Cardinal queries status of paper on ecumenism


In a highly unusual public spat, Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy has claimed that Dominus Iesus, the controversial, hardline "declaration" issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) three weeks ago does not faithfully represent the Catholic Church's current position on ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.

Speaking in Lisbon, at the annual inter-religious and ecumenical meeting hosted by the Rome-based, non-Vatican Communita di Sant'Egidio, Cardinal Cassidy appeared to give a new dimension to the role and significance of Dominus Iesus within the magisterium (or teaching authority) of the Catholic Church.

He pointed out that it had not been signed by Pope John Paul II, but rather by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German Prefect of the CDF.

As president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Cassidy, unlike Cardinal Ratzinger, is daily engaged in ecumenical dialogue. He pointed out that the Pope himself spoke of the "irrevocable" path of the ecumenical process in his 1995 Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, On Commitment to Ecumenism.

"The point is, the Pope himself wrote and signed Ut Unum Sint but not the Dominus Iesus declaration," he said.

Among other things, Dominus Iesus claims that "there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church", adding that Protestant churches are not "churches in the proper sense". Furthermore, the declaration states that followers of religions other than Christianity are "in a gravely deficient situation".

Cardinal Cassidy's claim that the Pope did not sign the declaration is correct. The document bears the signatures of Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, both of the CDF. This is in itself normal practice.

But Cardinal Cassidy's attempt to distance the Pope and church teachings from Dominus Iesus is undermined by the second-last paragraph of the document, which states that John Paul II "ratified and confirmed this Declaration" at an audience on June 16th this year.

The argument follows a seemingly similar move from the liberal Jesuit Cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

Three days after the release of the declaration he issued his own pastoral letter reminding the faithful that "salvation is possible for everyone, outside of any church, so long as they follow the will of God".

Senior "liberal" figures such as Cardinal Martini and Cardinal Cassidy are clearly concerned about the negative impact of Dominus Iesus, which was issued just two days after the controversial beatification of the anti-Semite, anti-modernist Pope Pius IX.

That beatification has prompted leaders of Italy's Jewish community to decline to attend a proposed Catholic-Jewish Day of Dialogue in Rome next week.