Friday, December 14, 2007
USCCB Doctrinal Commitee Educates Peter C. Phan on the Gospel
A welcome update to the investigation of Fr. Peter C. Phan, which we reported on in September (Against The Grain ). This week, the The U.S. Bishops’ Doctrine Committee issued clarifications concerning several aspects of Father Peter C. Phan’s book, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue:
Father Phan’s book uses “certain terms in an equivocal manner” that “opens the text up to significant ambiguity,” the Committee said. It added that “a fair reading of the book could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ.”
The Doctrinal Committee points out that Father Phan actually did not respond to their invitation to provide needed clarifications to his book, thus necessitating the committee to act on their own, "since, at the very least, the use in the book of certain terms in an equivocal manner opens the text up to significant ambiguity and since a fair reading of the book could leave readers in considerable confusion as to the proper understanding of the uniqueness of Christ, it is necessary to recall some essential elements of Church teaching. The crux of the issue is that Being Religious Interreligiously does not express adequately and accurately the Church's teaching."
In addition to a deficient presentation of the salvific role of Jesus Christ, the committee expresses their concern over Phan's view of the salvific role of non-Christian religions:
The book defends the view that "the non-Christian religions possess an autonomous function in the history of salvation, different from that of Christianity," and that "they cannot be reduced to Christianity in terms of preparation and fulfillment." The book asserts:The committee's response to this tripe bears quoting at length:The book contrasts what it sees as the Second Vatican Council's deliberate decision to refrain "from affirming that these religions as such function as ways of salvation in a manner analogous, let alone parallel, to Christianity," with the position of certain contemporary theologians, among whom the author includes himself. These theologians believe that it is necessary to go beyond the Council's position and to assert “that these religions may be said to be ways of salvation and that religious pluralism is part of God’s providential plan.”
Since the book as a whole is based on the idea that religious pluralism is indeed a positively-willed part of the divine plan, the reader is led to conclude that there is some kind of moral obligation for the Church to refrain from calling people to conversion to Christ and to membership in his Church. According to the book, religious pluralism "may not and must not be abolished" by conversion to Christianity. The implication is that to continue the Christian mission to members of non-Christian religions would be contrary to God's purpose in history. Such a conclusion, instead of being a "theologically more adequate equivalent" of Church teaching, is in fact an alteration that blurs Church teaching. At this point the autonomy of non- Christian religions has eclipsed their relatedness to Jesus Christ.The USCCB's Doctrine Committee consists of
John Allen Jr. provides the background to the Bishop's investigation of Fr. Phan, which came as as pecific consequence of Phan's neglect to honor requests from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to provide clarification of his positions:
A Vatican investigation of Phan’s work was opened in 2004, under protocol number 537/2004-21114. On July 20, 2005, Archbishop Angelo Amato, the number two official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to Bishop Charles Grahmann of Dallas, informing him that the congregation has found “serious ambiguities and doctrinal problems” in Being Religious Interreligiously. Phan, a former Salesian, is now a priest of the Dallas diocese; Grahmann has since retired, and has been replaced by Bishop Kevin Farrell.Peter C. Phan, the first Asian-American to serve as President of the Catholic Theological Society of America, holds the Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University.
On a related note, on December 14th, 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization", "devoted principally to an exposition of the Catholic Church's understanding of the Christian mission of evangelization, which is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and reasserting the Church's 'Missionary Mandate'. Zenit News provides a summary; the complete text is available here [.pdf format, thanks to Rorate Caeli].