The World Council of Churches warned of potential damage to ecumenical dialogue following the release of a Vatican document emphasizing the Catholic Church’s pre-eminent status among Christian denominations. What a tragedy if the witness of joint Christian cooperation were obscured by the churches’ dialogues about their relative authority and statushowever important they may be, a council statement said.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document on Sept. 5 condemning the notion that one religion is as good as another. The 36-page declaration, titled Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, acknowledged a certain level of communion with other Christian churches, but said the church of Christ...continues to exists fully only in the Catholic Church.
The W.C.C. said it would have hoped for an acknowledgment of the many positive developments in ecumenical dialogue and cooperation over the past 100 years. The group said the Catholic Church was a recent entry to the ecumenical movement, and that all churches have gained enormously by Catholic participation. But it said the Vatican statement could damage ongoing sensitive conversations about the relationships of the churches to one another. What a loss if these [talks] were hinderedor even damagedby language that precludes further discussion of the issues, it said.
Christian leaders in Britain expressed disappointment at the Vatican document but said their commitment to ecumenical efforts remains unchanged. Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said the document breaks no new ground, but added that it failed to reflect fully the deeper understanding that had been achieved through ecumenical dialogue and cooperation during the past 30 years. Archbishop Carey said: The idea that Anglican and other churches are not proper churches’ seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made.
Jewish Scholars Urge Changed Attitude Toward Christians
Saying that Christianity has changed dramatically in its views of Jews and Judaism, 170 Jewish scholars have urged Jews to adopt a corresponding change in attitude toward Christians. Jews and Christians worship the same God and Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of the Torah, said the statement published as a full-page advertisement on Sept. 10 in The New York Times and The (Baltimore) Sun. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, called the religious transformation underlying the statement mind-boggling.
Noting that the Catholic Church and many Protestant bodies in recent decades have officially reformed their teaching and preaching about Judaism and the Jewish people, the statement says, we believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response.
The longest paragraph in the statement is the one that begins, Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. It recognizes that the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews contributed to the rise of Nazi ideology. It also notes that too many Christians participated in, sympathized with or did not sufficiently protest against Nazi atrocities against Jews. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity, it adds. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. The statement expresses gratitude to those Christians who did work to save Jews and encourages the recent efforts of Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people. The statement is available on the World Wide Web at www.beliefnet.com.
Vatican Official Backs U.N. But Urges Reforms
The Vatican secretary of state reaffirmed church support for the United Nations in an address on the final day of the Sept. 6-8 Millennium Summit, but said reforms will be necessary. The gathering drew an unusual number of presidents, prime ministers and other national leaders to U.N. headquarters in New York.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano said it was a duty of the United Nations to guarantee the equality of its members, and this would require reforms to adapt the U.N. structure to present realities and to reinforce the legitimacy of its action. In an apparent allusion to proposals for change in the U.N. Security Council and its current inclusion of five permanent members with veto power, the cardinal said the United Nations cannot appear to be dominated by some members in particular.
Pope Performs Exorcism of Teenage Italian Girl
Pope John Paul II performed an impromptu exorcism of a teenage girl who flew into a rage at the end of an audience in St. Peter’s Square, said the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. The Rev. Gabriele Amorth, a Pauline father who is the Roman exorcist, told Catholic News Service that the pope spent more than half an hour praying over the girl and ordering a demon to leave her, but failed to cure her fully. The girl, identified as a 19-year-old Italian with a history of possession, was in the front row at the pope’s weekly general audience on Sept. 6. As the pope prepared to leave, she began screaming incomprehensibly and speaking in a cavernous voice, Father Amorth said.
Catholic Aid Agencies Warn of Starvation in West Timor
The 120,000 refugees in squalid refugee camps in West Timor were in danger of starvation and serious illness after all humanitarian aid organizations suspended operations following the killings of three U.N. aid workers, said Catholic aid agencies. Everyone has suspended operations. There are no relief operations in West Timor, said Michael Frank, Catholic Relief Services country representative for Indonesia. There is definitely going to be a food problem there, he said. In mid-September, Frank said, there had been no food distribution in the refugee camps for more than six weeks as threats against humanitarian aid workers by pro-Indonesia militia groups intensified.
N.Y. Archbishop Backs Workers’ Rights to Organize, Just Wage
Archbishop Edward M. Egan of New York said in a homily on Sept. 10 that workers have a right to a just wage and a right to organize in their pursuit of justice. In the new archbishop’s first Labor Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he declared there could be no doubt among Catholics about the right of workers to act together in efforts to secure their interests and uphold their dignity. Archbishop Egan said the rights of workers were supported by the teaching of the New Testament, more than a century of specific papal teaching on social justice and principles set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
State Department Report Finds Worldwide Religious Persecution
Religious freedoms are in grave danger in several countries around the world, according to a State Department report released on Sept. 5. The list of countries with the worst records on religious freedoms includes: Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. These same countries were listed last year. Much of the world’s population lives in countries in which the right to religious freedom is restricted or prohibited, said the second annual report commissioned by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This year’s report includes information on 194 countries and territories.
Sudan, according to the report, continues to persecute members of religious minorities during its ongoing civil war by bombing churches, refugee centers and other civilian targets. Christians, members of traditional indigenous religions and Muslims who deviate from the Sudan government’s interpretation of Islam have been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, threats, violence and forced conversion to Islam. The report also notes that numerous deaths in the villages and mountain areas have been due in part to the victims’ religious beliefs.
According to the report, China’s religious persecutions have increased since last year. Even though government supervision of religious activity was minimal in some regions, it increased in other areas with tighter regulations, the closing of houses of worship and persecutions of members of unregistered religious groups who were subjected to harassment, physical abuse and prison sentences, according to the report.
Interfaith Group, Labor Department Support Workers’ Rights
The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and the Department of Labor have jointly produced a series of bulletin inserts to help workers understand their rights in the workplace. The effort was launched over the Labor Day weekend as more than 650 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations heard union members speak about their union involvement as an extension of their faith. More than 100 cities participated this year in the Labor in the Pulpits program, which started in Chicago in 1996.
Jewish Group Wants Pope John XXIII Declared Righteous’
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation announced on Sept. 7 that it was seeking to have Pope John XXIII recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel as one of the righteous among the nations. In a letter to Yad Vashem, Baruch Tenembaum, an Argentine businessman who led in establishing the foundation in 1997, said the foundation was gathering information and preparing documents from many sources to demonstrate the significance of the nominee’s work on behalf of Jews when he was apostolic delegate to Turkey from 1934 to 1944. The foundation is also asking the Vatican to provide us with additional primary sources about his tenure in Turkey, the letter said.