Newsweek: The Vatican’s Asian Vexation

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For nearly a quarter century before his election as pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger served as the Vatican's guardian of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, earning a tough reputation for his campaign to quash the Marxist-tinged movement known as liberation theology. Cardinal Ratzinger's success in that crusade won him few plaudits in Latin America, the cradle of liberation theology and home to nearly half the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics. So in April 2005, when he was introduced to the world as Pope Benedict XVI, many feared the worst. Instead, the Pax Romana that Ratzinger helped impose on "the popular church" in Latin America, along with the end of Soviet communism, made increased Vatican pressure unnecessary and unlikely.

But now the focus of Benedict's anxieties—and Vatican sanctions—has shifted to Asia, Catholicism's largest untapped market. At issue is the fear—for Rome— that too many Asian Catholics see other religions not only as bearers of truth, but as alternate pathways to salvation or spiritual insight. In Asia, God—or the gods—are everywhere, while Rome wants to stress the exclusivity of Catholicism. To Benedict, Asian theologians and church leaders are attempting to win converts by translating a Western religion—Christianity—into an Eastern idiom, relating Christ to Confucius, the Buddha or the variety of Hindu deities, transforming Jesus, as Benedict put it, into "one religious leader among others." To the Vatican hierarchy, says Thomas C. Fox, author of "Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of Being Church," the teachings of these theologians are "clearly unacceptable, even incomprehensible."

Read it all.

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryAsia* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman CatholicPope Benedict XVI

9 Comments
Posted November 26, 2007 at 4:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. NewTrollObserver wrote:

Some Asian countries are even exporting priests to prop up U.S. parishes. Most Catholics today already live in the Southern Hemisphere, and by 2050, the figure will be 80 percent.

I didn’t know that the Southern Hemisphere included Asia—well, maybe parts of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but India? China? Japan? I think not.

Catholic work in Asia (especially India) can’t ignore the previous explorations by Fr. Bede Griffith and Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom Henri Le Saux).

November 26, 7:51 pm | [comment link]
2. Katherine wrote:

It’s a balancing act in Eastern cultures.  As with Islam, you don’t effectively evangelize by telling people that everything about their cultures and traditions is evil.  Other traditions contain some wisdom and some glimpses of truth, and you work with those and point people towards the ultimate truth of which they have a small nugget.  This is what I understand from writings of successful missionaries.  But the Pope is right in saying that the essential doctrines of the faith, which are, after all, from the Middle East, not the West, cannot be compromised.

November 27, 1:43 am | [comment link]
3. justinmartyr wrote:

Should Asians have to fight for a non-European liturgy? Should truths in their culture be thrown overboard? I think not.

I recommend reading “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” It is a profoundly moving story of the Christianization of Ireland by St Patrick. Instead of throwing out useful imagery and analogies, the Irish church embraced them and molded them for orthodox use, so that in the end tradition consists of the new, biblical definition rather than the old pagan one. Christianity has a long, profound history of doing this: Paul, when speaking at Mars Hill used a pagan altar to a pagan deity as a Christ type.

I have the feeling that the Apostle would have been excommunicated or at least forbidden to teach in Catholic universities today.

November 27, 2:42 am | [comment link]
4. Katherine wrote:

He would if he preached reincarnation or the validity of Hindu gods.

November 27, 12:22 pm | [comment link]
5. justinmartyr wrote:

Katherine, care to give any evidence? Paul preached the validity of one of the Greek gods—the Unknown god. Doesn’t that fall into the same category?

November 27, 12:28 pm | [comment link]
6. NewTrollObserver wrote:

On the “tricky” issue of reincarnation, there are several approaches one can take. One can simply say that reincarnation is false, full stop. But that approach doesn’t address the subtleties of much of Indian (Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain) philosophy, which actually includes both reincarnational and non-reincarnational models. I remember that Fr. Bede Griffiths, who has noted many analogous connections between Vedanta and Christianity, when asked about reincarnation, simply noted that he had not been able to see how that idea fit into his larger framework of seeing Vedanta as consistent with Christianity. But one might note that he did not deny it outright, perhaps because he knew that in Advaita Vedanta itself, reincarnation is seen as a “lower” level truth that, even though not the “highest” truth, does communicate something real about reality.

November 27, 1:05 pm | [comment link]
7. Antonio wrote:

Well, as a Latin American Catholic, I really appreciate Ratzinger’s “crusade” against (not) theology of (not) liberation.
And after reading this:
“In Asia, God—or the gods—are everywhere, while Rome wants to stress the exclusivity of Catholicism”...
... I also think the (now) Pope is RIGHT again.

November 27, 1:11 pm | [comment link]
8. Katherine wrote:

justinmartyr, I think he pointed to the Unknown god and told Athenians that there is indeed God who is unknown to them, for whom they had been searching.  He gave validity to their search, but not to the existence of multiple gods.

November 28, 10:05 am | [comment link]
9. justinmartyr wrote:

Paul points to a specific altar to Agnostos Theos (the Unknown God).

I agree that “He gave validity to their search, but not to the existence of multiple gods.”

I wonder if the clergy under examination are doing the same—using compatible pagan concepts to point to a Christian idea. That’s all I was saying.

November 28, 12:54 pm | [comment link]
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