This is a list of Catholic supporters of the URI.

The United Religions Initiative - Vatican Opposition, Liberal Support

By Lee Penn


This story shows that the Vatican has consistently opposed the United Religions Initiative (URI), lists the publicly-identified Catholic supporters of the URI, and shows that pro-URI theologians are dissenters from the Church's Magisterium.

NOTE: Since this story was written, the number of Catholic supporters of the URI has increased significantly. Visit the URI web page which lists the supporters of its "72 hour cease fire," and see who supports the project now - the list seems to grow each week.

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This story is an extract from a book-length manuscript by me titled "False Dawn, Real Darkness: the Millennial Delusions of the United Religions and the New Age Movement." You may re-distribute this story by hard copy or electronically, and you may abridge or quote from this story - IF you give credit to Lee Penn as the author, and IF you include - in the body or as a footnote - the following statement:

"An abridged version of this information will appear as part of the article "The United Religions Initiative: Foundations for a World Religion" (Part 2), to be published in the fall of 1999 by the Journal of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. You may order the complete story from the Journal, or subscribe to the Journal, by calling (510) 540-0300, or by writing to the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, Post Office Box 4308, Berkeley, CA 94704, or by visiting the SCP web site,"


The Catholic Church: the Vatican versus dissenters

Vatican opposition to the URI

Within the Catholic Church, opinion about the URI is divided. Rome stands firm against it, but some theologians, priests and sisters - and a few members of the hierarchy - actively support the URI.

At Rome in 1996, Bishop Swing met with Cardinal Arinze, head of the Vatican's Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. Bishop Swing reported a firm rebuff from the Cardinal, the strongest "no" that he got from anyone during his global pilgrimage:

[Cardinal Arinze] "said that a United Religions would give the appearance of syncretism and it would water down our need to evangelize. It would force authentic religions to be on equal footing with spurious religions." (232)

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who works under Cardinal Arinze, pointedly ignored Bishop Swing's invitation to attend the 1997 URI summit conference. (233)

At the time of the June 1999 summit conference, Bishop Swing said that "he doubted that the Roman Catholic Church would join [the URI], pointing out that it had not become a member of the World Council of Churches. But he added that he believed that Vatican would cooperate with, though not join, a body of world religions." (234)

This hope of Bishop Swing's has proved to be "a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty." (235) The Vatican recently restated its opposition to the URI. In a letter to the editor published in the June 1999 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, a magazine for Catholic priests, Fr. Chidi Denis Isizoh, of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (the Vatican body responsible for interfaith work) said:

"Religious syncretism is a theological error. That is why the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue does not approve of the United Religions Initiative and does not work with it. Indeed, when Bishop Swing came to the Vatican City in 1996 to solicit support from the Council, Cardinal Arinze clearly expressed his reservations about the proposal. As the United Religions Initiative develops, the reasons for not collaborating with it become more evident." (236)

This much is clear: Rome stands against the URI.

Dissenters favor the URI

Some Catholics, however, are not following the Vatican's lead. In 1998, Bishop Swing said, "As for the Roman Catholic Church, we have got an awful lot of support from various individual Roman Catholic lay people, nuns, monks, priests, bishops, archbishops, and one cardinal, as a matter of fact." (237) Bishop Swing was telling the truth; Catholic liberals and dissidents are actively supporting the URI.

Dissenters in the hierarchy

Cardinal Paul Evaristo Arns, the recently retired Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, is claimed by the URI as a "strong supporter." (238) Archbishop Anthony Pantin, from Trinidad, is forming a URI group in his country. (239)

Material participation: Catholic board members and URI staff

Fr. Gerard O'Rourke, director of ecumenical affairs for the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the URI from its beginning. He took an active part in the 1995 interfaith service that announced the URI to the public, (240) and now serves on the URI Board of Directors. Fr. O'Rourke said in 1997, "I am totally in support of Bishop Swing and the work that he is doing and the admirable team that he has created to reach out ... all across the world." (241) In 1997, Fr. O'Rourke served as the "convenor" of a URI task force that had been set up in 1996 with the duty of "Enrolling leaders of the different religious and faith traditions; mastering the articulation of the core message; locating leaders; reaching out; getting them on board." (242) Other prominent Catholic URI supporters include URI board member Fr. John LoSchiavo S. J. (former president of the University of San Francisco), and Latin American URI Coordinator Fr. Luis Dolan. (243)

The trendy theology of Fr. Luis Dolan

In a 1997 document published by Global Education Associates, Fr. Dolan described UN documents as new scriptures, and hailed the UN as "a cathedral where we can worship what is best in each other":

"I believe that the UN offers us the first scripture written by communities rather than by a single inspired author. This scripture is the composite of all the basic documents of the UN, starting with the Charter" (244)

"The UN 'extends the power of our hearts and souls.' The UN thus has become 'a cathedral where we can worship what is best in each other.' 'Little by little a planetary prayer book is being composed (at the UN) by an increasingly united humanity seeking its oneness'." (245)

Fr. Dolan forecasts and favors world government, a "global governance" that should also "be presented as a religious ideal":

"Another issue that has recently come to the consciousness of the UN is the concept of global governance. ... Global governance calls for a new vision, challenging people as well as governments to realize that there is no alternative to working together to create the kind of world they want for themselves and their children. ... Global governance is portrayed as essentially a civil ideal. It will not work, though, unless it is also presented as a religious ideal." (246)

This "religious ideal" will not be traditional Christianity. Dolan favors modifying the structure of the Church to fit the requirements of "the future world order," and opposes what he calls the "belligerent attitude" of the Church at UN conferences:

"The third element is the model of a Church we need to help create the future world order. In my many years of work with interreligious and/or international political groups, I have found this probably the Catholic voice's [sic] greatest need in order to be more credible. The Church of the future needs to come across primarily as a community of believers, rather than as an institution with a hierarchical structure. I believe ours is a hierarchical Church, and I love and respect it, but in my experience I have seen this aspect over-stressed ... A consequence of this is the apparent fear of theologians by the Vatican; its occasionally belligerent attitude at UN conferences; a certain defensiveness; and an overemphasis on ideology." (247)

Dolan also says that religious syncretism has benefits for individuals and for the "future world order":

"The more I become involved in interreligious work, the more I feel the need of the Eucharist, the sharing of Jesus, the enlightenment of the Magisterium, the quietness of prayer. Having said this, I still believe that before the twenty-first century begins we need a congress on syncretism in which the participants will not be just members of the hierarchy ... but representatives of the common folk who in their daily devotional life may be practicing syncretism or irenicism ... We need in that congress to ask questions such as: What is syncretism today? Is syncretism a natural consequence of living in a secularized world? ... Let no one fear the supernatural power of such a conference on syncretism: it will deepen each one's faith and allow all to enter more deeply into the heart of 'the other'; above all it will give an essential element to the future world order that only religions can give." (248)

Dolan states that the Church should be "better educated on all aspects of human sexuality" in order to provide "more future-oriented norms on human sexuality" as "the new world order takes concrete forms":

"At times I have wished that official representatives of our Church at international meetings would show less defensiveness and more understanding of countries, organizations, and individuals holding different opinions. Having said this, it is my belief that, as the new world order takes concrete forms, the Church will be looked to as one of the main champions on education for a healthy human sexuality. For this, all Church members need to be better educated on all aspects of human sexuality ... If the Church does not take this long-term approach, I fear there will be many more discussions and debates, and name-calling meetings rather than the meeting of minds, and that this will cause considerable delay in giving the world more future-oriented norms on human sexuality." (249)

Dissenting priests, religious, and theologians join the URI parade

Brother Wayne Teasdale supports the URI. (250) He is an adjunct professor at the Catholic Theological Union, and describes himself as a "Christian Sannyasi;" (251) "sannyasi" is a Hindu term for "a wandering mendicant and ascetic." (252) In an article published in the Summer 1997 issue of the URI Journal, Teasdale favors popular election of the Pope and of other bishops. (253)

Sister Joan Kirby also supports the URI. (254) Both Fr. Dolan and Sr. Kirby are active in the Temple of Understanding. Sister Joan Chatfield, a Maryknoll nun from Hawaii, attended the 1997 URI summit conference; (255) she also contributed to the URI Workbook (256) that the URI has used in its local and regional planning sessions.

Szabolcs Sajgo, a Jesuit and head of a retreat center in Hungary, attended the spring 1997 European URI conference; he said, "Religion no longer means the religious authorities but all the mature members of that specific religion also count, to reach the goals of UR. Humanity lives more and more in a world which is created by himself or herself and this world reflects the human being as a creator." (257) Other Catholic URI participants include Sr. Lilian Curaming and Brother Eli Andrade, in Manila, (258) and Sr. Laetitia Borg, of the Franciscan Sisters in Ethiopia. (259) Dr. Carol Zinn SSJ, a staff member of Global Education Associates,(260) said of the 1998 URI summit conference, "I know the value of faith-based initiatives; [sic] hope-filled imaginations and passion-oriented inspirations and I have experienced this trinity of grace this week." (261) Fr. O'Rourke stated that Fr. Gene Boyle, from the Diocese of San Jose, is also active in the URI.(262)

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a U.S.-based organization of Catholic nuns, is encouraging its members to participate in the URI global cease-fire project.(263) Other supporters of the cease-fire include Sister Mary Margaret Funk, associated with "Monastic Inter-Religious Dialogue," Fr. Ruben J. Villote, a priest in the Philippines,(264) and the auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Detroit, Thomas Gumbleton.(265) There will be a service organized by the URI in honor of the global cease-fire project on January 1, 2000 at the Catholic Cathedral in Washington DC.(266)

Theologians supporting the URI include Paul Knitter, senior editor at Orbis Books and professor of theology at Xavier University,(267) and Leonard Swidler, professor of "Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue" at Temple University.(268) Both theologians are open dissenters from official Catholic teaching. Knitter favors artificial birth control and the ordination of women as priests, and denies that Jesus is the unique Savior, the Son of God. (269) Knitter also finds the Resurrection to be "problematic," and denies the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.(270) Swidler's work includes such writings as "Feminism - the Renewal of the Catholic Church," "Seven Reasons for Ordaining Women," and "Yeshua, Feminist and Androgynous: An Integrated Human"; a course in "The Significance of the Thought of Teilhard de Chardin for the Future Global Community"; and a lecture titled, "Why Christians Need to Dialogue With - NOT Proselytize - Non-Christians."(271)

Last but not least, Hans Küng supports the URI. (272) Bishop Swing hails Küng as "the prime spokesperson for Vatican II and the single most important person who has written volumes on interfaith and ecumenical matters." (273) However, since 1979, Küng has been banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian at Tübingen University.(274) (Küng continued to teach at the University; the school moved him from the religious faculty to the secular faculty.) Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, says of Küng that since 1979, "in Christology and in trinitarian theology he has further distanced himself from the faith of the Church." (275) Küng is not a representative of the Catholic Church or "the prime spokesperson for Vatican II"; he speaks only for himself.



NOTE: Internet document citations are based on research done between September 1997 and August 1999. Web citations are accurate as of the time the Web page was printed, but some documents may have been moved to a different Web site since then, or they may have been removed entirely from the Web.

232 Bishop William Swing, "The United Religions Initiative," document issued in April 1996, p. 7 233 Bishop William Swing, "The United Religions Initiative," document issued in April 1996, p. 7 234 Ross Dunn, "Anglican bishop hopes to set up 'United Religions' organization," Ecumenical News International, June 22, 1999 235 The Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer, Article XXII, "Of Purgatory," in the Articles of Religion, Seabury Press, New York, 1979, p. 872 236 Fr. Chidi Denis Isizoh, letter to the editor, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Vol. XCIX, June 1999, p. 60 237 Baxter and Sax, (first names not stated), "Exclusive Interview: Bishop William Swing, Head of the United Religions Organization," Endtime, July/August 1998, Internet document,, p. 5 238 Information received by Lee Penn during a telephone conversation with Barbara Hartford, May 11, 1998; confirmed by Paul Andrews, May 14, 1998 239 "News Updates from Around the World," URI News Update, Spring 1998, No. 4, p. 5 240 List of people performing the "reading from the Parliament of World Religions' Declaration Towards a Global Ethic," service sheet for June 25, 1995 interfaith service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the UN and the launch of the United Religions Initiative 241 Transcribed by Lee Penn from URI-provided tape of the January 19, 1997 URI forum at Grace Cathedral 242 United Religions Initiative, "Resource Groups Structured At the Conclusion of the June 1996 URI Summit in San Francisco," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, Spring 1997, p. 14 243 United Religions Initiative, "United Religions Initiative: Building spiritual partnerships for a just, sustainable and peaceable world," leaflet issued September 15, 1998, "Board of Directors" and "Staff & Leadership" sections 244 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, p. 3 245 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, p. 4 246 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, pp. 6-7 247 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, pp. 9-10 248 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, p. 11 249 Fr. Luis Dolan, "Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic," Internet document (Global Education Associates),, p. 12 250 See, for example, his two articles in the URI Journal: "Becoming the Community of Religions: The Necessity of a Vital Collaboration Among Interfaith Organizations," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, issue 3, Summer 1997, and "The Interfaith Movement Must Be Based on Prophetic Courage," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, Spring 1997 251 "Jean Houston On Line supports: World Tibet Day," 1998, Internet document,, pp. 2, 6 252 The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright (c) 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from InfoSoft International, Inc. All rights reserved. 253 Brother Wayne Teasdale, "Becoming the Community of Religions: The Necessity of a Vital Collaboration Among Interfaith Organizations," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, issue 3, Summer 1997, pp. 14-15 254 Charles Gibbs, "Report from the Executive Director," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, issue 3, Summer 1997, p. 2 255 "Voices of the Light," No. 15, July 1, 1997; electronic newsletter of the United Communities of Spirit; Internet document,, p. 3 256 United Religions Initiative, The United Religions Initiative Workbook - Draft Workbook for Pilot Groups, p. 2 257 Josef Boehle (Coordinator, URI Europe), "United Religions Initiative," Internet document,, p. 3 258 "URI in the world," URI Update, no. 5, spring 1999, p. 4 259 "URI in the world," URI Update, no. 5, spring 1999, p. 5 260 Global Education Associates, "International Education Council," Internet document,, p. 3 261 United Religions Initiative, "Highlights URI Global Summit III," leaflet issued July 1998, front page 262 Interview by Lee Penn of Fr. Gerard O'Rourke, May 4, 1998 263 Leadership Conference of Women Religious, "Update ... Update ... Update," Internet document,, p. 6 264 Fr. Ruben J. Villote, "Like The Wind Blowing Where It Pleases," Philippine Daily Inquirer, Internet document,, pp. 1-2 265 United Religions Initiative, "What People Will Be Doing ... ," Internet document,; United Religions Initiative, "Some Early Supporters ... ," Internet document, 266 Dennis Delman, "Peace Projects Proliferate for 72 Hours at the Millennium," Pacific Church News, June/July 1999, p. 21 267 Paul Chaffee, "Ring of Breath Around the World: A Report on the United Religions Initiative Global Conference," document issued in the summer of 1997 by the United Religions Initiative, p. 3 268 Bruce Schuman, "Letter to Drs. Leonard Swidler and Ingrid Shafer," Internet document,, p. 1; see also, curriculum vitae of Leonard Swidler, Internet document,, p. 1. Swidler attended the 1997 URI summit meeting. 269 St. Catherine Review, "Theology of Dr. Paul F. Knitter," Internet document,, pp. 4,6,7 (including quotations from a textbook of which Knitter was co-author) 270 Bob Buse, "Xavier Theology Professor's Threefold Denial," St. Catherine Review, Internet document,, pp. 4,5 271 Curriculum vitae of Leonard Swidler, Internet document,, pp. 5-8, 12 272 Bishop William Swing, "The United Religions Initiative," document issued in April 1996, p. 6 273 Bishop William Swing, "The Surprise Factor," Pacific Church News, June/July 1996, p. 10 274 Adoremus Bulletin, "Hans Küng: Vatican Rehab or Challenge to Change?," May/June 1998, Vol. IV, no. 3, Internet document,, p. 1 275 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: Christianity and the Catholic Church at the End of the Millennium - An Interview with Peter Seewald, translated by Adrian Walker, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1997, ISBN 0-89870-640-8; p. 96



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