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Fifty Years of Dialogue Since Vatican II: Interview with Professor Catherine Clifford

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
31 Oct 2014

Professor Catherine Clifford, is visiting Australia at the invitation of the Theological Reflection Commission of the NSW Ecumenical Council

50 years has passed since Saint John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), yet many people are still struggling to grasp what it was all about. For Professor Catherine Clifford, who is currently visiting Australia at the invitation of the Theological Reflection Commission of the NSW Ecumenical Council, Vatican II was "the moment that the Catholic Church underwent a radical turn towards the world, towards other religion, and towards other Christians as well."

Catherine Clifford is professor of Systemic and Historical theology at Saint Paul University, Ottawa. Her teaching and research interests lie in the areas of ecclesiology, ecumenism and the history of Vatican II. Prof, Clifford is also a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada.

During an interview with Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney on Tuesday 28 October 2014, Prof. Clifford explained that most Catholics see Vatican II as the moment the liturgy changed. Although this was the most visibly experience of the people in the pews, Prof. Clifford explained that the change in the Church was more profound than that.

"The liturgy was revised, the Rites were revised as scholars went back and uncovered the roots of our traditions... but more importantly it was a moment the Catholic church began to talk about the dignity and co-responsibility of all the baptised in the life and mission of the Church," she said. 

It is this recognition of all baptised people as brothers and sisters in Christ that formed the basis of the change in attitude towards ecumenical dialogue that came out of Vatican II, an attitude that has been reinforced by all subsequent Popes, including Saint John Paul II who said that ecumenism needs to be "an organic part of the life and work" of the Church, and not simply an "appendix" to our practice of the Christian faith.

As Prof. Clifford explained, this change has been particularly evident in the quality as well as the quantity of dialogue that is now taking place between Christian Churches worldwide.

Professor Clifford, was interviewed by Katrina Lee, Director of Catholic Communications,
Archdiocese of Sydney

"The Catholic Church has been more engaged in conversation with other Christian Churches in past 50 years, than in the previous 450 years since the Protestant Reformation or the 900 years since the schism with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  The Council opened the door for entering into dialogue with other Christians, not as 'heretics' (as Catholics viewed them in the past), but as 'separated brothers and sisters' who follow Christ," she said.

During her Sydney address, Prof. Clifford also discussed the Church's relationship with Islam, particularly in light of the current events in the Middle East and the subsequent attitude of uncertainty that Christians may have when it comes to dealing with individuals of the Muslim faith.

"I think we need to do a lot of work on ecumenical and interfaith formation so that young Catholics can mature into adult Christians who are capable of being people of dialogue in our society and culture," Prof. Clifford explained.

"The media today is interested only in what is sensational and where there is controversy, and there is unfortunately a great distortion of religion in different sectors of society, and it is being distorted and used to promote violence and to persecute believers of all faith backgrounds  - Christians, Jewish and Islamic," she continued, adding that it is important that Catholics are careful not to generalise our views on the entire Muslim community based on the actions of  a radical minority. 

When asked about what she thinks of the Church in Australia, Prof. Clifford said that she has been very impressed by the strong ecumenical movement that she has witnessed during her visit so far.

"I have been travelling around and visiting some of the diocesan groups and Catholic universities in Australia... I am very impressed at the organisation that you have at a regional level to bring Christians together for the common cause. There is a lot of good here."

Watch Professor Catherine Clifford's full interview with Catholic Communications in this video.