ROME, Oct. 2 (JTA) – Pope John Paul II is trying to patch up strained
relations with other religious leaders after a controversial Vatican document rejected the idea that other religions could be equal to Roman Catholicism.
Clearly concerned that the negative reaction to last month’s document could take a heavy toll on the course of interreligious dialogue, the pope devoted much of his weekly Sunday message to the faithful to damage control.
John Paul reaffirmed his support of the Sept. 5 document, but said there had been “many wrong interpretations” of it. He said he hoped misunderstandings could be overcome.
The document repeated Roman Catholic Church teachings that non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient situation” regarding salvation and that other Christian churches have “defects.”
But the pope said it is wrong to interpret the document to mean that non-Christians are denied salvation.
He added that it had not intended to express “arrogance which shows contempt for other religions.” In fact, the pope said, the Vatican had been trying to help the process of interfaith dialogue by “clarifying essential Christian elements” in order to lay firm foundations for interreligious contacts.
“Dialogue without foundations,” he said, “would be destined to degenerate into empty verbosity.” The document in question was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Protest over its contents was one reason why Rome Jewish leaders pulled out of a Catholic-Jewish dialogue seminar that had been scheduled for Tuesday.
But the document provoked an outcry from Protestant leaders, as well as from Jews.
Other Christian leaders, in fact, were especially bitter, as the document seemed to imply that Roman Catholicism is the only true form of Christianity.
The archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the world’s 70 million Anglicans, was particularly vocal in branding this position unacceptable.