My job sometimes involves diplomatic difficulties. Like what to do when the Universal Peace Federation of Victoria wants to nominate you for a Peace Ambassador Award. The UPF is better known as the Unification Church or even more colloquially as “the Moonies” (after their founder, the Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon). Yes, they are the ones to whom Archbishop Malingo has so infamously attached himself.
Now, you might just as well say “Don’t touch them with a barge pole–they’re a sect”. And I might well agree with you. The Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, said that one should enter into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions “with prudence and charity”–the emphasis in this case being “with prudence”.
Perhaps one of the stickiest points is that an invitation to be involved in the UPF’s otherwise praiseworthy agenda of world peace and harmony is an invitation to be involved in their religious agenda of world spiritual unification. I rather sympathise with world spiritual unification, but through communion with the One Triune God in the One Church of the One Saviour, Jesus Christ, not through the program of the Unification Movement. Archbishop Malingo’s downfall was that he saw the goals of the Movement as worthy of his endorsement and discovered (too late) that one could not endorse their goals without endorsing the religious agenda behind it.
Catholics do not enter into collaboration with any other religious groups with the goal of getting them to participate in our religious agenda. We are definitely wary of any invitation that might try to involve us in the religious agenda of other groups. One difficulty in engaging with the Unification Movement in any activity designed to promote unity and harmony among religious believers is that such activities do form such a core part of the religious agenda of the Movement. We are invited to “transcend” our limited religious understandings and embrace a higher truth in love.
Aside from this, there remains the basic question of how the Catholic Church is to engage with the new religious movements like the Moonies, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists (yes, I have them visit from time to time too), etc. It seems to me antithetical to Nostra Aetate to simply dismiss them as “sects”, containing nothing but falsehood. After all, Christianity was once viewed as a sect–as was Islam and Buddhism in their turn. It also seems rather elitist to say that we should only deal with the ancient world religions. Afterall, for some reason (which I can’t quite fathom–unless it is ideological) the Bah’ai faith has been embraced in the “interfaith network”, even though it is no more ancient than the Latter Day Saints.
Or do we reject these new movements as “religions” in their own right just because they are (usually and rather obviously) Christian heresies? In a parallel case, even quite open and moderate Muslims will draw the line at interacting with Bah’ais, which they regard as a Muslim heresy rather than a separate religion.
Or, in the end, do we avoid these guys because 1) there aren’t enough of them (yet) to make it worth while compared to the other (bigger) guys? or 2) because taking them seriously might just be a little bit embarrasing?