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Vatican Criticizes Jon Sobrino, Liberation Theologian

The Vatican has strongly criticized the work of Jon Sobrino, S.J., a leading proponent of liberation theology, saying some of his writings relating to the divinity of Christ were not in conformity with the doctrine of the church. In publishing a detailed notification March 14, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said it wanted to warn pastors and ordinary Catholics of the erroneous or dangerous propositions in Father Sobrino’s work. The notification did not, however, impose any disciplinary measures on Father Sobrino, such as limiting his right to teach or publish as a Catholic theologian. Father Sobrino, 69, was born in Spain and has taught for many years at the Jesuit-run Central American University in El Salvador.

The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., said that while the Vatican has not imposed sanctions on Father Sobrino, this does not mean other authorities, for example a bishop, cannot decide that in light of this notification Father Sobrino cannot teach or give conferences in a specific diocese or institution.

Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador, where Father Sobrino resides, told reporters March 11 that Father Sobrino would not be able to teach theology in that diocese unless he revised his positions in light of the Vatican critique.

The Vatican notification came after six years of study by the doctrinal congregation, which focused on Father Sobrino’s widely read books, Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological View and Christ the Liberator: A View from the Victims. In 2004 Father Sobrino was sent a list of Vatican objections to his works; he responded in 2005 in a way that indicated modification of his thought but that the Vatican still deemed unsatisfactory.

The doctrinal congregation said its objections fell into six categories:

Father Sobrino’s methodological presupposition, it said, identifies the ecclesial foundation of Christology with the church of the poor instead of the apostolic faith as transmitted through the church for generations.

It said Father Sobrino’s proposal that the divinity of Christ is found in the New Testament only in seed and was formulated dogmatically after later reflection, although not denying the divinity of Jesus, fails to affirm it with sufficient clarity.

Because of the way Father Sobrino treats the divine and human natures of Christ, the unity of the person of Jesus is not clear, it said.

Father Sobrino distinguishes between Jesus as mediator and the kingdom of God in a way that obscures the universal and absolute nature of Christ’s salvation, it said.

By emphasizing Christ’s humanity, the congregation said, Father Sobrino downplays Christ’s awareness of his own divinity and the divine plan of salvation.

In some of Father Sobrino’s texts, it said, he appears to presume that Jesus did not attribute a salvific value to his own death, but saw it only as having exemplary value for others.

In an accompanying explanatory note, the doctrinal congregation said its issues were not with Father Sobrino’s concern for the poor but with his Christological conclusions. Father Sobrino manifests a preoccupation for the poor and the oppressed, particularly in Latin America. This preoccupation certainly is shared by the whole church, it said. But the church cannot express its preferential option for the poor through reductive sociological and ideological categories, it said.

José de Vera, S.J., a spokesman for the Jesuits in Rome, said the order naturally accepted the congregation’s notification, but would make no formal statement on it. Whether there is any action taken by the Jesuit order will depend on Father Sobrino’s local superior, he said. Father Sobrino is ready to obey his superiors, as he has always done, Father de Vera said. The Jesuit spokesman pointed out, however, that the notification carried no penalties or sanctions, and was a theological critique rather than an outright condemnation. Father Sobrino is not a rebel. He does not have heretical opinions. His faith is the faith of the Catholic Churchhe says that. The only thing is that he is presenting it in a different way, Father de Vera said.

In general, Father de Vera said, the Jesuits emphasize that Father Sobrino’s theology was born out of his experience in impoverished El Salvador, a country plagued by violence in the 1980’s and 90’s. Father Sobrino saw many of his companions murdered; in 1989, he escaped being killed with six Jesuit colleagues because he happened to be out of the country. This was a place of injustice and sin. These experiences have perhaps pushed him to express his thought in a way that is not that of pure, scientific theological expressions, Father de Vera said.

New Consortium Supports Peace-Building in Iraq

A new consortium of organizations, including several with Catholic roots, has proposed a $590 million plan to bring proven strategies of peace-building, humanitarian relief and responsible economic development to Iraq. Two-and-a-half days worth of funding the military could get you all of this for a year. Not bad, huh? said Simone Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Social Service who is head of Network, a Catholic social-justice lobby that is one of the backers of the proposal. Other Catholic supporters are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and Pax Christi USA. The plan would include: $290 million to respond to the needs of an estimated 3.7 million Iraqis displaced in and outside their own country; $100 million to restore full funding of the Community Action Program and an Iraqi war victims’ fund; $100 million to support Iraqi civil society, conflict resolution and peace-building strategies, and the advancement of human rights and the rule of law; and $100 million to rebuild 143 Iraqi state-owned industries with the potential to employ 150,000 Iraqis.

Prenatal Sex Selection; Women’s Empowerment

While lauding the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women for adopting resolutions on ending female genital mutilation and addressing forced and early marriage, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, said that the commission’s work is not complete until it also addresses the important issues of prenatal sex selection, infanticide and son preference. The practice of sex-selective abortions is not a new practice. The international community has raised this issue during the major conference on women. Even recent reports by the U.N. secretary general have continued to raise this as an issue of concern that must be addressed, said Archbishop Migliore in a March 7 statement. Despite its importance, the Commission on the Status of Women has remained silent on prenatal sex selection, infanticide and son preference, he added, saying the time has come for the commission to break the silence on these important issues. In a separate address on March 7 during a U.N. debate on the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Archbishop Migliore urged the use of microfinance, the practice of lending small amounts of money to women to start businesses.

Pope’s Exhortation Reflects on Eucharist

Catholics must believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, celebrate the liturgy with devotion and live in a way that demonstrates their faith, Pope Benedict XVI said in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), following the meeting of the World Synod of Bishops in 2005. The celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God’s love and to persevere in that love, the pope said.

The 131-page document, a papal reflection on the discussions and suggestions made during the synod, which had the Eucharist as its principal topic, was released March 13 by the Vatican.

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he did not simply thank God for the ways he had acted throughout history to save people, the pope said. Rather, Jesus revealed that he himself was the sacrifice that would bring salvation to fulfillment. The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil, Pope Benedict wrote.

The pope also made several concrete suggestions for further study and practical steps for celebrating the Mass in the Latin language during international gatherings.

America Editor Receives Christopher Book Award

James Martin, S.J., an associate editor of America, has been selected as one of the 2007 Christopher Award recipients for his best-selling spiritual memoir My Life With the Saints (Loyola Press). The book, now in its seventh printing, was named by Publishers’ Weekly as one of the 100 best books of 2006. The awards are presented annually to writers, producers, directors and illustrators in the publishing, film, broadcast television and cable industries whose works affirm the highest values of the human spirit.

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