The Prophetic Fr. Phan

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 14, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

A book by Georgetown University’s Theology Chair, Fr. Peter Phan, has ruffled a few feathers. “Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue” was reviewed by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine at the request of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The bishops, chessman under a Vatican hand, felt compelled to issue a statement identifying what they saw as problematic aspects of the book’s theology and reinforcing Catholic teaching on salvation.

And here is the crux of the emerging struggle – as faith and numbers shift from Europe and North America to Asia and Africa, cultural sensibilities will also need to change.

The major change will be to co-exist as respectful equals with other religions or religious practices-whether Buddhism, Islam, or tribal beliefs rooted in nature and the ancestors. This will necessitate abandoning the Christian insistence that forgiveness of sins and reconciliation of humanity with God is only possible through Christ.

I agree with Father Phan’s suggestion that religious pluralism is indeed a positively-willed part of a divine plan.

Father Phan, who grew up in Vietnam and arrived in the United States in 1975 as a refugee, laid the groundwork for his book by articulating a model for a global Church that is accountable to its culturally disparate faithful.

The theologian challenged the notion of a unified Christendom, calling the idea an example of Eurocentric ideology.

“I reject this,” Father Phan said. “Positively, we say ‘Christianities’- plural. In fact, in the first seven centuries the most successful fields of mission were not Europe but Asia and Africa, with Syria as the epicenter. And the most vibrant intellectual centers were located not in the Western part of the Roman Empire but in West Asian and African cities. Until the seventh century, there was more Christianity in the East than in Rome. Rome was as backwater.

“When we talk about the legacy of the early Church we always talk about Latin and Greek,” he said. “Please, look at the other side. There’s a whole Christian theological and liturgical heritage that usually disappears from the pages of Church history books.”

Father Phan offered the social structure of early Christianity as a model for a global Church in the 21st century.

“Early Christianity is not a single tree rooted in Rome,” he said. “The right picture is the rhizome that grows in the ground that spreads everywhere. There’s no trunk. It just spreads and spread and spreads. That’s a far more accurate picture of early Christianity.”

By 2050, Father Phan said, 80 percent of the world’s three billion Christians will live in the Southern hemisphere.

“By that time a white Christian is an oxymoron,” he said. “That is a shock. Wake up, this is the reality you cannot avoid.”

The Church should respond by building a new pluralistic social compact on the foundation of a century of modern Church teachings on human dignity, the preference for the poor in the exercise of Christian charity, justice, human rights, international relations and the environment, Father Phan said.

At the heart of the social compact must be a more open-ended view of ecclesiastical authority, he said.

“In globalization,” he said, “stratification has shifted to function. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are ordained or not ordained. It doesn’t matter. The question is, ‘Can you do and do it well?'”

This shift from rights and privileges to functional competition, he said, “presents the Church with huge challenges.”

“We must enter into humble dialogue with other subsystems, particularly religious subsystems, to learn from them new truths and new ways of living – not seeming to tell them we are the best, we are superior to them and they are deficient,” he said.

“Think about this in terms of clergy in the Catholic Church,” Father Phan concluded, “and you can see all kinds of problems arise.”

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