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Issue Date:  March 21, 2008

From the Editor's Desk

Two giants of the church

Recorded in this issue is a conversation that took place July 16, 2003, between two towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic church, Jesuit theologian Fr. Jacques Dupuis and Cardinal Franz König, shortly before their deaths. König, former archbishop of Vienna, had been the only cardinal to publicly defend Dupuis when his writings fell under Vatican scrutiny. (See story)

Decades from now, these two men could well be viewed as prescient thinkers on matters of faith and interreligious dialogue, over against church officials who feared their views would undermine a preeminent place for Christianity among the world religions.

The men, two of the era’s most important proponents of Christianity’s dialogue with other religions, shared a belief that their church’s centuries-old Eurocentric position needed to yield to a humbler place within a struggling but slowly emerging global Catholicism.

Many Catholic Asian bishops and theologians shared this view.

Both men advocated more openness to other religions and non-European cultures, expressing concern about the Vatican position that proclamation of Jesus Christ as the universal savior for all humankind must be the primary thrust of the church in Asia.

During the Synod of Bishops for Asia, which opened at the Vatican on April 19, 2003, the Asian bishops spoke of the work of the church as “evangelization”: It was only by being one with the poor, with local cultures, and in dialogue with other religions that Catholicism could grow in Asia. They traced their vision of the church in Asia to the Second Vatican Council and its call to “share the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of the people of Asia.

At the synod, the Asians warned that efforts at evangelization not grounded in Asian realities and Asian sensitivities are certain to fail.

Dupuis, who lived and taught in India for 35 years, understood and supported the Asian perspective. He died in December 2004 at the age of 81, but not before coming under investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith after joining the faculty at the Gregorian University in Rome. At issue was his book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Orbis Books, 1997). The Vatican charged that his writings drew on Eastern religions to argue that salvation may be found outside the Catholic church. Those investigations, Dupuis’ friends have stated, demoralized him and led to the decline in his health in the last stage of his life.

Cardinal Franz König died nine months before Dupuis, the last cardinal then alive to have been elevated by the late Pope John XXIII. Long known for his ecumenical and interreligious outreach, König was instrumental in ushering the church toward the modern world, creating dynamic new relationships with non-Catholics and non-Christians. He had played a key role at Vatican II and was an architect of the church’s Cold War opening to the Eastern bloc.

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Also this week, we are testing a new version of our Web site and we would be most grateful if you would try it for us. For your convenience, we’ve left the current Web site up and running during this period to insure that you have access to our latest issue. You may choose between the two sites.

Why the change? The new Web site provides more of the features you have requested: improved navigation, improved search engine functions, the opportunity to add comments to our stories, more news, multimedia options using audio and video, social bookmarking and other features as we continue to build.

For your convenience, we have placed a box for comments and suggestions on the Web site’s opening page. If you have a chance, stop by and have a look. Many thanks.

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And to each of our readers, all of us at NCR wish you a blessed Easter.

Contact me at

-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008

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