Those vilified by the Vatican in one era celebrated as heroes in another. In the meantime their good names and reputations are martyred for the cause of the moment. The cause today is the new Vatican document, Dominus Iesus.
The martyrs this time are primarily Asian theologians and their bishops, who have dared to chart new ways to live as a Catholic minority surrounded by other religions. Another victim is the dialogue among the Catholic church and other faiths that has been going on for the past 35 years.
When I first read the new document, my thoughts went back to people who had taught me the faith.
There was the parade of priests and nuns who would have influenced a young Catholic growing up in the 1950s and 60s.
But I also recall two college professors, Protestants, whose superb courses on the New Testament provoked me to delve deeper into my beliefs and eventually to gain a new appreciation of my faith. I remember the rabbi who helped me to a new understanding of his faith and, in turn, my own. I recalled the Muslim gentleman with whom I traveled less than two years ago, whose quiet prayerfulness was a moving witness to those elements of belief that we shared.
To my former teachers and to other friends, I can only express sadness about the latest round of harsh words from the Vatican. I want to apologize for those who seem compelled to open old wounds and re-establish old divisions.
How to explain it? How to deal with the stunning contradiction this document sets up with the years of interfaith dialogues and ecumenical work that went on in good faith?
I can only presume that the rush of documents in recent years, the disciplining of theologians, crackdown on academics, rollback of liturgical reform all amounts to a kind of ecclesiastical feeding frenzy. This is the end period of a papacy, apparently the time to get what you can before the next conclave. The revisionists -- those who want to retreat from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) -- are going at it with a vengeance. The hope is that the whole project of interfaith relations is not dismantled by these destructive impulses.
For several years, NCR publisher Tom Fox has been reporting on the fascinating story of the church in Asia, its bishops and theologians, who happen to be a prime target of the new Vatican document. An update of sorts occurs in his book review. To order At the Side of the Multitudes, send a check for $19.50 to Fr. Alberto Rossa, C.M.F., Claretian Renewal Center, 1119 Westchester Place, Los Angeles CA 90019.
-- Tom Roberts
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2000