Friday, June 06, 2008

Interreligious Dialogue: A Case Study of the Columban Missions

I have been meaning to post on this for a long while, but have been putting it off because I was waiting until I had enough time to donate to making this post as coherent and academic as possible (unlike many of my posts tend to be!). As always, I remember that I am nobody, and that I do not claim my opinion has any authority that anyone is bound to agree with. And I don't want to fool myself into thinking my blog is so serious and vital to the life of the Church that I can't possibly take any criticism about it or myself; but nevertheless, I try to do as good a job as I can here with my limited time and I thank you all for your patronage. One day, when I am no longer under the employment of the Church, I will "come out" and reveal my full identity.

There is a very important point regarding the Catholic interreligious dialogue movement that I think needs to be stressed, because it is too often neglected in mainstream Catholicism and sometimes even denied. It is this:

When persons in the hierarchy make statements or actions touching upon interreligious dialogue, regardless of their intentions or the goodness of their own deeds, they have a responsibility to be cognizant of how their deeds will be perceived by Catholics at large, who may not have the same degree of precision in theological understanding that they do.

Back in November, 2007 I received an issue of the Columban Mission magazine (the publication of the Missionary Society of St. Columban) titled "Interfaith Dialogue: Tolerance, Understanding & Learning Through Words & Actions." The cover was decorated with symbols of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. I knew right away from the cover what it would be like, and I was not mistaken. I am not going to bother delving into all the horror stories about priests praying from the Koran, Catholics attending Hindu worship meetings, participating in Ramandan etc (though we'll get into some of them). We all know that these things are the reality of the farce that is called Catholic "missionary" activity. But my point is to show, through some citations fromt his magazine, how despite the fact that John Paul II may have had great intentions at Assisi and how he did not explicitly embrace pagan religions, that is how it is widely being perceived, especially in the mission field.

In the introduction to this issue, Fr. T.P. Reynolds, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, writes on the contrast between Catholic views of non-Christians in the early 20th century and today. He says of his own order, the Columban Missionaries, that "like most Christian missionaries, we still viewed Asian non-Christians as "pagans" who had to be Christianized" (pg 3). This view is cast aside as being old-fashioned, and in its place Fr. Reynolds trumpets the declaration of Vatican II: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions."

We know, however, that there is no essential contradiction between the "old" view of converting pagans, and the Vatican II declaration that the Church denies nothing true in other religions. But Fr. Reynolds asserts that there is a discontinuity and says quite plainly that "things have changed" (ibid). In the old days,we thought X, now we think Y. This is the theology of rupture at work, and clearly Vatican II is not being interpreted properly if it is being interpreted in this manner. But where did Fr. Reynolds learn to interpret interreligious dialogue in this way? He specifically cites John Paul II: "Pope John Paul II taught us, at Assisi, how to pray together" (ibid). He then goes on to state how the articles in this issue of the magazinbe are examples of the Columban Missionaries "complying with Rome's demands." So, let's see what he thinks it means to "comply" with Rome's idea of interreligious dialogue.

Following Fr. Reynold's article, we have an article entitled "A Concurrence of Civilizations." In this article, Fr. Paul Glynn, the author, explains how modern missionary work is not about converting anybody to the Faith, but about training "young Christians and Muslims to become peacemakers in their local communities" (pg. 6). And how is this done?

"This normally consists of eight-day, live-in workshops where we explore issues of prejudice and discrimination through games, drama, role play and small-group discussions. We lead the young people in a process of self-discovery and rediscovery of the richness of their own religious traditions: Christianity and Islam" (ibid)."

Much has been made by Traditionalists about the distinction between praying together and coming together to pray, which has been raised because of Assisi. Defenders of Assisi assert that in calling leaders of other religions together to pray, John Paul II was not meaning to insinuate that all religions prayed to the same God, nor was he trying to give the impression that all religions were equally valid. I don't deny that he did not intend to do this. But how do the missionaries take it? Do these missionaries believe and teach that all religions pray to the same God? Fr. Glynn continues:

We firmly believe that a true and lasting peace must begin from the individual young people who have allowed their hearts to be touched and their minds to be inspired by the love and mercy of God/Allah (ibid).

That is exactly how God is referred to in the text. "God/Allah." Remember now, in the introduction, Fr. Reynolds said that these stories were examples of the Columbans "complying with Rome's demands," which can only mean one thing: he, and the Columbans, are under the impression that this kind of syncretism is what Rome and the Pope are commanding! As he said, "John Paul II taught us, at Assisi."

I don't think even the most ardent defenders of John Paul and Assisi would go so far as to say that it is acceptable that a priest refer to the Trinity as "God/Allah." They are not the same God: God is a Trinity of Persons Who is all good and all perfect, while Allah is at best a remnant of pre-Islamic moon-worship, at worst a demon of hell. But, perhaps Fr. Glynn, who made the above statement, was just an isolated case. Perhaps the rest of the Columbans are not on the same page?

The next article is by the Superior General of the Columbans, Fr. Tommy Murphy (pictured in the magazine wearing a blue, button-up shirt with no sign that he is a religious order priest whatsoever, let alone a Superior General). It is entitled "An Urgent Need: Engaging Other Faiths." The subtitle is "The Columban Superior General says understanding other religions helps us better understand God." He goes on to laud the beliefs of other religions, saying, "They are very religious: they are very clear about the bigger issues" (pg. 7), as if to be "religious" was in and of itself salvific. There is an interesting point in the article when he is asked, "How do you understand Catholic missionary work today?" He thinks about it for a moment and responds, "I see mission as primarily trying to engage people and trying to understand what God is doing in the world."

Fr. Murphy then goes on to deny de fide dogma and he cites Vatican II as his justification:

"In the old days, there seemed to be no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Now, we realize that such great religions are valid paths to salvation for their adherents, as Vatican II taught us. So, that means that God is doing something very good in these religious traditions" (ibid).

This is not some priest, or some uneducated layman: this is the Superior General of the entire Order of Columban Missionary Priests, and he is under the misguided notion that Vatican II teaches that all religions are paths to salvation! Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Salus is indeeed Church dogma. It has always been believed, but was formally defined at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) in these words:"The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved." This can be found in denzinger 430, linked on the sidebar. A more famous statement of this doctrine is in Pope Boniface VIII's bull Unam Sanctam (1302), which says: "It is absolutely necessary for every living creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff for salvation." This teaching was restated by Pope Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XII in Mystici Corporis. Though one may not find the principle in such clear cut terms in the Vatican II documents (although Lumen Gentium does teach this as well), it is certaibly a de fide dogma of the Church, though of course we do not interpret it in the Feenyite sense.

Fr. Tommy Murphy, Superior General of the Columbans

Further on in this issue of the Columban Mission, we see some articles about different concrete ways that Muslims and Christians are being encouraged to come together to be "peacemakers." One story discusses a missionary priest visiting a Muslim family during Ramadan. Did he make any attempt to lead them to Christ? Let's read:

"On the last day of Ramandan, called the Eid al-Fitr, Columban Father Pat McCaffrey and I joined the family for its wonderful celebration. Fr. Pat, who spent 20 years in Pakistan, greeted them in the Urdu language...They offered us Indian miT-Thai (sweets) and the traditional samay (a noodle dish). Fr. Pat read aloud a souvenir program about Ramandan written in Urdu and said the opening verse of the Quran. They were awed, and to a certain extent, shocked" (pg. 10).

As we should be! Clearly, there is a misunderstanding about what interreligious dialogue is: but my very point with this post is that these misunderstandings were made worse by the actions of John Paul II and the statements of persons in the post-V2 Church (Cardinal Kasper). Fr. Pat McCaffrey seems to understand that here may be a bit of confusion on this issue, and tries to clear it up in another article called "Together to Pray, But Not Praying Together" (whatever that means). In this piece, he writes about interfaith meetins in Fiji:

"Since Pope John Paul II's charismatic invitation in 1987 to all faith leaders in Assisi to pray for peace, the Catholic Church has made special efforts to promote interfath prayer for peace...The distinction is made that we come together to pray, but we do not pray together. At first blush, this may seem to be nothing more than wordplay [I'll say!]. But it does express a truth: it is important to come together to pray, but it is equally important that we do not reduce our beliefs to a common denominator in prayer, thereby concealing elements of our faith [despite the fact that this is exactly what happens] each meeting, a theme is chosen for next month's prayer gathering. Each faith community is requested to choose a reading from their respective scriptures and forward this to the coordinator who distributes copies of the readings to everyone who attends...The meeting begins with a common interfaith prayer [praying in common?]. Each faith community shares a reading from their sacred scriptures. This may be a reading, hymn or bhajan (a Hindu devotional song) [devotional song to whom? to which of their 330 million gods?]. The prayer time ends with a common prayer. Then we can reflect on what we have accomplished" (pg. 11).

When we entertain the farce of praying with pagans (and I include Assisi in this), there are only a two possibilities of what is going on: either we are praying to the same god, or we are encouraging them to pray to their own false gods. Either:

(1) We are asserting that our gods are actually one and the same (syncretism). If this were the case, it would be a travesty. However, most people acknowledge that this was not what was going on explicitly (but obviously, as the Columban Missionaries exemplify, people think this was what happened).

(2) If we are not asserting that our gods are the same, then by praying in common we must be encouraging them to pray to their own false gods. If this is the case, it is a mortal sin. Remember a little something from Tradition called "Nine Ways of Being an Accessory to Another's Sin?"

It is always a mortal sin to pray to a false god (against the First Commandment). Granted, there may be varying levels of culpability, but it is always sinful in and of itself. If this is always a sin, what do we do if we encourage them to pray to these false gods? Now, what happens when someone gets together with pagans and encourages them to pray to their false gods for something like world peace? Let's look at the nine ways:

By counsel (yep, guilty of that, because we invite them together and counsel them to pray to their false gods)
By command (I guess we wouldn't be guilty of that, since no one commanded them to pray to their demons)
By consent (definitely we'd be guilty of consent, because it seems to be the idea of the Catholic party in mosty of these situations)
By provocation (again, guilty, because by providing the means, the location and the events, Catholics who participate in these interfaith travesties provoke pagans to further their idolatry)
By praise or flattery (definitely, because by consistently praising "what is true" in non-Christian religions, we praise and flatter them into remaining mired in false worship)
By concealment (yes, because these events conceal the anti-Christian dogmas and practices of these pagans and focus only on the elusive similarities, like a desire for "peace")
By partaking (guilty, because you partake by being there and encouraging it)
By silence (guilty again, because nobody participating says one word to these pagans about their need to convert and come to Christ)
By defense of the ill done (absolutely guilty, because despite all of the outrages like the ones committed by the Columbans, people still persist in defending this defunct and false vision of interreligious dialogue)

And in the end, do the Columban Missions have any success in making any converts? And if so, what types of converts are they making? When asked about the fruits of his 28 years in the mission field, Fr. Robert McCulloch says, "Year by year, I have come to understand that the real issue is to serve the love of God, not to look at what I have in my hand or what I can count" (pg. 14). This is a polite way of saying, "I haven't made any converts at all in my 28 years." Is this really surprising given the type of "missionary activity" they are engaging in?

Sr. Elizabeth Moran, in an article entitled "An Open Window For All Faiths," explains the difference between pre and post Vatican II missionary work with regards to the ecumenical movement:

"Forty years ago, the leaders of the Catholic Church, gathered at the Second Vatican Council, authorized a document called Unitatis Redintegratio, which clearly welcomed the ecumenical movement as integral to the Church's being and pastoral activity. This overturned much of the narrow Counter-Reformation outlook of the Church" (pg. 18-19).

And what are the issues that various Christians, and non-Christians, are called to come together on? "Creation issues that concern us all: world debt, trade legislation, migration, climate change, human rights, and peace issues," says Amy Woolam-Echeverria, whose article "Forward Toward Justice & Peace" winds up this issue of the Columban Mission(pg. 20). These interfaith gatherings inevitably end up focusing on worldly, temporal issues and wind up treating them as if they supercede the theological truths of the Faith. "Sure, we disagree on the nature of God, how one attains salvation, what happens after death, etc. But we all believe there should be world peace, and so we have much more in common!" This makes the supernatural truths of revelation subordinate to merely worldly goods and tends toward the heresy of activism.

It is clear from all of these highlights that these people involved in the interreligious dialogue movement have a gross misunderstanding of what the Church's call to meet people where they are really means. "But," you will object, "people are always misunderstanding Catholicism! Protestants accuse us of worshipping Mary and call the Mass worship of Isis, Horus and Set. We are going to be misunderstood!"

Well, of course we are going to be misunderstood, but here is the essential difference with the above examples and the examples afforded us by the Columban Mission: if we are misunderstood for doing things right, shame on those who misunderstand! But, if we are misunderstood because we are doing things wrong, shame on us! The reason this is being misunderstood and confused by people is because Vatican II and John Paul II have provided ample grounds for confusion to reign. As Fr. Reynolds said, "Pope John Paul II taught us."

Everybody has a responsibility to concern themself not only with their actions, but how their actions might be perceived by others. Can John Paul's interfaith prayer at Assisi be good and prudent if it is yielding these kinds of fruits? And would anyone be so bold as to say that the type of missionary work described above is the type that the Holy Spirit desires? People who engage in interfaith meetings and prayers are even more responsible for their actions if they are in positions of authority, and ought to take extra special care that no one could possibly level the charge of syncretism against them with any type of seriousness. As St. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Avoid every appearance of evil."

Affirming Hindus and Muslims where they are is not good missionary work. It is in fact from the pits of hell. Sure, they may love you now, but how will they feel about you when they are cast out because you spent all your time with them talking about migration issues, trade legislation and climate change and spent absolutely no effort (and don't delude yourself: they are making no effort) at converting these people? That is not true charity, but love of the world and the world's ways. And, "He who loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:14).


Anonymous said...

"though of course we do not interpret it in the Feenyite sense."

How much do you know about the way that Fr. Feeney himself interpreted it? I only ask because there are a lot of "feenyites" out there who he himself would not have recognized. After all, he was disiplined not for heresy but disobiedience (and possibly illicitly).

Boniface said...

Well, I don't much know how exactly Fr. Feeney personally interpreted it, but I am referring to the label "Feeneyite" not to the beliefs of Fr. Feeney personally, and I think most people understand what a person means by "Feeneyite."

Anonymous said...

Sorry about posting anonymously above. I accidentally hit the wrong circle.

I know that people know what is meant by "Feeneyite" as a term but it is ascribed to people who hold views that, while close to those of Fr. Leonard Feeney, lack the nuance and theological precision that make his ideas plausible and charitable while their's are odd and angry.

I think its unfair is all. People should read the controversial book Bread of Life and decided whether even Fr. Feeney was a "Feeneyite."

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. This ecumenism is a terrible evil, preventing persons from coming to the Truth. When a modern priest, in civilian clothes, went to Brazil to a native mission to speak about Christ, the locals kicked him out because they wanted to hear none of it, since they wanted the "men in black" to teach them. And thus, they embraced the SSPX when they arrived.

These ecumenical/interreligious dialogue methods clearly manifest a wrong approach to bring the faith to those hungry for it. Looking around my university, there are many souls who are unhappy and get "drunk" with the passing pleasures of this world, and are fed the "all religions are equal" fare ad nauseam. I'm sure that if a clear Light was shown to them, some would embrace it, especially if properly guided by zealous souls. But, alas, this ecumenism destroys all that...

Anonymous said...

Catholics in southeast asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia and also those in the middle east use Allah in their worship, Allah is not a name just a title like God, God is a title given to the Holy Trinity not His name specifically.
The latin language uses Deus as a title to the Holy Trinity, Deus descended from the word Dyeus referring to the chief deity of the prehistoric tribes of Proto-Indo-Europeans which existed in 7500-5500 BC.
While I understand your point, I also believe that every culture uses their own language to worship and this stems from their earlier belief before they convert to Christianity,for example, I'm an indigenous of Borneo and before we converted to Christianity, my people used to worship the deity kinoingan as the god of the paddy field.
After my people converted, we stop practicing the way of the old religion such as conjuring of spirits, offering spirits food and using black magic but when we pray we still use kinoingan as a title to God but this time we do not refer kinoingan as the god of the paddy field but now it is Kinoingan the God of the Christians.
This because obviously most of us dont speak english so we do not use God and instead we use Kinoingan the title of God in our native language, I believe this is the same for for Arab Christians who use Allah when referring to God.
Obviously from a theological point of view the Allah of Muslims are not the same refer to the Allah of Christians just as the kinoingan of my pre-Christian tribe is not the same as the Kinoingan that we currently worship who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. here is a Hail Mary in my native language,
Ave Maria
Noponu do grasia
miampai diau oi kinoingan(the Lord)
Obitua koh id sawi-awi tondu
Om obitua tua tinan nu Jesus
Santi Maria tina do kinoingan(Mother of God)
pokinsianai dahai tulun kidouso
baino ontok jam kapataion ya amen.

Boniface said...


The problem is not calling God by indigenous names; we all know that is a linguistic matter. The problem is affirming non-Christian religions where they are instead of asking them to convert.