Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church, just as any Christian, has the duty and “inalienable right” to evangelize, to announce the Good News of the Gospel and the encounter with Christ. The “Doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelisation” issued today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is dedicated to the subsequent relationship between the missionary mandate and respect for religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It denies the value of relativistic theories which claim there is no need to announce Christ – it suffices to invite people to act according to what their con science tells them - as well as those which exalt the pluralism of faiths in leading to salvation. According to the Note, in relations with other faiths the right to evangelize is manifest in dialogue and witness, in full respect of religious freedom. This refutes all forms of proselytism that is conversion by force or coercion, but demands that the right to belong to the Catholic Church is recognised, even by Christians of other confessions.
Expressly approved by Benedict XVI and significantly dated the feast of St Francis Xavier, patron saint of missions, the Note appears destined to clarify some doctrinal questions and reaffirm the necessity to announce Christ, directly linked to the principal themes of Dominus Iesus, a declaration issued in 2000 by the same Congregation in which it underlined that Christ is the only Savoir, even thug God can gift grace to anyone, “by means known only to Him”.
The document begins with the need to eliminate “growing confusion” regarding the nature of mission. On the one hand there are those who judge “that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom," suggesting that it is enough to invite people "to act according to their consciences". On the other hand, those for who it is enough to "become more human or more faithful to their own religion", or "to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity", without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith”. (n. 3).
Both positions are judged negatively by the Note which, in its 19 pages, highlights the “Anthropological Implications” and the “Ecclesiological Implications” of the relationship between missiology and respect for freedom of con science and freedom of religion.
Regarding the first, it contests “some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth”. The same may be said of some concepts originating in the East; in fact in these theories the exclusive nature of truth is denied, allowing for the presupposition that it is present in equal measure in diverse doctrines, even those which are contradictory of each other”. But the Note affirms, human freedom cannot be separated from its basis in the truth and “human beings are given intellect and will by God that they might come to know and love what is true and good.”. (n. 4).
The missionary drive has brought and continues to bring contact between different cultures. It is inculturisation through which “enrich the life of Christians and the Church”. “Even though the Gospel is independent of all cultures” and is “capable of impregnating all of them without becoming subservient to them”. In the encounter with diverse cultures the characteristic of dialogue present in evangelization, is evident. But, “as in all fields of human endeavour, even in that of religious dialogue, sins can be committed”. This happens when it “gives way to coercion, selfish interest or arrogance”. “This is why the Church severely forbids the forcing or enticing of someone to embrace the faith”. (n. 8).
From the ecclesiological point of view the document reveals that “the Churches’ mission is put at risk by theories that justify religious pluralism” not only in fact but in principal too. “It is even stated that the claim to have received the gift of the fullness of God’s revelation masks an attitude of intolerance and a danger to peace”. (n. 10).
In reality, “respect for religious freedom and its very promotion must not in any way leave us indifferent towards truth and what is good. Rather the same love pushes disciples of Christ to announce to all man the truth that saves”. “Thus we fully comprehend the urgency of Christ’s invitation to evangelisation and to mission, which the Lord entrusted to the Apostles, and which regards all who are baptised”. “This apostolic commitment is a duty and inalienable right, a veritable expression of religious freedom, which has corresponding socio-political and socio-economic dimensions. A right which unfortunately in some parts of the world is not yet legally recognised and in others not respected”. (n. 10). This affirmation is explicitly mentioned in a note which recalls the right to “impart ones convictions to others” and favour other people joining one’s own religious community.
The two principals of the need to evangelise and religious freedom have evident “ecumenical implications”, as defined by the Note. It sets out by reconfirming the importance of ecumenism: “Unity is in fact the seal of credibility for all mission”.
This allowed, a problem is posed by Catholic evangelisation in “countries where non Catholics live, above all in countries of ancient Christian culture and traditions. There, real respect for the wealth of these traditions and a sincere spirit of cooperation is urged”. One’s thoughts turn to the not mentioned, tense relations with Russian Orthodoxy and their frequent accusations of proselytism. Although it does not explicitly refer to this the document does state” with non Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth: a dialogue which is not just an exchange of ideas but also of gifts”. (n. 12). But “that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term.” (n. 12). The document affirms that conversion “naturally requires the avoidance of any undue pressure” and “the exercise of charity is free”.