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Ratzinger rips König’s criticism

By NCR Staff

Fueling a highly unusual public debate between two prelates, the Vatican’s top doctrinal officer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has rejected criticism by another cardinal of an investigation of a theologian for his work on religious pluralism.

The London-based Tablet magazine recently published a response from Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to an article by retired Cardinal Franz König of Vienna, Austria, which appeared in early 1999. König had criticized the congregation’s decision to launch an investigation of Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis.

König called on Ratzinger’s office to be less defensive when examining new thinking on inter-religious issues. König also warned the doctrinal agency that the Western background of its analysts makes understanding Eastern theological currents especially difficult, suggesting extra caution when dealing with world religions.

König, 93, served as the primate of the Austrian church during most of the Cold War era. He has long taken an interest in inter-religious dialogue.

In late 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked Dupuis to answer questions concerning his book, Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Orbis Books). Though Dupuis refused to comment to the press about his case, sources in Rome said the congregation was interested in what he had written about the uniqueness of the church’s role in salvation. Drawing on decades of experience in India, Dupuis argued that other religions can play a salvific role.

In his response to König, Ratzinger said his agency is only doing its job when it protects the faith — and the faithful — from concepts that would place all religions on the same level.

Ratzinger, 71, expressed “astonishment” at König’s criticisms. He said the request for clarification from Dupuis was an “attempt at dialogue” undertaken with great discretion. “Is dialogue with authors to be forbidden to us? Is the attempt to reach confidential clarification on difficult questions something evil?” Ratzinger wrote.

The congregation did not make the case public, he said. Whoever did may have wanted to “mobilize public opinion against our dicastery,” he said.

In his earlier article, König said: “I cannot keep silent, for my heart bleeds when I see such obvious harm being done to the common good of God’s church.” He suggested that the doctrinal congregation should be able to “find better ways of doing its job to serve the church effectively.”

König said that most of the doctrinal congregation members were Westerners who are “very much afraid that interreligious dialogue will reduce all religions to equal rank. ... But that is the wrong approach for dialogue with the Eastern religions. It is reminiscent of colonialism and smacks of arrogance,” he said.

König said that with the Second Vatican Council and with Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the church revised its “apologetic and defensive attitude” toward non-Christian religions.

Ratzinger said two crucial questions must be faced: Can a Christian engaged in dialogue relinquish his faith conviction that Christ is the true son of God and that there is something unique in Christianity? And “is he being honest with himself and with others if he sets this conviction aside?”

Ratzinger noted parenthetically that he did not think Dupuis had denied the uniqueness of Christ and the differences between religions.

Ratzinger said he was upset that König had cited papal and Vatican II teaching against the congregation. “I cannot imagine that you seriously believe that the congregation’s thinking is in contradiction with the Second Vatican Council and with the pope’s fundamental encyclical letter on missionary activity,” he said. If that were so, then the pope would not have personally approved the congregation’s dialogue with Dupuis, “as in fact he did.” Ratzinger asked König to reread the pope’s 1991 encyclical.

Dupuis, who handed in his response to the doctrinal congregation in early January, was still waiting for a reply in late March.

This story is based on a report by the Catholic News Service.

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1999