hemisphere, Georgetown University theologian Fr. Peter Phan told an audience in Berkeley Oct. 6.

Phan, who brings an Asian cultural perspective to Catholic thought, described the growth of Catholicism in the developing world and the importance of local culture among people embracing the Catholic faith in Africa and Asia.

He was the keynote speaker at an international conference sponsored by the Franciscan School of Theology. The Oct. 6 and 7 event focused on how globalization is changing the church and what the church can do to change with it.

Phan said he is advocating mutuality, not conflict.

Vatican officials are examining a book written by the Vietnamese-American priest for possible ambiguities on the unique role of the Catholic church in the framework of religious pluralism. The book, titled Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, was published in 2004 by Orbis.

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In an interview with Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, following his talk, Phan he said is not challenging the church's core principles of papal primacy and papal infallibility, but he declined to discuss his troubles with the Vatican.

The central issues of concern (NCR, Sept. 28) are seen to include what the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considers the book's unclear descriptions on Christ's role as universal savior, the function of the Catholic church in salvation and the value of non-Christian religions.

In his address Phan said the Roman curia, the church's central administrative offices, should resist fighting the trend of globalization. It must share ecclesiastical authority with bishops on the periphery and embrace their non-European roots as vital to the church's global mission, he said.

"Power relations cannot be ignored in global Christianity simply because we say we are a religious institution," Phan said. "The task is to try to make the voices of the global South heard by the ecclesiastical core."

The church must be a "house of love rather than a house of fear" and the West must not impose its cultural norms on the East, said Phan, the first non-Anglo to be elected president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He served from 2001 to 2002.

A former Salesian and now a priest of the Dallas diocese, Phan holds the Ellacuria chair of Catholic social thought in the theology department at Georgetown.

Phan, who grew up in Vietnam and arrived in the United States in 1975 as a refugee, offered his model for a global church that is accountable to its culturally disparate faithful. …

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