Monthly Archives: November 2008

Are you a ROFTer?

ROFTer = Reader of First Things

As you know from my frequent references to this journal, I am, and I think very highly of the founding editor, Fr Richard John Neuhaus.

If you are a reader of/subscriber to First Things, let me know in the Combox. We could form a kind of “online” ROFTers group!


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Does the Pope believe "Interfaith Dialogue Not Possible"?

Reports (see here for New York Times) are circulating in the media today about a letter written by Pope Benedict to his friend and one-time co-author, the former president of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera.

The “headline” of the reports is that Benedict is denying the possibility of “true dialogue” between faiths, in favour of “intercultural” dialogue. Some will see here echoes of the temporary arrangement whereby the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue were working under the one president early in Benedict’s pontificate.

Here are the facts as clearly as I can make them out.

Pera and Ratzinger co-authored a book shortly before the latter became pope called “Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam” (2005). Their contact has continued since Ratzinger’s election as pope (cf. this story about a papal audience in October 2007).

Now Pera has written a new book, “Perché dobbiamo dirci cristiani” (“Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian”), and, as an introduction, there is a personal letter and recommendation from the Holy Father. As reviewer Maria Antonietta Calabrò puts it in a 23rd November review in Corriere Della Sera, such an “introduction” for a book is “un evento eccezionale, se non unico” (“an exceptional event, if not a unique one”).

The same edition of the Italian newspaper published the full text of the letter/introduction.

Below I give the full Italian original of this letter and the “google translation”. My Italian is very poor, but as far as I can gather, the sentence which begins “Ella spiega…” (ie. the crucial sentence regarding the possibility of authentic interreligious dialogue) refers to a thesis put forward by Pera in his book, not a thesis originating from the Holy Father himself. Benedict may agree with this judgement, but the judgement is not originally his, but Pera’s.

As Fr Federico Lombardi of the Holy See’s press office said (according to the NYT article):

the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues. “He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

It is also quite likely that George Weigel’s remarks (also as reported by the NYT) are correct. The Pope is not saying that interrelgious dialogue is “impossible”, but that dialogue between religious communities is more fruitful when it is focused on practical and social outcomes rather than theoretical and theological agreements.

He may well have had in mind the current situation with respect to dialogue with Islam. For instance, at the recent Catholic Muslim Forum, the Catholic side clearly were more interested in practical outcomes with regard to religious freedom than theoretical outcomes relating to reaching mutual understanding on theological matters.

In fact, as I read it, the Holy Father in the next sentence actually says that true intercultural dialogue cannot “put faith in brackets”, that is, blank it out as irrelevant. To be truthful, dialogue between cultures must include the aspect of the faith of those engaged in dialogue. This appears to be a swipe, not at interreligious dialogue, but at secularism that would exclude faith from the dialogue.

That conclusion is a little bit different from the conclusion the newspapers have reached.

Anyway, here is the letter, in Italian and Google English for you to read yourself (page down to the bottom of link)


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Asceticism & Passion: St Augustine, Max Scheler & Pope Benedict XVI – On the Place of Desire in Life

Caroline Chisholm Library
Wednesday Lunchtime Talk

Asceticism & Passion: St Augustine, Max Scheler & Pope Benedict XVI – On the Place of Desire in Life.

Br Vincent Magat O.P.

1-2 pm, Wednesday 26th November, 2008
The Caroline Chisholm Library
3rd Floor\358 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3000
For more information call 03 9670 1815
Or Email:

Br Vincent Magat is a solemnly professed friar of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) in the Province of the Assumption. He has recently completed studies in theology at the Melbourne College of Divinity and an Honours Degree in Philosophy at Melbourne University. He is currently the Religious Assistant to the Dominican Laity Chapter of Blessed Adrian Fortescue which meets at the Caroline Chisholm Library.

No Bookings Required
Donations for the Support of the Library Welcome


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"Exactly what is the difference between Lutherans and Catholics, Dad?"

Okay. This was going to come sometime. So, if you are Lutheran or Catholic, or was once either and are now the other, I need your help.

The question came from my 10 year old daughter at (Catholic) Mass last night (my wife’s graduation from her Heart of Life Spiritual Leaders course). Five minutes before mass is not the easiest time to give an answer to that question.

If you asked me that question, I could tell you, no probs. After all, I am nothing to you, and you nothing to me other than that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. You could take or leave anything I say. I’m sure you do anyway.

But Maddy (baptised and communing Lutheran, going to Catholic school, one parent Lutheran the other Catholic) tends to look to her father as an authority on these things whom she can trust, and so she should. And whatever answer I give her will have a real impact for her life as she decides how she will faithfully follow her Lord. This is no time for philosophy or splitting hairs, and probably even history will have to be put on the back burner. She asked a simple question. Now it is my duty to give her a simple, honest and fair answer.

Which is easier than it sounds.

So this is where you come in, dear Reader, in this interactive posting:

I am inviting you to write a letter to Maddy in the combox – saying what you would say in answer to the question “Exactly what is the difference between Lutherans and Catholics?” Remember to keep it simple – she’s ten years old, a cluey girl as you would expect her to be, but still only a youngster.

If your letters hit the spot, I will give them to her and tell her that this is how some of my friends, Lutheran and Catholic, have answered her question. It will be a good discussion starter for us.


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Change re God’s Covenant with the Jews in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults

Fr Neuhaus reports in his latest ramble in First Things a change voted by the American bishops in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

That book aims at being a more accessible, some would say dumbed-down, version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it included this statement: “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.”

Not surprisingly, some people took that to mean that, for Jews, the redemptive mission of Christ is not necessary. Catholic teaching, of course, is that, while God does not deny anyone the grace necessary to be saved, all who are saved are saved by virtue of the reconciliation effected through Christ.

In place of the former statement in the catechism, the bishops now follow The Catechism of the Catholic Church by quoting St. Paul in Romans 9: “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.’”

As Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, who helped edit the adult catechism, explains: “There was a concern that we were trying to say too much in too few words. When you get into an area of theological complexity, brevity doesn’t always serve you well.”

Two comments:

1) After trying to use the Catechism on the weekend to teach a bunch of Australian youth of immigrant background about Conscience, I actually think we DO need a “dumbed-down” version of the Catechism – by which I mean a plain english version, not a version stripped of authentic Catholic doctrine. I don’t think that the Compendium actually succeeds in this, as often the language it uses is just as difficult as that used by its parent. This is not a criticism of the Catechism – it is (as it should be) precise in its use of theological language. But we really do need a “teaching” Catechism that can be put in the hands of folk whose philosophical, theological and linguistic development is not as advanced as with some of the rest of us. (Sometimes I would benefit from a simpler statement of doctrine too!)

2) If only the original wording of the US catechism had been “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through ABRAHAM remains eternally valid for them”, there would have been no reason for a change. There is much confusion in this area. The whole reason Paul agonises so much for his people is that he is convinced of the eternal validity of the Abrahamic covenant. With regards to the Mosaic covenant, even a cursory reading of Galations (eg. Gal 3:23-26) would make it clear that he regards it to be of a temporary nature. Neuhaus is right when he adds

The simple sentence was misleading, and the point of St. Paul’s statement, and of the Church’s teaching, is that the [Mosaic] covenant is not finished but incomplete.

But the Mosaic Torah, now completed (ie. fulfilled) in Christ, no longer has validity either for Jews or for Gentiles, whereas the Abrahamic Covenant, likewise fulfilled in Christ, remains eternally valid, not only for the Gentiles, but for the Jews also.


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If you’ve done three impossible things before breakfast…

There are some things that will never happen this side of eternity but are nevertheless worth working for.

Three of those are:

– stopping the practice of abortion
– peace between Israel and the Arabs
– full visible unity of all Christians

I have heard, at any one time, people say that because it is unrealistic to hope for any of these things, all we can work for is some half way compromise.

The most recent was a comment made to me by a fellow Catholic that the bishops in the US made a mistake in their one-issue approach to the recent election. “What they want – decriminilisation of abortion – is impossible.” No, I corrected him, what they want is that abortions be stopped completely, and the legal proscription is only one plank in this over all agenda, which will include a new way of loving and valuing all expectant mothers and unborn children.

It is because we set our sights high, hoping in the One who promised fullness of life, peace and unity to all humanity, that we are able to maintain our committment to these causes at all.

Even if the promises themselves were eschatological in nature.


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2009 National Colloquium for Catholic Bioethicists: "Ethical and Pastoral Issues in Care of the Ageing and at the End of Life" (January 25 – 28)

I thought some of you might be interested in “The fifth National Colloquium for Catholic Bioethicists” next January. The theme is “Ethical and Pastoral issues in Care of the Ageing and at the End of Life”, and as we are gearing up for a discussion on euthanasia in this state that seems very opportune.

According to their flyer:

The purpose is to foster discussion and debate amongst bioethicists, and we would welcome participation from health professionals, and members of HRECs or clinical ethics committees, and, given the topics, lawyers and politicians.

Here are some snippets from the “Colloquium Program”:

Sunday 25th January, 2009

4.30pm Public Forum
Christ Lecture Theatre, ACU National, Melbourne, 115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy
“Making sense of human suffering – hope, witness and redemption.”
Most Reverend Christopher Prowse, VG, STD, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne

Monday 26th January, 2009
The ethical consideration of aged persons in the community.
Thomas Carr Centre, 278 Victoria Parade, East Melbourne

Tuesday, 27th January, 2009
Giving Meaning to Life and Death

Morning program includes:
“Meaning, value and worth at the end of life”, John Ozolins
“Hope and end of life care”, Brigid McKenna.
“Defining Death: A Theological and Philosophical Issue”, Nicholas Tonti-Filippini
“The Medical Determination of Death”, James Tibballs [he’s the one who has been asking questions about organ donation – Schutz],

Wednesday, 28th January, 2009
Conscientious Objection and professional freedoms

“Professional Conscience and the Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion: What protection is there or might there be?”, Greg Craven
“Is conscientious objection in health care an instance of a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion?”, Robert Manne
“Code of Professional Ethics and conscientious objection”, Eamon Mathieson

Registration by January 16th, 2009 Email:
Full registration $175
Part registration available

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