News in Christian-Jewish Relations:  September 2000


This month:


Click here for the text of Dominus Iesus to which many of the above items refer. 

Statement of Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the N.C.C.B., on the issuance of "Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church".

September 5, 2000

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has once again performed a valuable service in summarizing and clarifying the teaching of the Church. In its declaration, "On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," the Congregation reiterates, mainly by recalling the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II, that Jesus Christ -- the Word made flesh and Son of the Father -- has an absolutely unique role in the salvation of the world. 

"Similarly the Church of Christ uniquely contains the means of continuing Christ's saving mission. The Church of Christ is one, and subsists, or is found, in the Catholic Church where the fullness of the means of grace and salvation are present.

"Beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, Christ's Church is also operative in those Churches which have maintained a valid episcopate, in succession to the apostles, and sacraments, above all, the Eucharist. Elements which go together to build up the life of the Church -- such as Baptism, the Word of God, the virtues of faith, hope, charity -- are present as well in other churches and ecclesial communities of Christians. These endowments form bonds which inspire in us a deep love and respect for them and a commitment to work with them to overcome what separates
us and to achieve full communion. 

"The salvation offered through Jesus Christ and his Church is a gift to all humanity. We believe that Christ invites every human being to find in him "the way, the truth, and the life." Having been blessed with faith in Christ through no merit of our own, the members of the Church humbly seek to give as a gift the faith we received as a gift.  

Our belief in this regard in no way diminishes the sincere respect we have for the religions of the human family or our conviction that their followers can receive divine grace. 

"This respect -- and love -- goes in a special way to the Jewish community to which Christians are closely related through Christ himself and the revealed word of God in the Old Testament. Pope John Paul has witnessed to this special relationship over and over again, especially during his recent visit to the State of Israel. 

"The Holy Father has witnessed to the Church's respect for the other great religions during his various encounters with their leaders on his pastoral visits around the world. In his 1986 call for a Day of Prayer in Assisi, he inspired the leaders of most major religions to come together to put the power of prayer and belief behind the search for peace.

"This document will be of special assistance to our theologians and theology professors, to those doing missionary work, and to all engaged in ecumenical and interfaith dialogues. We count it a blessing to live in a time marked by extensive encounters between the peoples of the world, their cultures and their religions. One can scarcely doubt the importance of these contacts and exchanges at the religious level as they unfold in the decades ahead. 

"As these contacts deepen, it is not surprising that they present searching questions about how a Christian regards the relationship with other religions in light of faith in Jesus Christ as the unique and universal Savior. The answers of past centuries do not always come to terms with the reality before us. As the Congregation points out, today, facile answers do not do justice to the truth of our relationship with other religious traditions. At the same time, little good would come from contacts with other religions, if those speaking on behalf of the Church were to offer an inadequate or very selective picture of the Christian faith. 

"Respecting the seriousness of the questions surfaced by the interreligious encounters of our time, the Congregation does not rest with pointing out the faulty answers sometimes proposed. It also invites Catholic theologians to a continuing exploration in depth and reflection on the existence of other religious experiences, on other religious traditions which also contain elements that come from God, and on their meaning in God's salvific plan."



Comments by Archbishop Alexander Brunett on the Issuance of Dominus Iesus

[Most Rev. Alexander Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle, is a member of the Advisory Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.] 

In recent days, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration titled Dominus Iesus. It is subtitled "On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church."

Although this declaration may seem at first reading to be proposing some values and truths that haven't been stated before, in reality it reiterates much of what has already been said, particularly in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The main concern of the declaration was to state again the importance in the life of a Catholic believer of Jesus Christ as the focal point of our faith and, through him alone, salvation is possible. The declaration does not cover any new ground or provide any new theological insights. Instead, it is calling attention to the fact that in dialogue and in conversations Catholics need to be wary of taking positions that could prove to be problematic and even erroneous.

From the perspective of one who has been involved in ecumenical discussions for many years, the declaration itself does not seem to be needed by those who have been engaged in official dialogues. Dialogue partners usually understand that there is much give and take and that one should come to the table with a clear understanding of their own religious convictions and ecclesial identity. From that perspective, this declaration does not add much to the process nor does it further the cause of mutual understanding and respect.

There are several other Vatican documents of greater significance for the church, particularly the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996. In that document there is a much clearer understanding of the need to look deeply into our own lives and to ask forgiveness for the times that we have offended others. The pope also calls for dialogue and input regarding the role and nature of primacy as it functions in the church. In general, those who know well the Vatican documents and the thinking of Pope John Paul II and his leadership role in the quest for Christian unity and religious understanding will recognize that this declaration does not add to the dialogical process. Some perhaps will wonder why it does not reflect the ecumenical sensitivity achieved through 30 years of dialogue and cooperation.

This declaration will serve as a good reminder of the commitment we each have to Jesus Christ and his universal will for the salvation of all people. It will be a good corrective against exaggerated forms of religious pluralism. Ecumenists will be encouraged to continue a dialogue that does not wallow in the controversies of the past but will seek to find ways in which together we can express a common faith in Jesus Christ.

I encourage everyone to read the full text of the declaration so that the true emphasis and meaning can be understood in the context and intention of those who framed it.


Outside Catholic Church no salvation?

By Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.

[Archbishop Weakland is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and current co-chairman of its Dialogue and Theological Consultation between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The following article appeared in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Herald.]

After reading a newspaper article, what we remember most is the headline.

This past week The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reporting on the document "Dominus Jesus" from the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, carried the headline: "Vatican insists only faithful Catholics can attain salvation."

After reading carefully the full document, I can tell you this statement never occurs in the text. It does say that the Catholic Church believes it has all the means that are necessary for salvation. We Catholics are convinced of this truth. Otherwise, why would we be Catholic? (I know that members of other churches believe the same about their particular churches.)

The Asian bishops in particular, I am told, wanted a statement from Rome asserting this truth because Evangelical Christians were invading their countries in droves, preaching and disseminating literature that states that Catholics cannot be saved. I, too, am bombarded by such literature.

The first half of the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is directed toward those scholars engaged in theological dialogues with other great religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism. It takes exception to those Catholic and Protestant theologians who minimize the salvific role of Jesus Christ and try to find manifestations of the presence of the second person of the Trinity (the Logos) or the salvific workings of the Holy Spirit in those other religions, while diminishing or eliminating the unique role of Jesus Christ.

Concerning members of the other great religions of the world, however, the document quotes the statement of the bishops of Vatican Council II that God can bestow salvific grace to adherents to these religions "in ways known to himself." It is impossible to reconcile that statement with the interpretation that God only grants this grace to faithful Catholics.

The second half of the document deals with the uniqueness of the Catholic Church as we Catholics understand it. The document repeats the teaching of Vatican Council II that the church founded and willed by Jesus Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church. The bishops at that council debated at length over the right phrase to use - "subsists in," or "is the same as," or "is identified with" - and chose the first in order to acknowledge the existence of true ecclesial elements in other churches. The document admits that the bishops at Vatican Council II did not want to teach a doctrine of exclusivity but to accept the fact that outside the structure of the Catholic Church "many elements can be found of sanctification and truth."

In examining what must characterize a true church, the new document cites "apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist." Without these two qualities the document does not call a Christian denomination a church. In my opinion the documents of Vatican Council II made the role of baptism much more significant as entrance into the Body of Christ and thus into the church:

"All who have been justified by faith in baptism are members of Christ's body and have a right to be called Christians, and so are deservedly recognized as sisters and brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church ("Lumen gentium," No. 3)." The documents of Vatican Council II do not hesitate to use the word "churches" to characterize these communities of the Reformation ("Unitatis redintegratio," No. 19).

Unfortunately, "Dominus Jesus" does not take into account the enormous progress made after Vatican Council II in the mutual recognition of each other's baptisms and the ecclesial significance of such recognition.

What is disappointing about this document is that so many of our partners in ecumenical dialogues will find its tone heavy, almost arrogant and condescending. To them it is bound to seem out of keeping with the elevated and open tone of the documents of Vatican Council II. It ignores all of the ecumenical dialogues of the last 35 years, as if they did not exist. None of the agreed statements are cited.

Has no progress in working toward convergence of theological thought occurred in these 35 years? Our partners have every reason to believe we may not be sincere in such dialogues. We seem to be talking out of both sides of the mouth, for example, making agreements with the Lutherans on Monday and then calling into question the validity of their ecclesial nature on Tuesday.

To those involved in the ecumenical dialogues this document will be seen as pessimistic and disheartening. It will be a burr in the side of all involved in the ecumenical movement for decades to come and will continue to promote the conviction that we Catholics are simply not sincere.

But we Catholics can all hold, without apology, as stating our position what the bishops gathered at Vatican Council II declared: "Some, and even most, of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace, faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, coming from Christ and leading back to Christ, properly belong to the one church of Christ ("Unitatis redintegratio," No. 3)."



.Article by Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore on Dominus Iesus 

September 21, 2000

[William Cardinal Keeler is episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The following article appeared in his weekly column in the Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper.]

On September 5, the Holy See's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published an instruction entitled Dominus Iesus, a technical document intended primarily for Catholic theologians. A number of media reports took statements of the document out of context, and I welcome this opportunity to clarify the intent and thrust of the document.

By coincidence I was in Rome at the time for a series of meetings and stopped into the Press Office just before the press conference for the presentation of the document. This proved to be an interesting event, especially because some of the reporters were raising very pointed questions. Those who responded noted that the document assembled a series of quotations from previously issued documents but broke no new ground itself. A major source was the Constitution on the Nature of the Church, the fundamental theological statement of the Second Vatican Council. 

The Church's teachings about our faith in the unique and redemptive role of Jesus Christ and of the Church's specific role in continuing Christ's saving mission were affirmed, as a corrective, it seems, for some misunderstandings, principally in Asia.

However, in none of the press reports did I see the comments of Cardinal Ratzinger, paraphrasing the Council's Decree on Ecumenism, affirming that the Church is walking a pilgrim way, and must continually call her members from ways of sin to conversion. Also, he asserted, the Church is called to that "continual reformation of which she also has need, insofar as she is a human institution here on earth." (Decree on Ecumenism, Art. 6) 

It should also be pointed out that, in this Jubilee year, Pope John Paul II has repeatedly lifted up for our Church the teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning the need of repentance for past sins against unity and for forgiveness of others. He did this notably just before and during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including Israel and neighboring lands, in March.

Representatives of all our parishes, institutions and organizations were present with many representatives of other churches and faith families in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on October 8, 1995, when Pope John Paul II personally affirmed for us in Maryland: 

"To the members of the various Christian denominations present, may I say that, as we approach the Third Millennium and the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we must all the more earnestly strive to heal the wounds of the past. I encourage everyone to strengthen and extend the ecumenical dialogue that has been for so long a hallmark of this community. We need to explore together how we might present ourselves before the Lord as a people solidly on the road to the unity for which Christ prayed on the night before he gave his life for our salvation. (Cf. John 17:21)

"To all the believers in the One True God I express the respect and esteem of the Catholic Church. As I said at the United Nations, the world must learn to life with "difference," if a century of coercion is to be followed by a century of persuasion. I assure you, dear friends, that the Catholic Church is committed to the path of dialogue in her relations with Judaism and Islam, and I pray that, through that dialogue, new understanding, capable of securing peace for the world, may be forged.

"You have shown in this community how dialogue and cooperation can lead to improvements in civic life: in the work you have done together to promote the teaching of moral values in the public schools, and in providing housing for the poor. May that work be blessed, and may it increase, as your dialogue of faith deepens in the years ahead." 

The message of the recent document and the words of the Holy Father are not in conflict. Catholics must be true to their faith, distinct from other churches and religions. At the same time peace, understanding, and even unity are goals that deserve our finest efforts.

Sadly, many press accounts and the reactions of others based on them did not reflect either the fundamental thrust of the document or what Cardinal Ratzinger clearly said at the press conference presenting it. A clear imperative for the media is to engage more writers with a background in reporting religious news, a background which will prepare them to understand clearly and report accurately on religious issues. 

Cardinal William H. Keeler


Message by Pope John Paul II to an interreligious conference gathered in Lisbon, September 21, 2000. 

The message of the Holy Father John Paul II to His Eminence Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy for the participants at the Lisbon Conference: 

It is a special pleasure for me, Cardinal Cassidy, to entrust you with the task of expressing my esteem and my greetings to the illustrious representatives of churches and Christian communities and of the great world religions gathered in Lisbon for the 13th international meeting on the theme, "Oceans of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Comparison."

My thoughts return to 1986, when for the first time men and women of various religions found themselves together to pray to their God for peace, on the hill of Assisi, marked by the testimony of St. Francis. That event could not remain isolated. It had, in fact, a major spiritual force: it was like a stream from which new energy for peace began to gush. For this reason, as I foresaw, the "spirit of Assisi" has not been extinguished but rather is able to expand throughout the world from Assisi, bringing to all parts of the world new instances of peace and of dialogue. This world, the scene of such conflicts, misunderstandings, and prejudices, has in fact an extraordinary need for peace and for dialogue.

I want therefore to thank the community of Saint Egidio for the enthusiasm and the spiritual courage with which it has gathered up the message of Assisi and borne it into so many parts of the world, to the gatherings of men and women of the world’s religions. I recall the meeting in Bucharest in 1998, which had such an echo in Romania, where during my apostolic visit I heard the insistent and repeated cry of the people, "Unite! Unite!" Yes, dear Christian sisters and brothers, that unity remains for us a primary obligation. Let us watch over it with hope during the century that has opened. Perhaps, as I wrote in Ut Unum Sint, "the long history of Christianity, marked by many divisions, seems to converge once more because it tends toward that source of its unity which is Jesus Christ" (22).

I am convinced that the "spirit of Assisi" constitutes a providential gift for our time. In the diversity of religious expressions, truly recognized as such, there is a unity that is close to another, which is also visible: The aspiration for the unity of the entire human family. We must all be working for this form of unity. I recall that when I was a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council I also signed my name to the declaration, Nostra Aetate, which initiated a rich relationship among the Catholic Church, Judaism, Islam, and the other religions. That declaration affirms that "Ever aware of its duty to foster unity and charity among individuals, and even among nations, it reflects at the outset on what people have in common and what tends to bring them together" (1).

The dialogue among the religions has to take account of this requirement and proceed along these lines. Today, by the grace of God, the dialogue is no longer merely a hope; it is recognized as a reality, and so is the path by which the dialogue is to proceed. How could we not express gratitude to the Lord for the gift of this reciprocal opening, which is a prelude to a more profound understanding between the Catholic Church and Judaism, especially as I recall so vividly the unforgettable memories of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land? But significant fruits have also been borne along the path leading to a meeting with Islam, with the oriental religions, and with the great cultures of the contemporary world. At the beginning of a new millennium we must not slow our pace but rather it is necessary to press for a greater acceleration along this promising path.

You know very well that the dialogue must not ignore the real differences, but neither do the differences cancel out the common conditions of a pilgrimage toward the new heaven and the new earth. The dialogue also invites all who may be hesitant to recognize that this undertaking of friends neither separates nor confuses. We all need to be more audacious on this path, because the men and women of this our world, of whatever nation or particular faith, can recognize that they are children of one God and brothers and sisters of one another.

Today you are in Lisbon, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and your gaze is directed toward the peoples and cultures of the world. Lisbon is the first stage in your common path in this new century. Thanks to you, Patriarch Jose de Cruz Polycarp, for having accepted this pilgrimage, along with all your Church. Greetings to you, colleagues in the episcopacy, and to all the beloved people of Portugal, whom I had the opportunity to meet during my recent pilgrimage to Fatima.

There are so many problems to be addressed on the world horizon. But humanity is in search of new initiatives toward peace. "It is therefore necessary and urgent," as I wrote to the "Men and Religions" conference in Milan in 1993, "to recover the joy and the will to walk together toward the building of a more peaceful world, one that transcends the particular interests of groups, of races, and of nations. What an important task, in this regard, do the religions have to play!

"The poor half of humanity is rich in this universal aspiration, which finds its roots in sincere relationship with God" (Insegnamenti, Vol. XVI/2, 1993, 778).

In entrusting to you, Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, my message for the participants of the meeting in Lisbon, along with my renewed cordial greetings, I invoke for all of you the benediction of Almighty God. With His aid, all the men and women of every people of the earth will continue with renewed determination on the road to peace and mutual understanding.

The Vatican, 21 September 2000.

[This is an unofficial translation from the Italian original.]