By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Catholics engage in interreligious dialogue, they must know that equality exists among the participants, not the religions they represent, said Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"The fact that there are various religious propositions does not mean that they are equally true," the archbishop said in a Nov. 8 interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The newspaper conducted the interview after the archbishop gave a speech to the heads of Italian men's religious orders on the theme "Witnessing to Christ, the Only Savior, in a Multireligious Society."
Archbishop Amato had told the superiors general that, especially in a situation where there is so much doubt about the existence of objective truths, there is no room for dilettantes in interreligious dialogue.
While a "dialogue of charity" -- getting to know one another better, building friendships, overcoming prejudice -- is appropriate for all Christians, he told the newspaper, the "dialogue of truth" in which religious teachings are discussed "must be conducted with care by experts."
Unlike ecumenical dialogue, in which Christians seek unity based on a shared faith in Jesus Christ and a common baptism, interreligious dialogue is a search for understanding and peaceful coexistence based on a common humanity and common search for spiritual values, he told the newspaper.
"Interreligious dialogue -- which has as its aim the promotion of peace among peoples -- cannot and must not exclude conversion to the truth and to the Christian faith with respect for the l iberty and dignity of each person," he said.
"Paradoxically, however, in a certain (current of) Catholic theology of religions, and in certain pastoral practices, interreligious dialogue appears to have reached its end point with a preemptory affirmation that all religions are paths to salvation," he said.
"Equality, as an indispensable prerequisite for dialogue, regards the equal personal dignity of those involved and not the content" of their faith, Archbishop Amato said. "The Christian in dialogue cannot hide or silence the truth of his faith founded on Jesus Christ."
Obviously, the archbishop said, the truth of Christianity "cannot be and must not be imposed with force, but in freedom and absolute respect for the other's conscience."
"Dialogue is not an absolute that can take the place of truth and the proclamation of Christ," he said. "Being faithful to one's own religious identity card is the best passport for entering into the religious territory of others and dialoguing with them."