.- The Doctrine Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has examined a work of theologian Father Peter C. Phan, âBeing Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue.â
Father Phan, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, is a professor in Georgetown Universityâs Department of Theology. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked the American bishopsâ Doctrine Committee to evaluate the book. The committee asked Father Phan to clarify points of concern over a period of two years.
The committeeâs evaluation was presented in a document titled âClarifications Required by the Book âBeing Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogueâ.â The committee said that Father Phanâs book uses âcertain terms in an equivocal mannerâ that âopens the text up to significant ambiguity.â It added that âa fair reading of the book could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ.â
The committee focused on three areas of theological concern: Jesus Christ as the unique and universal Savior of all humankind; the salvific significance of non-Christian religions; and the Church as the unique and universal instrument of salvation.
In his book, Father Phan had qualified the uniqueness of Christ, saying that terms referring to Christ as âuniqueâ âabsoluteâ and âuniversalâ âshould be removed and replaced by other, theologically more adequate equivalents.â
The committee clarified Catholic teaching saying, âIt has always been the faith of the Church that Jesus is the eternal Son of God incarnate as man. The union of humanity and divinity that takes place in Jesus Christ is by its very nature unique and unrepeatableâ¦ Because humanity and divinity are united in the person of the Son of God, He brings together humanity and divinity in a way that can have no parallel in any other figure in history.â
According to the committeeâs statement, Father Phanâs book questions the Churchâs mission to spread the Gospel to all. He states that ânon-Christian religions possess an autonomous function in the history of salvation, different from that of Christianity,â and that âthey cannot be reduced to Christianity in terms of preparation and fulfillment.â
The Doctrine Committee said the bookâs argument leads to the conclusion that there is some kind of moral obligation for the Church to refrain from evangelizing and people of other religions. Father Phanâs book says that religious pluralism âmay not and must not be abolishedâ by conversion to Christianity.
The Committee noted that â[t]his call for an end to Christian mission is in conflict with the Churchâs commission, given to her by Christ Himself: âGo, therefore, and make disciples of all nationsâ¦ââ It was âincoherentâ to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man, but still argue that it would be better if people did not know this important truth.
Father Phanâs book also asserts that the Churchâs claim to uniqueness and universality âshould be abandoned altogetherâ because of the Churchâs human failings and her historical entanglement with sin and injustice. While acknowledging the sinfulness of Church members, the Doctrine Committee affirmed âthe holiness of the Church is not simply defined by the holiness (or sinfulness) of her members but by the holiness of her head, the Lord Jesus Christ.â
The committee declared that because all grace flows through Jesus, that grace must be seen in relationship to the Church, the âuniversal sacrament of salvation.â
The full text of the Doctrine Committeeâs statement is available at www.usccb.org/dpp/statementonbeingreligiousinterreligiously.pdf