Signs of the Times

Theologian Calls Vatican Investigation a ‘Great Suffering’

Though ultimately cleared of doctrinal error, a Belgian theologian, Jacques Dupuis, S.J., said a two-and-and-a-half-year Vatican investigation of his book on non-Christian religions had been “a very great suffering.” The 77-year-old retired professor at Rome’s Gregorian University said he was unhappy with the Vatican’s conclusions, but he now felt free to pursue his theological writing and lecturing. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a “notification” on Feb. 26, criticizing Father Dupuis’s book as ambiguous and potentially misleading. The book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, was published in 1997 by Orbis Books.

The Jesuit theologian said the most painful part of the investigation, in addition to being initially accused of doctrinal error, was the Vatican’s requirement that he not actively pursue his theology or discuss the investigation publicly while it was in progress. Another source of suffering, he said, was that the doctrinal congregation never communicated with him directly, but only through his superiors. He said the doctrinal congregation faithfully followed its norms for investigating theologians, but “of course it can be asked whether these norms are just.”


“The relationship between the central doctrinal authority of the church and the thought of many, many theologians today is a big problem,” he said. He felt he had been singled out for investigation because of his nearly four decades of teaching in India and his association with theology in Asia, a region that has been a main concern for the Vatican doctrinal congregation.

Ironically, he said, he considered his views a logical extension of Pope John Paul’s insistence on the universal presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. “If it is true that the Holy Spirit is everywhere active—and [the pope] says not only in persons, but in cultures and religions—then the religions must have a positive significance in the divine plan, and they must have some positive role in the mystery of the salvation of their members,” he said, adding, “In Jesus Christ, yes.”

He said the doctrinal congregation had originally accused him of “grave errors” and asked him in September to sign a statement, formally approved by Pope John Paul II, to that effect. He said the statement made no specific references to passages in his book, and he refused to sign.

When the doctrinal congregation sent him a second draft three months later that spoke of “ambiguity” instead of “error,” he signed, but only reluctantly and not completely agreeing with all points in the text, he said. The document’s condemnation of certain positions as being “contrary to” the Catholic faith did not apply to his book, he said, and in any case, he did not consider the positions doctrinally binding.

Before publishing the statement, the doctrinal congregation added a new paragraph to the document, Father Dupuis reported, asserting that he “committed himself to assent to the stated theses” and not to stray from them in future theological activity. Despite the new wording, Father Dupuis expects to continue in good conscience to examine certain theological positions that “do not correspond completely” to those condemned by the Vatican notification.

The new paragraph also requires that all future printings and editions of Father Dupuis’s book include a copy of the Vatican notification.

While not questioning Father Dupuis’s intent to be faithful to Catholic teaching, the Vatican’s statement lists five basic doctrinal principles to prevent Catholic readers from falling into “serious confusion and misunderstanding, which could result from reading this book.” Father Dupuis said he fully endorsed the principles both during the investigation and in his theological study. The five principles are:

• “It must be firmly believed that Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, crucified and risen, is the sole and universal mediator of salvation for all humanity.”

• It is contrary to the Catholic faith to suggest that the Word of God has a saving action apart from that of Jesus.

• It is contrary to the Catholic faith to maintain that revelation in Christ is in any way limited or incomplete—it “has no need of completion by other religions.”

• While other religions can contain “seeds of truth and goodness,” it is erroneous to hold that such elements do not derive ultimately from the mediating action of Jesus Christ.

• The Holy Spirit works in a saving way among non-Christians, but this action never extends beyond the “one universal salvific economy” of Jesus Christ.

• It is contrary to the Catholic faith to consider other religions as “complementary” ways of salvation; the followers of other religions are “oriented to the church and are called to become part of her.”

• The Holy Spirit can accomplish salvation in non-Christians, but it cannot be held that these other religions are “ways of salvation” as such, because they contain omissions, insufficiencies and errors about fundamental truths.

The statement of doctrinal principles drew heavily from the recent controversial document, Dominus Iesus, which strongly emphasized Christ as the unique savior and rejected the idea that “one religion is as good as another.”

Cardinals to Hold ‘Extraordinary’ Meeting on Church’s Future

Only days after creating 44 new cardinals, Pope John Paul II convened a meeting in May of the entire College of Cardinals for a wide-ranging discussion on the church in the third millennium. The encounter, called an “extraordinary consistory,” will cover issues raised in the pope’s post-jubilee document, Novo Millennio Ineunte (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), which outlined the church’s path in the 21st century. The meeting, the sixth consultative session of the College of Cardinals during Pope John Paul’s pontificate, will take place on May 21-24.

Husar on Papal Visit to Ukraine

The new Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar emphasized unity with the pope and continuity with Eastern traditions in explaining the pope’s June visit to his predominantly Orthodox nation. Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine have “the same culture, same history, same everything as the Orthodox; the same structure of the church, the same theology, the same canonical discipline,” said Cardinal Husar, who is major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “The only thing that makes us different is that we accept Peter and his successors as being the symbol of visible unity,” he said.

The cardinal said Pope John Paul’s ability to communicate easily with all people offers greater hope for improved ecumenical relations than any efforts Catholic and Orthodox bishops could make in the next few months. “A lasting ecumenism is possible only when the people want it,” he said. “When the grass roots desire unity, then the bishops will respond.”

Harassment, Shortages Hinder Indian Quake Relief, Say Workers

Harassment from radical Hindus, shortage of water and lack of medical supplies impede relief workers nearly a month after an earthquake hit western India, church workers say. The Syro-Malabar Bishop Gregory Karotemprel of Rajkot said Hindu fundamentalists interfere with missionaries’ relief work, accusing them of trying to convert Hindus. His diocese serves the worst-affected Kutch district of Gujarat State, reported UCA News. Rubble and carcasses left by the quake that killed up to 100,000 people have polluted wells and ponds. In addition, lack of electricity makes it impossible to pump water from deep wells to irrigate crops.

Jerusalem Patriarch Says: Shoot Churches, Spare Homes

The Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said Israelis could shoot churches if it would keep them from firing on civilian-populated areas. “We say to the Israelis: Destroy our churches, but spare the homes of our faithful.... We will find other places in which to pray, and we will continue to pray for ourselves and for you,” he said in a letter issued for Lent. “And to the Palestinian militants who think that it is necessary to direct their fire against the Israelis from populated houses, even when the orders are clear—do not transform peaceful homes into a line of fire—to them, too, we say: Obey the orders, preserve the cohesion of Palestinian society, and spare the homes of the innocent. We agree to offer our churches as ransom for any house that they want to demolish,” the letter said.

Catholic Activists Identify Issues for Capitol Hill Lobbying

Preparing for visits to Capitol Hill, Catholic social activists armed themselves with talking points on domestic and international policy priorities targeted by the Catholic Church in the United States. Among the top issues were wage and tax help for low-wage workers, repeal of the death penalty, aid to sub-Saharan Africa and the lifting of Cuban economic sanctions. Briefings on the issues were part of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which drew more than 500 social activists to Washington on Feb. 25-28.

Addressing wage and tax issues, the U.S. Catholic Conference identified three priorities: an increase in the minimum wage (to $6.65 from the current $5.15), expansion of the earned income tax credit and a doubling of the child income tax credit. “A single parent with two kids at the minimum wage is $3,000 below the poverty level,” said Thomas Shellabarger, a U.S.C.C. domestic policy analyst.

Kenya Church Denounces U.N.H.C.R. Staff

Kenyan church leaders denounced the staff of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for taking bribes before offering to help refugees find homes. “We have to restore justice for those who have suffered under this system,” said the Rev. Eugene Birrer, project director of the Nairobi Archdiocese Refugee Assistance Program. Antoninah Njau, the parish outreach project director at Jesuit Refugee Services, said: “I think they are abusing their office.” Njau and Father Birrer were commenting on a recently publicized investigation into corruption at the U.N.H.C.R.’s Nairobi office. Allegations included reports that refugees are paying up to $5,000 to U.N.H.C.R. officers to be relocated to the United States and other countries.

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