Cambridge, MA. The March 22nd issue of The Tablet includes a fascinating record from our recent Catholic history: the transcript of a 2003 conversation between Cardinal Franz König, retired archbishop of Vienna, and Fr. Jacques Dupuis, SJ, a distinguished theologian who was, at the time, under scrutiny by then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The conversation, well worth reflection, gives us a vivid sense of the concern of both men regarding the future of dialogue in the Catholic context, particularly in light of the investigation of Fr. Dupuis and the gloom cast by Dominus Iesus, the CDF’s 2000 document. Dialogue is, in their view, essential and entirely appropriate to the Catholic faith, and never a mere tool of evangelization. Whether vital and fruitful dialogue could be carried on in accord with CDF views -- and in view of the increasingly cautious views of Pope John Paul II -- seems, in the conversation, to be in doubt. Both men died the next year, and there is little evidence that either became more optimistic in his last months. It may be that the roles afforded to the various players remain set, even as the individual players come and go: the Vatican will continue to urge caution and to insist on the integrity of the faith, even in the context of dialogue; ecumenists and experts in interreligious dialogue will still have the job of raising, over and again, the theological and practical questions related to the fact of pluralism and its meaning for Christians: How are we to live out the Christian faith in a world where religious diversity persists and grows more evident? How are we to enter dialogue with deep respect for the persons with whom we dialogue -- and thus too, deep respect for their religious traditions -- even if we do not step away from the truths of our faith? Neither Vatican cautions nor theologians’ persistent questions are likely to go away. Although the conversation took place only five years ago and Joseph Ratzinger of course lives on as Pope Benedict XVI, the König-Dupuis conversation seems also a record from a different era. Things are speeding up. The world about us is becoming increasingly interreligious, as people move from tradition to tradition, and experiment in integrating the practices and even beliefs of different traditions into their own. The recent Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey ( http://religions.pewforum.org/ ) shows that Catholics are by no means immune to this phenomenon. While we cannot conclude that caution is no longer necessary, or that theologians ought not to ponder the possibility of interreligious exchange, there will also have to be room for careful reflection on the situation on the ground, where interreligious exchange increase daily, borders crossed all the time? As a baby-boomer, I am not ready to say that my generation, like the interlocutors in the 2003 conversation, is already passing from the scene. But clearly, our questions and answers too will seem antiquated not that long from now -- and someone will have to supplement Roger Haight’s excellent synthesis on theologians since Vatican II (Lessons From an Extraordinary Era, March 17) with attention to still newer voices. The roots of Christian identity and the future of dialogue have to be reconsidered yet again by the younger and just now emerging generation of theologians around the world, as they discern where interreligious exchange and learning across boundaries will be taking us in, let’s say, 2025 or 2050. The Vatican’s cautions will probably be more or less the same, and theologians will continue racing to keep up with the providential growth of interreligious exchange in the many intersecting communities that comprise our world today.
After Dialogue: looking back, looking ahead