Bishop Conry makes the mistake of presenting Christianity and Islam as equal religions in inter-faith dialogue

Kieran Conry, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, issued a pastoral letter for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary time in which he seeks to encourage members of his diocese to engage in inter-faith dialogue with Islam. There’s nothing wrong with this, but Bishop Conry makes the mistake of presenting Christianity and Islam as being equal religions and therefore equal partners in inter-faith dialogue. The problem with Bishop Conry’s version of inter-faith dialogue is his use of selective quotes from Nostra Aetate and Pope Benedict to convey this mistaken notion of two equal religions. Here’s Bishop Conry’s pastoral letter:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

At the beginning of July, Channel 4 announced plans to broadcast a live call to prayer during the Muslim festival of Ramadan, beginning a week later. This caused the inevitable flurry of outrage, controversy and all the other things you might expect, especially in certain parts of the media and the ‘blogosphere’.

During these years leading up to the diocesan Jubilee in 2015, we are studying some of the major documents of the Second Vatican Council. But 2015 also sees the 50th anniversary of the one of the shortest of the Council’s documents, but in some ways one of the most significant. Indeed, Pope Benedict said of it that one of the aims of the Council, to engage more with the modern world, was realised not in the great Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, which we have labelled ‘ Mission’, but in two smaller documents; one was the document on religious freedom, and the other was a document called in Latin Nostra Aetate, ‘In Our Age’, and it is the document that calls us to dialogue with other religions. The Church makes the distinction between other faiths and other religions; other faiths are those communities that share our belief in Jesus as Saviour. Other religions do not share this belief.

Nostra Aetate was published on 28 October, 1965, along with four other documents, one on the role of bishops, one on the renewal of religious life, one on the formation of priests and the fourth on Christian education. At the time it may have seemed the least significant. It only amounts to thirty sentences in the Latin original.

At the time it was seen primarily as a move to end historical prejudice against the Jewish people, and to begin a better mutual understanding between the two religions. Today, however, we would probably read the document in a slightly different way, with more of an emphasis on relations between the Church and Islam. The first section talks about the way in which religions throughout history have tried to answer the basic questions about life and death; the second section expands on that and refers to contemporary religions, making reference to Hinduism and Buddhism as examples. The document makes what must have seemed like a very bold statement nearly fifty years ago: it says, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.”

[Protect the Pope comment: Bishop Conry's partial quote from Nostra Aetate paragraph 2 detaches the idea of the Church rejecting 'nothing of what is true and holy in these religions' from its Christocentric focus and context. Bishop Conry is right that the Church does not reject what is good and true in world religions, but fails to mention that she upholds the truth that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ (Gaudium et Spes, 10; Ad Gentes, 9). Nostra Aetate paragraph 2 states, ' She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.' ]

The third section then begins with the words, “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to man.” The text goes on to refer to the ‘quarrels and dissensions’ that have happened in our shared history, and then says that “The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

These words and sentiments are very important for our time, when latent suspicions and hostility can easily be brought to the surface again by tragic events like the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

In 2010 the Bishops of England & Wales published a document on relations between different religions called Meeting God in Friend and Stranger. It goes back to the Council document Nostra Aetate and looks at what progress has been made since then. It mentions the journeys that Pope John Paul II made all over the world and how these “pointed out the path of dialogue.” He was the first pope to enter a synagogue and the first to enter a mosque.

In his first public address as pope, his successor, Benedict XVI, said that while his first priority would be dialogue with other Christians, his second would be interreligious dialogue. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger had said this: “Interreligious dialogue, which is part of the Church’s evangelising mission, requires an attitude of understanding and a relationship of mutual knowledge and reciprocal enrichment, in obedience to the truth and with respect for freedom.”

[Protect the Pope comment: Bishop Conry again uses a selective quote from Cardinal Ratzinger that detaches inter-faith dialogue from its foundation in the unique salvific role of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father. Cardinal Ratzinger set inter-religious dialogue in a Trinitarian context, as he puts it, all goodness and truth comes from the the Father and are the words of the Holy Spirit. The seeds of the incarnate Word Jesus Christ are cast abroad everywhere, 'Yet we cannot shut our eyes to the errors and illusions that are present in these religions' (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, p.214). Unfortunately, Bishop Conry has shut his eyes to the errors and illusions Islam promulgates about the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, True God and true man.]

In that document, Dominus Jesus (The Lord Jesus) Cardinal Ratzinger was careful to steer people away from a modern relativist attitude, that suggests that all religions are the same in the end.Meeting God in Friend and Stranger repeats Cardinal Ratzinger’s insistence that the Church’s promotion of dialogue “does not stem from the belief that truth is relative. Quite the contrary, it stems from the conviction that truth is one and universal, (and) that there are glimpses of that one truth and supreme good in other religions.

[Protect the Pope comment: Bishop Conry achieves an amazing thing in this paragraph, because he refers to Cardinal Ratzinger's argument against relativism, turns it on its head by suggesting a version of the relativist metaphor of religions as different paths up the mountain of truth. As Bishop O'Donoghue observes, ''this false understanding of dialogue appears to be a desire to reduce all religious beliefs to the same level, glossing over very real differences about the truth, in order to encourage co-operation and tolerance'. (Fit for Mission? Church, p.73).]

I am writing this on the first day of the Muslim holy season of Ramadan. I ask that you accept this urge to dialogue, so that at least we might understand one another more. Very often our image of Islam is simply the one presented by the media, and how often do we complain that the media view distorts the reality of the Catholic Church? We must not in our minds associate the word ‘Muslim’ with any of the negative and pejorative terms often linked to it in the media. This dialogue is not just a dialogue of charity – it is not long ago that the Catholic community was largely immigrant, misunderstood and the victim of prejudice and bigotry – it is also a dialogue of hope, hope and trust in God who wills all people to be saved and who, in Christ and the Holy Spirit, is already at work in all that is true and holy in other religions.

[Protect the Pope comment: By writing that 'Christ and the Holy Spirit, is already at work in all that is true and holy in other religions' without rooting their salvific missions in the incarnation and humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Church He founded, Bishop Conry is in danger of making a fundamental mistake criticised by Cardinal Ratzinger in 'Dominus Iesus':

'It is likewise contrary to the Catholic faith to introduce a separation between the salvific action of the Word as such and that of the Word made man. With the incarnation, all the salvific actions of the Word of God are always done in unity with the human nature that he has assumed for the salvation of all people. The one subject which operates in the two natures, human and divine, is the single person of the Word.' Bishop Conry would have avoided this impression if he had written 'God who wills all people to be saved in Our Lord Jesus Christ']

I wish you a peaceful and restful summer.

With my prayers and good wishes.

+Kieran

http://www.abdiocese.org.uk/Bishop/PastoralMessages/2013/16+Sunday+of+Ordinary+Time

27 comments to Bishop Conry makes the mistake of presenting Christianity and Islam as equal religions in inter-faith dialogue

  • Michael Petek

    As a man who lives in Brighton, I have to say in response to my Bishop that I cannot see anything true and holy in Islam besides truths of reason.

    My first question in dialogue would be: What evidence is there to establish with certainty that any predecessor of Caliph Abd al-Malik was even a Muslim. For sixty years after Muhammad’s reported death in 632, neither the Arabs nor the people they conquered ever mentioned that they had a prophet, a holy book and a new religion. (See Robert Spencer, “Did Muhammad Exist?”)

  • Wake up England

    The Church teaches (and has always taught)that the Catholic Church is “necessary for Salvation”. Vide the Catechism of the CC 846.

    Those who do not know Christ and his church “THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN” (if they seek God with a sincere heart) may achieve salvation.

    HOWEVER: All salvation comes from Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross (which is continued in the Mass). Without this one, perfect sacrifice offered on behalf of all mankind, there would be no salvation for anyone – Catholic or Muslim.

    The Catholic Church is the One Arc (boat) of salvation for all. This is – always has been – and always will be Catholic teaching.

    Mgr Alfred Gilbey made an analogy in his book We Believe:

    He said that the Catholic Church was akin to an ocean liner crossing the sea (the arc of salvation). The man rowing on one of the ships rowing machines may BELIEVE he is propelling himself across; but in fact it is really the liner which is taking him towards his destination.

    And so it is with Islam: if Muslims eventually get to Heaven (and we must Hope they do) it is solely due to the merits of Our Blessed Lord and the sacrifice he made for us all on Calvary.

    Any bishop who distorts, confuses or clouds this teaching is not doing his job as a successor of the Twelve Apostles.

    All religions are most certainly NOT EQUAL. This is the teaching of the Church.

    • tro

      “The Catholic Church is the One Arc (boat) of salvation for all.”

      +Kieran sounds suspiciously like one of these “many different paths up the mountain to God” chaps. But that doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, what does Islam, for example, have to say about Christianity?

      Islam relegates Jesus to the status of mere ‘prophet’ – and a lesser prophet than Muhammad at that. Islam denies the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of our Lord. Islam claims that when Jesus returns He is going to smash all the crosses. Islam claims that Jesus was a Moslem. Abraham and Moses were Moslems too, according to Islam. But Jews and Christians conspired to change Scripture to hide the truth about these great patriarchs.

      Where’s the ‘common ground’ here?

      Koran, 5:72-73: “They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O Children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with God, – God will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.”

      The misapprehension of the Blessed Trinity notwithstanding, that doesn’t sound to me like the stuff of which dialogue is made.

      Koran, 5:51 “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust.”

      Not seeing a great deal of scope for dialogue there, either.

      +Kieran needs to get real.

      Compassion and respect for followers of Islam as persons made in the image and likeness of God? Most certainly. And the same goes for adherents of all religions and none.

      And of course we must strive to live in peace with followers of Islam and other religions wherever and whenever possible. What we must never do, however, is water down the truth of Catholicism in pursuit of some imaginary “dialogue”.

  • “God who wills all people to be saved.” has often been used since the Council and in the Council documents themselves to justify inter-religious dialogue etc. However, it is a very partial quote from St Paul and the second clause of his teaching has consistently been dropped and neglected. The full quote is from 1 Tim 2,4

    “3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Saviour,

    4 Who will have all men to be saved, AND TO COME TO KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.

    5 For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus:

    6 Who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times.”

    Fr. Haydock in his commentary has this to offer:

    “Ver. 4. All men to be saved. They contradict this, and other places of the Scripture, as well as the tradition and doctrine of the Catholic Church, who teach that God willeth only the salvation of the predestinated, of the elect, and as they say, of the first-begotten only: and that he died only for them, and not for all mankind. But if it is the will of God that all and every one be saved, and no one resists, or can frustrate the will of the Almighty, whence comes it that every one is not saved? To understand and reconcile divers places in the holy Scriptures, we must needs distinguish in God a will that is absolute and effectual, accompanied with special graces and assistances, and with the gift of final perseverance, by which, through his pure mercy, he decreed to save the elect, without any prejudice to their free will and liberty; and a will, which by the order of Providence, is conditional, and this not a metaphorical and improper will only, but a true and proper will, by which he hath prepared and offered graces and means to all men, whereby they may work their salvation; and if they are not saved, it is by their own fault, by their not corresponding with the graces offered, it is because they resist the Holy Ghost. (Acts vii. 51.) If in this we meet with difficulties, which we cannot comprehend, the words of St. Paul, (Romans ix. 20.) O man, who art thou, who repliest against God? may be sufficient to make us work our salvation with fear and trembling. (Witham)”

    A Scripture quoted out of context as a prooftext is nothing more than a pretext for error.

  • With regards to the Bishops letter and as a member of A and B diocese at this moment in time,perhaps for the best, words fail me!

  • Steve D

    What a load of b****s. He should be an Imam.

  • katherine

    Prayer for priests.

    O Jesus
    I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;
    for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
    for your priests labouring at home or abroad in distant mission fields.
    For your tempted priests;
    for your lonely and desolate priests;
    for your young priests;
    for your dying priests;
    for the souls of your priests in Prugatory.
    But above all, I recommend to you the priests dearest to me:
    the priest who baptised me;
    the priests who absolved me from my sins;
    the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body ad Blood in Holy Communion;
    the priests who taught me and instructed me;
    all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way.

    O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity.

    Amen.

    St Therest of Lisieux
    Prayer for Priests.

    This prayer was printed on an attractive little card for the Year of Priests (June 2009 – June 2010) by the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

    Could we all pray for our clergy, they all need our prayers, today more than ever. This beautiful little prayer written by St Therese covers them all. St Therese, we commend ALL our clergy to you and ask you to intercede for them.

    Prayer is our best response to Bishop Kieran.

  • EssEm

    “Dialogue” with Muslims is a complete waste of time, and worse. Muslims believe –as Catholics used to– that their religion is the only true religion and that its destiny is to cover the world. If you read the Koran all the way through, you can see that Jesus is an acolyte to Muhammed and Christianity is a corruption of revelation, its doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation frankly and brutally rejected.

    Catholic naivete about Islam is maddening. A few nice Muslim neighbors does not change what Islam is, by nature and from its origins: an imperialist and totalitarian theocracy. I know a nice Marxist down the street. That does not change what Communism is by one iota.

    • Rifleman819

      Essem,

      A first class post……absolutely bang on.

      Would you like to be bishop of Arundel and Brighton?

    • Wake up England

      EssEm:

      Having lived in Morocco for seven years I can wholeheartedly endorse what you have said. It is the simple truth. Well done for saying it so succinctly.

    • Denis

      This is the same Bishop who wanted Marian prayers removed from the Mass. He seems now to be content to preside over the collapse of Catholicism while extolling the virtues of a faith which has nothing but.contempt for him and indeed for all of us.
      Interestingly see the response from readers of the Catholic Herald and the Tablet to his crackpot, right-on nonsense. I hope that he reads every post, but I am sure it will all be filtered until the remnants are the newspeak trash that he and indeed other fellow bishops are content with.
      I struggle to keep my children true to the faith and to my despair find they are being indoctrinated with this syncretist nonsense. If Bishop Conry is intent on reaching hell in a handcart he can go there alone.

  • Michael B Rooke

    SYNOD OF BISHOPS

    XIII ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY

    THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
    FOR THE
    TRANSMISSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

    INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS

    VATICAN CITY
    2012

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20120619_instrumentum-xiii_en.html

    73. Secondly, the religious sector concerns interreligious dialogue, which, in a variety of ways, is a necessity today throughout the world. Interreligious dialogue has already had some positive results. The countries of an ancient Christian tradition see in the expanding presence of the great religions, particularly Islam, an incentive to develop new forms of involvement, visibility and proposing the Christian faith. Generally speaking, interreligious dialogue and discussion with the great religions of the East can be an opportunity for our Christian communities to deepen their understanding of our faith, in virtue of the questions that such a discussion raise in us, questions about the course of human history and God’s presence in it. Interreligious dialogue also provides an occasion to refine the instruments of dialogue and the places of collaboration in developing peace in an increasingly human society.

  • Rifleman819

    Deacon Nick ,
    Bishop Kieran Conry is a big mistake himself. Sorry.

  • (X)MCCLXIII

    Of course, he should go. But he should have gone years ago.

  • peter

    It’s a pastoral letter and not a theological note. I’m not sure why there is so much consternation – it is a an encouraging letter. Remember John Paul 2 kissing the Quran – no one batted an eyelid.

    Great video of Francis returning from Rio and going to the beautiful Basilica of St. Mary Major and placing gifts on the altar. Some people seem rather shocked, Maybe it is me but i just don’t see it.

    http://www.romereports.com/palio/pope-francis-returns-to-rome-after-wyd-2013-upon-arrival-goes-to-basilica-to-pray-to-our-lady-english-10719.html

  • Amanda Peter

    Our bishops have become so wordly and weak leaders. Islam is not a religion of redemption of soteriology.The theology of Islam completely contradicts the theology of Christianity. TRUTH is an objective reality outside if us. Our Lord Jesus Christ true God and true man told us to baptise all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If we engage in dialogue it is for this end only…. Everything else is vanity. It is the will of God that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Not lead up the garden path into darkness and error.

  • Damask Rose

    How on earth did Fr Conry get to become a Bishop?

    Peter @ 10:23 –

    “Remember John Paul 2 kissing the Quran – no one batted an eyelid.”

    Doh, of course they didn’t bat an eyelid. They just lapped up that example of inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism.
    (Even if say, JPII kissed the Koran because of its mention of Mary, personally I think his act was too private to himself and nuanced for consumption by the masses – pity he forgot about the Franciscan martyrs of Islam.)

    • Wake up England

      I was absolutely horrified when the Pope kissed the Koran, actually. And I’m sure many others were too.

      Catholics do not believe one religion is as good as another. Nor do Muslims.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    As pastoral letters from Bishop Kieran go I thought this was pretty innocuous but essentially useless. Some years ago “Churches together is Sussex” or somesuch made a visit to two mosques in Crawley which is in A&B. I do not think that any of us came away with the idea that dialogue was possible. Talking to individual muslims can be useful but one tends to hit a blank wall fairly soon.

  • Martin

    The real question is: has Bishop Conry ever done anything which was NOT mistaken?

  • Martin

    “Remember John Paul 2 kissing the Quran – no one batted an eyelid.”

    I can assure you that they did and do. The Assisi meetings are a terrible, terrible mistake.

  • [...] and misunderstandings contained in one short piece of text provided on the Protect the Pope site here, and I have seldom seen do many mistakes made in an essay since Battersby of 4C left my class many [...]

  • Ioannes

    Kieran Conry is a bishop because he was the nominee of Cormac Murphy O’Connor. Since he isn’t my bishop I can only infer from the statements he has made over the years that the man is a buffoon. Sorry, A&B – he’s only 62 so you’re stuck with him for some time yet.

  • peter

    Pope to Muslims for end of Ramadan: Promoting Mutual Respect through Education

    (Vatican Radio) The Vatican has published a message from Pope Francis to the world’s Muslims for the conclusion of Ramadan. This year, the Islamic period of prayer and fasting concludes between August 8th and 9th.

    To Muslims throughout the World

    It gives me great pleasure to greet you as you celebrate ‘Id al-Fitr, so concluding the month of Ramadan, dedicated mainly to fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

    It is a tradition by now that, on this occasion, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends you a message of good wishes, together with a proposed theme for common reflection. This year, the first of my Pontificate, I have decided to sign this traditional message myself and to send it to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.

    As you all know, when the Cardinals elected me as Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church, I chose the name of “Francis”, a very famous saint who loved God and every human being deeply, to the point of being called “universal brother”. He loved, helped and served the needy, the sick and the poor; he also cared greatly for creation.

    I am aware that family and social dimensions enjoy a particular prominence for Muslims during this period, and it is worth noting that there are certain parallels in each of these areas with Christian faith and practice.

    This year, the theme on which I would like to reflect with you and with all who will read this message is one that concerns both Muslims and Christians: Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.

    This year’s theme is intended to underline the importance of education in the way we understand each other, built upon the foundation of mutual respect. “Respect” means an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem. “Mutual” means that this is not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides.

    What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation. Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal.

    Turning to mutual respect in inter-religious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims, we are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values. Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!

    It is clear that, when we show respect for the religion of our neighbours or when we offer them our good wishes on the occasion of a religious celebration, we simply seek to share their joy, without making reference to the content of their religious convictions.

    Regarding the education of Muslim and Christian youth, we have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.

    We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way, sincere and lasting friendship can grow.

    When I received the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on 22 March 2013, I said: “It is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world.” With these words, I wished to emphasise once more the great importance of dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslims, and the need for it to be enhanced.

    With these sentiments, I reiterate my hope that all Christians and Muslims may be true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education.

    Finally, I send you my prayerful good wishes, that your lives may glorify the Almighty and give joy to those around you.
    Happy Feast to you all!

  • Johan Tristan Aslim

    For those interested in discussions between a Jonas Yunus, a Christian theologian, and some of the most influential spiritual leaders of the Islamic world, have a look at http://www.halalmonk.com. An interesting website full of deepening discussions on Christianity, Islam and our contemporary global culture.

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