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Report of meeting of May 12th 2015

A Catholic perspective on inter-religious dialogue

Fr Brian Doolan was introduced as the parish priest for a Roman Catholic parish covering some 37 villages in south Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, based on Shipston-on-Stour. A former Church of England priest, he had ministered in Birmingham and Coventry, and been in charge of the Catholic cathedral in Birmingham.

Fr Doolan emphasized the central teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the magisterium, disseminated through the 6,000 Catholic bishops throughout the world. This teaching is clear and definite, but always open to new developments through the work of the Holy Spirit, recognising the need to express it relevantly to subsequent generations. From the early 1970s differing religions were all searching for answers to 'ultimate' questions, such as the nature of divinity, ways of life, and suffering. Taking this into account is part of official Roman Catholic Church policy.

The significant development in Catholic teaching about interfaith issues took place in the Second Vatican Council (1963-5), called by Pope John XXIII. He had been Papal Nuncio or diplomat in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, and had wide experience of interfaith issues. He was shocked at the silence of the German Catholic bishops during the Nazi years and the attempt to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe, when only two bishops spoke out against Hitler’s policies. He felt that the relationship between Christians and Jews must be completely re-thought. Cardinal Bea was a great ally in this. This led to the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), currently led by Cardinal Tauran. Pope St John Paul II continued this tradition of openness to other faiths and gathered leaders of world faiths to pray at Assisi. The current Pope, Francis, has written an encyclical entitled Evangelii Gaudium, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, which emphasizes that both evangelism and interreligious dialogue are necessary. Dialogue is essential for world peace. This openness is widely shared in local Catholic churches, with their international flavour. For example, Bill Ozanne is the leader of Catholics involved in interreligious dialogue in the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

Questions and discussion with Fr Doolan noted that Catholics share with Muslims the experience of discrimination and civil disabilities in the UK, for Catholics up until 1926. Today the current atmosphere of secularity made it harder to stand up for what we believe.

Christopher Lamb

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