Monday, December 7, 2015

Religious Liberty and Ecumenical Dialogue

By John W. Crossin, OSFS

As the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Second Vatican Council come to a close, there is one last anniversary to commemorate. Dignitatis Humanae, or the Declaration on Religious Freedom, was the last document to be promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI from Council on December 7, 1965. This document is foundational for the dialogue process.

This past June I attended my first meeting of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches [WCC] and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity [PCPCU]. The meeting took place in Rome and the second will occur in Geneva next September as the twenty of us from all parts of the globe familiarize ourselves with each other’s mission and structure.

In the week-long meeting I was reminded that the relationship began before the Second Vatican Council. There were some initial conversations between the WCC and Cardinal Bea’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity especially through the then-Monsignor (later Cardinal) Willebrands who had come to work at the Secretariat. As the ecumenical officer for the Dutch Bishops he had regular contact with WCC officials in Geneva.

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration on Religious Liberty of the Council, we do well to recall this early relationship. Scholars note that the WCC leaders spoke to the Secretariat about the importance of religious liberty to ecumenism.

If there is no religious liberty, ecumenical dialogue loses its credibility. It is no accident that along with the Decree on Ecumenism, with Nostra Aetate and with related parts of other Council documents, Cardinal Bea’s Secretariat shepherded the Declaration on Religious Liberty for several years. Much to their credit, Cardinals Bea and Willebrands saw the importance of religious liberty not only for their work but for the good of communities throughout the world.

The final document, influenced greatly by the scholarly research and practical sense of the American John Courtney Murray, S.J., was and remains foundational in a host of ways. For example it discourages proselytism and encourages respect for the conscientious decision of each person about their faith. It is a touchstone for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. I see this as I help to continue the honest conversations begun by colleagues over fifty years ago.


 Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales and executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The Challenge of Religious Freedom

In 1965, the Catholic Church promulgated Dignitatis Humanae, its Declaration on Religious Liberty. The declaration teaches about the nature of religious freedom, truth, and the relationship between the Church and government. This teaching does not only affect Church officials, leaders, and administrators. It makes a demand on each and every one of us, for we are a called to a life of holiness, a life of seeking and living the truth about God.

One of the great challenges that many people face in our spiritual lives today is to succumb to a kind of spiritual listlessness, a sense that persevering on the hard road of discipleship day-in and day-out is unnecessary and yields few rewards. The temptation can afflict anyone. We may ask ourselves, do I really need to go to confession? Why should I go to Mass? Can’t I just “worship” by enjoying a nice brunch with friends and loved ones? Sociologists who study the religious attitudes of Americans have long shown that most people, from almost all faith groups, believe that God basically just wants us to be nice and happy.

This spiritual condition helps drive our current struggles over religious freedom. The steadfast commitment to principle and conscience that we see in people like the Little Sisters of the Poor might seem odd in an environment when almost anything is up for compromise. Principled people challenge the idea that God only wants us to be nice and happy. They bear witness to a different way, a way of unyielding devotion to the truth.

When we think of religious freedom, we may tend to think of civil rights and the government, rather than spirituality. Nevertheless, a call to discipleship flows from the Declaration on Religious Liberty. Dignitatis Humanae teaches that human beings have both a right and a duty to pursue the truth, especially the truth about God. Indeed, the right follows from the duty. All of us must seek the truth and comport our lives with the truth when we discover it. This is a major challenge that the Declaration on Religious Liberty asks us to encounter today.

We are all called to holiness, and that means that we are all called be vigilant in our search for truth and to hold fast to our principles, to refuse to compromise on matters of conscience. A culture in which religious freedom thrives is one that is populated by truth-seekers. When the search for truth is compromised across broad swaths of society, religious freedom is diminished. Dignitatis Humanae reminds us that religious freedom is a cultural and spiritual issue, as well a political and social one. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae in the middle of Advent, a time set aside for Christians to prepare to meet the Divine Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the perfect time to strengthen our resolve to be people of principle, who constantly seek to conform our lives to the truth that has been revealed to us in Christ.


Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at

Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Statement of Solidarity From the Administrative Committee Of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Terror always seeks to separate us from those we most love. Through their suffering, courage and compassion, Parisians are reminding us that the common bond of humanity is strongest when the need is greatest. We pledge our prayers for everyone who suffers from this horrific violence and our advocacy to support all those working to build just and peaceful societies.

To the people of France, we mourn with you and honor the lives lost from several nations, including our own. To our brothers and sisters in the Church in France, your family in the United States holds you close to our hearts. May the tender and merciful love of Jesus Christ give you comfort during this great trial and lead you on a path toward healing and peace.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Four Ways of Dialogue

By Julia McStravog

The Holy Father’s prayer intention for the month of November is dialogue. This intention is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ pontificate, and a continuation of his encouragement to the United States Bishops in his address to them at St. Matthew’s in Washington DC to “dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly.” While all of these dialogues are not accessible or necessary for every person, I don’t doubt his encouragement to “dialogue fearlessly” is for every person. Dialogue is relational and active. It is a dynamic mode of being that requires relationship, indeed friendship, with the religious other. It is encounter.

After the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the question became how to pastorally and practically implement the teachings of the Council. Specifically in reaction to the Declaration on non-Christian traditions and the Decree on Ecumenism the (what is now) the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and the (what is now) Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), were formed respectively, to focus on the Catholic Church’s relationships with those of other religious traditions, as well as other Christians.

In 1984 the document, Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, was produced by the then Secretariat for Non-Christians. The document lays the foundation for the Christian call to dialogue as mission, that is “working for the extension of the Kingdom [of God] and its values among all men and women,” (11) through the example “of Jesus… to respect the freedom of conscience of the human person.” “Mission must always revolve about people in full respect for their freedom.” (18) By following the teaching from the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Catholics must respect the inherent dignity of the human person to follow their conscience. In doing so, it necessarily follows that dialogue is intrinsic to the mission of the Church.

Dialogue and Mission laid out four ways of engaging in the practice of dialogue. While this document was produced by the now PCID, the framework for engaging in dialogue is accessible to the ecumenical cause as well. The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs practices the first mode of dialogue, the dialogue of theological exchange on behalf of the United States Bishops. Interreligious and ecumenical dialogues have different goals, interreligious for mutual understanding, ecumenical for working toward greater Christian unity. However, engaging in dialogue with the religious other can also foster greater Christian fellowship. As Saint Pope John Paul II astutely observed, interreligious dialogue “can also be a way of realizing unity among Christian Churches which are moved by the same love of Christ.”(Address to Secretariat for Non-Christians, March 3, 1984).

While the dialogue of theological exchange is a very specialized form a dialogue requiring an academic grasp of tradition, the meat of Dialogue and Mission is for the every person. The dialogue of life, the dialogue of common social action, and the dialogue of religious experience are accessible to any level of experience. Whether a parish is just beginning dialogue for the first time, or are seasoned practitioners, these three ways of being in relationship with the other, with encountering the other are suitable for engagement. They must also be supplemented by an attitude of hospitality and humility.

(1) The dialogue of theological exchange is practiced among scholars and religious leaders from various traditions.

(2) The dialogue of life is about attitude and the spirit that guides personal conduct. For the Christian it is about witnessing to the Gospel in all facets of life with engaging and living peacefully with the religious others.

(3) The dialogue of common social action is emerging as an important form of dialogue. There are groups of varying religious backgrounds coming together to live out their faith commitments by working together to combat homelessness, hunger, workers’ rights, and other social ills. The world today needs the common witness of people of faith.

(4) The dialogue of religious experience is where those who are deeply rooted in their own religious traditions share experiences of prayer, contemplation, faith, as well as religious expression.

It is built in the mission of the Church to encounter the religious other in a spirit of friendship. Dialogue and Mission sets out a feasible framework for the local parish to reach out to their neighbors in various ways. Dialogue need not be a daunting task, though it does take patience and humility to truly foster deep spiritual friendship. It is way to live out our Christian call to witness to the human dignity of every person laid out in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, upheld by the Council Fathers, and encouraged and modeled by Pope Francis.


Julia McStravog, is the Program and Research Specialist for the USCCB's Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 13

1. This morning Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, USCCB general secretary, met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden at the White House. The meeting continued the good will evident during the visit of Pope Francis. They addressed a range of issues important to Catholics in the United States as well as the common good, including Syrian and Middle East refugees, religious persecution, religious freedom, immigration reform and prison reform. The bishops are grateful for this opportunity for candid, cordial dialogue with the President and Vice President of the United States.

2. The USCCB's 2015 Fall General Assembly will be live streamed on the Internet, November 16-17, and will be available via satellite for broadcasters wishing to air it. The live stream will be available at: News updates, vote totals, texts of addresses and presentations and other materials will be posted to this page. Those wishing to follow the meeting on social media can use the hashtag #usccb15 and visit USCCB's Twitter handle for live events (, as well as on Facebook ( and Instagram (

3. Pope Francis will visit to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome Sunday. Last month the USCCB and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued the "Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist," a unique ecumenical document that marks a pathway toward greater visible unity between Catholics and Lutherans.

4. Sunday begins National Bible Week. Test your Bible knowledge today.

5.God loves you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Commitment to Dialogue

By Father John W. Crossin, OSFS

Sometimes I ask people how they became committed to dialogue. Occasionally the story is dramatic.

One priest told me that as a young graduate student he went to an ecumenical prayer service. When he walked out he knew he must commit himself to dialogue. Over thirty years later, he is still teaching about ecumenism and dialoguing with others.

Most people’s experience is more mundane. My friends often say that they were invited to an ecumenical or interreligious dialogue. They found that was where they belonged. They enjoyed learning about others and engaging the conversation. The conversation got deeper over time.

My own experience is that I was chosen for an ecumenical position. In the beginning I found myself ‘staying with people I knew’ at ecumenical and interreligious meetings. I eventually realized that I would have to take a little risk to get to know people. So I took to coming to meetings early for the luncheon before the meeting. I tried to sit next to someone I didn’t know, someone I could get to know better. Dialogue begins with establishing a personal relationship, with becoming friends. Thus I had some good but simple meals and got to know many of the participants.

Most people I have gotten to know through dialogues are quite impressive. They are knowledgeable and spiritually deep. I try to listen intently and to learn from them. Of course I often share things about myself as well. Dialogue is mutual.

To this day, I find that on the way home from a meeting I often am thinking about what was said and what I learned. Later in the day, I might bring something that affected me into prayer. I ask myself how God might be speaking to me through the other person.

I know that the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to my Catholic colleagues. Sometimes the good example and sterling character of my dialogue partners urges me to be better or to understand more deeply.

Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales and executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.