Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vatican tells missionaries that good works aren't enough

Catholic missionaries should aim to win souls and not restrict themselves to humanitarian good works, the Vatican said in a new 19-page document, which was personally approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

The document, “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization,” draws on the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus issued in 2000 that asserted Catholics alone have “the fullness of the means of salvation.”

The new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith aims to correct a “growing confusion” among theologians who argue that “it is enough [for missionaries] to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity.”

It also seeks to debunk the notion that conversions should not be sought since “it would also be possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation in the church.”

The document was issued a few days after U.S. bishops rebuked Fr. Peter Phan, a Vietnamese-American theologian teaching at Georgetown University, for writings they say conflict with church doctrine on the uniqueness of Christianity and Catholicism.

Citing words of the late Pope John Paul II, the document affirms that “every person has the right to hear the ‘Good News,’ ” and said “this right implies the corresponding duty to evangelize.”

“There has been a cooling of missionary spirit in recent years,” said Archbishop Angelo Amato, undersecretary of the congregation.

Amato specifically cited the work of three Jesuit theologians -- Jacques Dupuis, Roger Haight and Jon Sobrino -- who have been criticized by the congregation in recent years. He suggested their work had undermined missionary spirit by casting doubt on the uniqueness of Christ as the universal savior of mankind.

“The fundamental problem is a pluralistic theology of religion, which essentially states that all religions are equally valid in leading a person to salvation,” Dominican Fr. J. Augustine Di Noia, an American and undersecretary of the congregation, told Vatican Radio. “Now let’s say the missionary implications are being addressed in this document.”

The new statement rejects conversion by force or by means “which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person.”


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