While the late Pope John Paul II — soon to be called St. John Paul the Great — was known as a strong supporter of interfaith dialogues that attempted to build trust, while declining to erase any true boundaries.
However, in his famous and highly personal book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” he penned one passage about salvation that infuriated many liberal Catholic veterans of dialogues with the Far East. This is the heart of that section of the book:
The “enlightenment” experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external reality — ties existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies. The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil that has its source in the world.
Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the “enlightenment” conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an “atheistic” system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called Nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process.
Suffice it to say, on this point the pope drew a bright line between himself and many other Catholics who, essentially, argue that Vatican II completely embraced the “all religious roads lead to the top of the same holy mountain” approach to faith.
So, can one be a practicing Buddhist and a faithful, sacramental Catholic? You will find few traditional Catholics who would answer in the affirmative.
This leads to another question: Should a priest serve Holy Communion to a person who used to be a Catholic and now openly — in print, in public media — identifies herself as a Buddhist?
I raise this question, not to start a battle over this theological issue in the comments pages, but to ask if the following information in any way complicates the framing of that now famous Washington Post story about the decision by a conservative priest named Father Marcel Guarnizo not to serve Communion to an art teacher named Barbara Johnson moments after he was introduced to her longtime lesbian partner.
This emotional scene, readers may recall, took place at the funeral of Johnson’s mother. The Archdiocese of Washington immediately issued a letter of apology and said the priest failed to follow proper procedures, in his attempt to follow Canon Law 915.
Anyone who knows anything about the tense and bitterly divided world of American Catholicism knew that this would not be the end of the story.
Now blogger Thomas “American Papist” Peters has, with a few clicks of his mouse, unearthed some other interesting online information about Johnson and this event (whether the priest knew anything about this additional information or not).
At the very mainstream Academia.edu website, Johnson published an essay — “Out or in … Which is it? Coming Out in the Heteronormative and Homophobic World of Education” — about her views on sex, faith and how candid to be while applying for teaching work at a Catholic school. It includes this observation:
So in the interview with the principal we talked openly about my being a lesbian and a Buddhist.
On her own Art Works website, Johnson simply claims that she is a student of “Buddhist philosophy.” This short biographical essay does not mention being a practicing, sacramental Catholic.
Now, is this relevant information? I would imagine that, when she talked to the Post, this information was not discussed. I am not sure that readers could have expected the Post team to find this information, although it was on a mainstream website.
I do, however, think Pope John Paul II would find the information relevant and worth mentioning.
Is it acceptable to give Holy Communion to a woman who has publicly declared herself an apostate?
IMAGE: From the Fine Art website.