Christians React Strongly to Vatican Statement

October 7, 2000

Source: The New York Times

On October 7, 2000, The New York Times reported that "On Sept. 5, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document titled 'Dominus Iesus' ('The Lord Jesus') that condemned certain 'relativistic Theories' of religious pluralism. A month later, the dust has still not settled. In some eyes, Cardinal Ratzinger was only saying the obvious and doing his job. Haven't Christians always believed that it is through Jesus Christ and the church of the Gospel that salvation has been mediated to all humankind? If grace and holiness seemed manifest within other religions or among those who had never heard the Gospel, this, too, was attributable, in ways not always to be understood, to Jesus' redemptive acts. Some Christian theologians have found this traditional approach insufficiently respectful of other faiths...Cardinal Ratzinger's reply, beneath the highly technical theological language of 'Dominus Iesus,' was to display a formidable array of Christian affirmations of the central redemptive role of Jesus. Those affirmations begin with the fourth-century Nicene Creed, Christianity's most uniting statement of faith...The affirmations continue right through the documents of the Second Vatican Council, considered the seedbed of modern Roman Catholic ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

"So why...was the Vatican declaration something like a theological equivalent of Ariel Sharon's striding into the area of Al Aksa Mosque? Many Christian leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, expressed their distress at what seemed a sharp change of climate in the Vatican. Italian Jewish leaders withdrew their participation from a Vatican-sponsored Day of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, and the event had to be canceled. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches, similarly scheduled to participate in an official dialogue with Catholics in Rome, considered calling off that session as well. The alliance, based in Geneva, went ahead with the meeting, but only after expressing its dismay at the Vatican declaration 'in the strongest terms possible.' The pope himself felt compelled to address the group with the message that "the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is irrevocable."

"...These high-level disruptions of ecumenical and interreligious relations scarcely compared to the unsettling of Catholics in the pews. Was the church teaching that their non-Christian spouses, parents or grandchildren could not be saved? Wasn't this document a gratuitous insult to their partners in interfaith efforts? Reactions ranged from puzzlement to bitterness, and pastors have been fielding questions and calming the waters in sermons. Some church leaders were quick to hold the news media responsible for this confusion. They could point to misleading headlines or articles suggesting that only Catholics could go to heaven. They could equally have blamed lazy thinking that takes the maxim 'All religions are pretty much the same, and one's as good as another' as the gold standard in tolerance, when in fact it trivializes the serious claims most faiths make. But media shortcomings and lazy thinking are more or less permanent facts of life that the Vatican might have considered in wording and presenting its declaration. And they don't explain the reservations voiced by a number of Catholic bishops and scholars, who otherwise sympathized with the declaration's intent."