Signs of the Times

Bishops Warn: Book Could Mislead Faithful

A Vietnamese-American theologian’s 2004 book on religious pluralism contains “pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful,” the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine said in a Dec. 10 statement. The Rev. Peter C. Phan’s book, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, published by Orbis Books, also contains “statements that, unless properly clarified, are not in accord with Catholic teaching,” the committee said. In its 15-page statement, the committee said it undertook an evaluation of Being Religious Interreligiously at the request of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and “invited Father Phan to respond” to questions. “Since Father Phan did not provide the needed clarifications, and since the ambiguities in the book concern matters that are central to the faith, the Committee on Doctrine decided to issue a statement that would both identify problematic aspects of the book and provide a positive restatement of Catholic teaching on the relevant points,” said the statement, signed by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman, and the six other committee members.

Father Phan, a former Salesian and now a priest of the Diocese of Dallas, holds the Ellacuría Chair of Catholic Social Thought in the theology department of Jesuit-sponsored Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. William Burrows, Father Phan’s editor at Orbis Books, said that “the matters alleged are serious and that he looks forward to a full airing of them in all their dimensions.” “Father Phan,” he said, “is a circumspect scholar, one of Asian Catholicism’s most respected theologians, and everyone should realize that he has not had the opportunity to respond to the bishops’ concerns with the level of care he devotes to all weighty matters.”


Pope Expresses Hopes for Dialogue With Baptists

Pope Benedict XVI told Baptist and Catholic representatives he hoped conversations between the two denominations “will bear abundant fruit for the progress of dialogue and the increase of understanding and cooperation.” The pope met privately at the Vatican Dec. 6 with more than 20 delegates who were in Rome for a meeting of the joint international commission sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Pope Benedict said if reconciliation and greater fellowship between Baptists and Catholics is to be realized, certain issues “need to be faced together, in a spirit of openness, mutual respect and fidelity” to the Gospel. He said some of the “historically controverted issues” that needed further discussion are “the relationship between Scripture and tradition, the understanding of baptism and the sacraments, the place of Mary in the communion of the church, and the nature of oversight and primacy in the church’s ministerial structure.”

Interfaith Effort Launched to Fight Terrorism

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, led a group of religious leaders Nov. 30 in announcing a national interfaith grass-roots campaign to oppose terrorists and protect Americans from the violence for which they are responsible.

The campaign is being launched by Cardinal McCarrick; Rabbi Jack A. Luxemburg, chief rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md.; and the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the Washington National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church. “This is...a monumental step,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “This is the family gathering to say thanks be to God, the one God that we all worship.... We’re all his children.”

Citing work that had been done before to achieve peace in the Holy Land with representatives of different faiths, the cardinal said: “What we found is that we can work together.... What unites us is so much greater than what divides us.”

An Insider’s View of Liturgical Reform

In a new book, a Vatican archbishop has chronicled the birth pangs of the liturgical reform generated by the Second Vatican Council and warned of a tendency of the Roman Curia to return to a “preconciliar mind-set.” The book, A Challenging Reform, was written by Archbishop Piero Marini, who recently ended a 20-year tenure as papal liturgist. His Vatican career began in 1965 in the office charged with implementing liturgical renewal. Archbishop Marini recounted the rise of a decentralized and dynamic reform movement in the 1960s and its “curialization” in the 1970s by Vatican officials afraid of losing control. Many of the hard-won liturgical changes were accompanied by tensions and disagreements inside the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, he said. The archbishop’s book, published by Liturgical Press, was scheduled for presentation Dec. 14 in London, where the author was being honored at a reception hosted by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

Gordon Zahn, Co-founder of Pax Christi USA, Dies

Gordon Zahn, a co-founder of Pax Christi USA, the U.S. branch of the international Catholic peace movement, died Dec. 9 in Wauwatosa, Wis. Zahn, 89, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A conscientious objector during World War II, Zahn became a noted sociologist and author. His book German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars documented the role Roman Catholics played in supporting Nazi aggression and raised hard questions about the abuse of just war teaching. Zahn’s book In Solitary Witness, a biography of the Austrian conscientious objector Blessed Franz Jägerstätter—who was beheaded in Berlin for refusing to serve in Adolf Hitler’s army—was used by Jägerstätter’s wife and daughters to repeal Jägerstätter’s conviction. Jägerstätter was beatified last October.

Because Zahn declared himself a conscientious objector during World War II, at a time when the church did not support such exemptions, he fought forest fires in New Hampshire for his alternative public service work. After the war, because of his pacifism, the only Catholic college to accept his enrollment application was Benedictine-run St. John’s College in Collegeville, Minn. Even there, his presence was not welcome by students who had served in the war and some faculty members who had been military chaplains. Later, at the Second Vatican Council, he worked to advance changes in the draft of what became the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” which led to the council’s call for Catholics to examine war with “a whole new attitude.”

Polish Priest Criticizes Exoneration of Bishops

A Polish priest who researches the church’s infiltration by Communist secret police has criticized the Polish bishops’ conference for exonerating bishops of collaboration. “This is another attempt to square the circle,” the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita in late November. “Bishops are public people, pastors in their dioceses, and these documents should not be hidden. Doing so will fuel rumors and slander.” The Polish bishops’ conference said Nov. 22 that its Team for Ethical-Legal Evaluation had found no evidence that any bishop “knowingly and willingly collaborated” with Poland’s Communist-era secret police. It said its researchers had found all claims of collaboration were “without proof” and added that it had now passed their reports to the Vatican and considered the matter closed. But Father Isakowicz-Zaleski said the team had erred in looking only for signed collaboration pledges and handwritten reports. He said “consent to collaborate was obtained” when someone met with a Communist officer.

Catholic Iraqi Refugees Free in Massachusetts

Following years of persecution and inability to attend Mass because of the threat of terrorism, Huzni Hermez and his family left their war-torn homeland of Iraq and found a place where they could freely practice their Catholic faith. With the cooperation of St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church in Springfield, Mass., the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts and the Diocese of Springfield, Hermez and his family arrived in Springfield Nov. 15. They are Chaldean Catholics, members of an Eastern Catholic church in union with the pope. Speaking of being forced to leave his homeland, Hermez told The Catholic Observer, the Springfield diocesan newspaper, through an interpreter: “That is real terrorism, when you are not welcome in your own country. Even if Iraq would be paradise one day,” he added, the family would not go back. The horrible memories will never go away, he said.

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10 years 11 months ago
We were disappointed that the list of religious leaders organizing a national interfaith grassroots campaign by Cardinal McCarrick didn’t mention a Muslim or Arab Christian. My wife and I have just returned from visiting the West Bank and Israel. We have seen first hand the difficult and impoverished conditions of the Palestinians, especially the Christians in Bethlehem. We were saddened by the Israeli governments unrestrained encroachment on their farms and olive groves. The resentment towards the Israelis shown by some Palestinians over this issue was evident in our discussions with the people. It is an issue which needs to be addressed at all levels, religious, political, and social, in order for peace to have a chance to succeed there. It is imperative that Cardinal McCarrick include many diverse religious leaders into his organization, especially Muslims and Arab Christians, if it is going to be taken seriously by the grassroots. God Bless him for his courageous work toward peace and human rights.


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