Saturday, September 15, 2007

John Allen on why Fr. Peter Phan is being investigated

Why is Peter Phan under investigation? A good analysis of the details and history of the case, the merits of the case (i.e. the substantive issues under investigation), Fr. Phan's response (which involves requesting financial compensation that a proper response would require), and the unusual fact that there are two independent investigation (one by the CDF and one by the USCCB's committee on doctrinal life. Fr. Phan chose not to response to Allen's queries (quite understandably). Further, there's this connection with the approach taken to mission and presence in Asia by the FABC and particularly in India. For e.g.
One example came in October 2005, when a conference of priests and bishops at the Pune Papal Seminary in India recommended a sweeping program of "Indianization" of the Church, including performing the Hindu ritual of aarti during Mass (a ritual that involves lighting candles and singing), studying Sanskrit and the Vedas, experiencing ashram life, and participating in a satsang (a form of meditation and spiritual study under the guidance of a master.) In part, these practices were justified as a response to criticism that Christianity is hostile to Hindu traditions: "It would definitely put a check on the so-called fundamentalists who keep blaming us for conversions," said Indian Fr. Lionell Mascarenhas.

Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, said in a 2006 interview with NCR that Asia can teach the church something about inculturation.

"The Holy Spirit guides us in a particular direction at a particular time, and today we're being led towards inculturation," he said. "In Asian societies, religion is seen as a necessary part of the culture. I believe the West has got to learn to respond to the signs of the times. Change and adaptation is necessary, and maybe the churches of the South, especially in Asia, can offer an example. Today, we try to be open to the Spirit with self-confidence, believing that inculturation is not going to take the church to the ruins."

While few would dispute that point in theory, where the rubber meets the road is how to apply it in practice.
[I should add that in my limited experience -- I spent a lot of time one year at the Jesuit seminary, De Nobili College, right next door to the Papal Atheneum, now known as the Jnanadeep Vidyapeeth -- the Light of Knowledge University -- and in my experience, many Indian Jesuits would nuance the unique nature of Christ's role in salvation to such a degree as to empty it of any serious content. Certainly, one is hard pressed to find a Catholic priest who might suggest that people should convert to Christianity -- that's not a criticism, but an observation. Conversion is a hugely complicated issue, very volatile, and the Church tends to be on the defensive, especially for the excesses of the colonial era. That said, perhaps, things might have gone too far the other way -- the sense I get is that dialogue has completely replaced any sense of proclamation or evangelization. I've also been to Masses where the aarti is used -- I can't for the life of me see what the problem is what that -- where bhajans are sung that sound not very different from what one hears at a katha or a puja and I recall one very eyebrow raising liturgy with an unpublished, unapproved, 1970s experimental Indian anaphora, including phrases lifted directly out of the Upanishads. My question to the Jesuits always has been --- why this insistence on top down inculturation to a very particular kind of Brahmanical Hinduism? Do we want -- like De Nobili -- to have a Catholic clergy that looks like Hindu Brahmins? [There's a whole separate question of the fact that for the most part, Catholic clergy still -- this is changing -- come from the higher castes] Is Hindiusm Brahmanism? What about Islam, which has equal claim of being an Indian religion? What about Dalit and tribal religions? And what about the culture of Latin Christianity that has grown up, on its own -- which is how often inculturation happens -- organically, in the south, or in Goa, or in the tribal areas of Jharkhand? And can't we learn something about inculturation from the Indian Orthodox -- whose liturgies, to my mind, seem incredibly Indian -- both positively (the liturgy) and negatively (with respect to caste?). Lots of questions. But I'm an outsider really. At least in my limited experience of urban Catholicism, the one place I hear nothing about incluturation is from the laity. Long tangent, sorry. I can see why these issues are of such interest to the Holy See.]

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