Sunday, 19 April 2009

Times: Dialogue, not apologetics
19.4.9 by Fr Joe Borg

We Catholics do not know it all. We do not have answers to all questions. We do not always get it right. This is true of all Catholics at all levels, the hierarchy not excluded. A look at our past and present shows the disasters we caused when we believed we have all the answers.

In the name of a loving and all merciful God, we massacred indigenous people, waged Crusades, and burnt people at the stake because of their opinions. We then had the audacity to say that by doing what we did we saved their souls. Was there ever a worse kind of blasphemy?

We condemned democracy and freedom of religion, tried to silence scientists, persecuted homosexuals and blessed the subjugation of women to men. We even emarginated Catholic theologians because of their teachings. Fortunately, some of them become the heroes in subsequent eras.

Most Catholics would agree that we do not know it all. However, the assent that many give to such a statement is a very feeble one. It is just lip service. As a result, when Catholics are criticised, many react by claiming they are being persecuted.

Today, there are many Catholics who believe that the media in Malta and the overseas have hatched a grand conspiracy against the Church simply because it is the Church. I do not subscribe to this position, though I heartily subscribe to many other criticisms of the media.

Enveloped in this kind of mentality these Catholics live in a state of shock. They do one of two things: they either adopt a siege mentality or go out on a crusade. Such fellow Catholics unfortunately live in a state of nostalgia; and as Archbishop Paul Cremona courageously said during the Synod of Bishops in Rome, they are an obstacle to the Church's own evangelisation programme.

The external world becomes for them a hostile environment and an apologetic attitude is their strategy. Such an attitude will get us nowhere.

The real alternative is dialogue. We have to dialogue within the Church. No group or segment within the Church can monopolise it, even if that group happens to occupy important places within its structure.

We should engage in open dialogue with non-believers, and attempt to make Catholic teachings persuasive to a secular audience. It is necessary to listen to others, and when speaking, to use terms they understand. We have to dialogue with members of other religions, as there is a lot to learn from them.

Together with followers of other religions and non-believers of good will, Catholics can engage in a common project to build a better world. This was the attitude of Vatican II. Dialogue was a catchphrase used by Pope John XXIII and later elaborated upon by Paul VI. It should be our programme of action.

Fr Michael Barnes, SJ, a lecturer in the theology of religions at Heythrop College, University of London, and author of Theology and the Dialogue of Religions, says the Church exists not just to teach others but to learn from others as well.

I am happy to note that Fr Barnes will be coming from London to speak about this important theme - dialogue - at this year's Benjamin Tonna lecture, which is organised annually by Discern in memory of its founder. The lecture is being held tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Phoenicia Hotel ballroom.

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1 comment:

  1. Is this the same Fr Joe Borg who wrote those offensive comments on gay men and lesbians? I find very little to disagree with him in this article. I hope, however, that his idea of a dialogue extends beyond non-believers to embrace gay men and lesbians. The Church has much to learn from our honesty about our sexuality. But that is what might irritate it most. And there is much I admire in Roman Catholicism to the point that I have not infrequently described myself as a Roman Catholic agnostic. Some have accused me of being a closeted Catholic. No one would dare accuse me of being a closeted homosexual!

    Joseph Carmel Chetcuti