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Left-Right divide in church 'no cause for alarm in Asia'

The division is because of differences in the 'theological perspective' of each group, says Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay

Left-Right divide in church 'no cause for alarm in Asia'

Cardinal Oswald Gracias speaks to ucanews.com at his room inside the Catholic Bishops Conference of India's headquarters in New Delhi. (ucanews.com photo)

The Left-Right divide within the Catholic hierarchy stems from a difference in theological perspectives and although the trend is now seeping into the Asian church, there is no cause for alarm, says Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay.

The Indian cardinal is among nine cardinals Pope Francis assigned to help reform the Roman Curia and the administration of the Catholic Church.

In Asia, "there are elements swinging to the Left and swinging to the Right, quite convinced among themselves to be protectors of the church. All are loyal Catholics," said Cardinal Gracias.

The division is because of differences in the "theological perspective" of each group and it is the responsibility of the bishops and bishops' forums "to carry everybody along."

Such differences will not cause any problem in the church, he said adding that the divide within the hierarchy refers to those seeking to confirm to Orthodox systems of the church and those wanting to move according to the times and culture of the people. It "should be seen as a sign of growth" and "it happens everywhere," said Cardinal Gracias.

"There is nothing to be alarmed about," said the archbishop of India's largest diocese based in his native city of Mumbai, the country's commercial capital.

Vatican commentators frequently speak about clerics, especially those promoted in church structures by Pope Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, criticizing and working to subvert the ideas and policies of the present pope as he pushes the church to keep in line with the modern world.


Watch Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay speaking with ucanews.com in this video.

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Cardinal Gracias, 71, said he does not see any deviation of policy by the last two popes. The cardinal said he had "quiet closely" known St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. But "now I see things from the inside" and do not see any change in their administration or policy.

Pope Benedict continued the tradition of Pope John Paul and Pope Francis has a "high regard" for his predecessor. This "is clear" in the discussions they have in the advisory body on several issues, he said.

There is continuity and growth "but may not be in a straight line," he said. "It may have gone up and down, and in different directions" meeting the needs of the time.

From outside, many may see divisions and deviations, but there is "a continuity and progress" of Vatican Council II that "is being implemented now," he said.

"I'm wondering if the difference seen is because of the way the Vatican Council is implemented. Earlier, the words of the council were implemented, now the spirit of the council is being implemented," he said.

In between, "there were a lot of studies and soul searching [to see] if we have understood Vatican II," he said.


The relevance of the FABC

The cardinal, who is president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) said that the forum's dormant state in the past two decades "could be the time we were studying" ways to implement the spirit of Vatican II.

Inspired by the council, several theologians under the FABC attempted to develop an Asian theology and several of them faced disciplinary measures under Pope Benedict against their pioneering works, leading the bishops' forum into a state of dormancy. 

But bishops' forums elsewhere, especially in Latin America also experienced a similar phase after liberation theology began and started to spread in the years following Vatican II, the cardinal said.

"First it was trying to implement Vatican II, then there were questions and soul searching. Is the FABC relevant? Is it useful? Is it on the right track? Are we breaking away from the church? There were suspicions about theology developed in Asia," said the cardinal adding that it is for churches in Asia to remove such suspicions by their Catholic living and for bishops to make sure that they do not move away from the central teachings of the church.

The FABC's revival now "could be again related to the implementation" of the spirit of Vatican II, he said.

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