WASHINGTON (CNS) — 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.
Father Peter C. Phan’s "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," the statement said.
The statement was signed by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, and the six other committee members.
Father Phan, a former Salesian and now a priest of the Dallas Diocese, holds the Ellacuria chair of Catholic social thought in the theology department at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington.
The statement on "clarifications required" in Father Phan’s book cited three areas of concern:
— Christ’s role as "the unique and universal savior of all humankind."
— The "salvific significance of non-Christian religions."
— The Catholic Church as "the unique and universal instrument of salvation."
Quoting frequently from the book, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and "Dominus Iesus," the 2000 declaration of the Vatican doctrinal congregation on the "unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," the committee said Father Phan’s book "could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ."
Although "the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is affirmed at some points" in the book, it is presented at other times as "not exclusive or absolute," the committee said.
Father Phan says in the book that the terms "unique," "absolute" and "universal" in relation to Jesus’ role as savior "have outlived their usefulness and should be jettisoned and replaced by other, theologically more adequate equivalents."
It is rather interesting that he has decided not to defend himself to either the USCCB or the CDF. His defenders say that his works can be understood in a manner perfectly consistent with the faith and if this was true you would think that he could show his critics how this is true.
But it is pretty hard for statements from his book such as the following can be justified.
Religious pluralism . . . is not just a matter of fact but also a matter of principle. That is,
non-Christian religions may be seen as part of the plan of divine providence and endowed
with a particular role in the history of salvation. They are not merely a "preparation" for, "
stepping stones" toward, or "seeds" of Christianity and destined to be "fulfilled" by it.
Rather, they have their own autonomy and their proper roles as ways of salvation, at least
for their adherents.
The statement from the USCCB says in response to this concept.
The book reasons that if in fact God has positively willed the existence of the
non-Christian religions as ways of salvation, then the very goal itself of universal conversion to
Christianity is misguided. "Indeed, if religious pluralism belongs to divine providence and is not
just the fruit of human sinfulness, then it may not and must not be abolished by converting all the
followers of non-Christian religions, at least during our common journey in history.”
But will this statement signed by several bishops included his own have any effect on his employment status at Georgetown?