The story of one Jesuit's battle with the Vatican
An excerpt from a revealing behind-the-scenes book
Fr Jacques Dupuis (picture: National Catholic Reporter/AP)
- Fr Gerald O'Collins for National Catholic Reporter
- February 24, 2014
I first met Belgian [Jesuit] theologian Jacques Dupuis (1923-2004) early in 1971 when I spent time with him at a Jesuit theological college (St. Mary's, Kurseong) in north India near Darjeeling, where he had been teaching theology since 1959. A strong friendship had been forged with "Jim," as I have always called him. Dupuis came to the Gregorian for a few weeks as a visiting professor. He seemed to enjoy the experience and in 1984 he joined our theology faculty. Dupuis quickly made his mark as a first-rate teacher. For 10 years (1985-95) he acted as an official consultant on the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and played a key role in drafting a document jointly produced with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, "Dialogue and Mission" (May 1991). This document broke new ground by reflecting on the relationship between dialogue with other religions and the Christian mission to proclaim Jesus Christ.
[His] 447-page Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism appeared more or less simultaneously in English, French and Italian at the end of 1997 and in Portuguese (1999) and Spanish (2000). Numerous reviews were appearing in English, French and Italian -- the first, a very positive review, in the Nov. 22, 1997, issue of Avvenire, which is owned by the bishops of Italy.
At Easter 1998, a tiny cloud appeared -- in the shape of a very negative article published by Avvenirein its issue for April 14. Dupuis later learned that someone in the Vatican had commissioned that article. The [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] had gone into action; strong criticisms were leveled against the book [at the doctrinal congregation on March 30 and April 4]. A CDF meeting on June 10, 1998, included a number of cardinals, one of whom afterward admitted that he had never read Dupuis' book. They voted in favor of taking action against the book, a step that would involve securing the pope's permission, which was forthcoming a week later. But Dupuis knew none of this at the time.
[On Oct. 2, 1998] Dupuis [was] stunned by a communication that had reached him [via the Jesuit superior general, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach]. A nine-page, single-spaced document developed 14 theses challengingToward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. A covering page explained that the CDF found in this work by Dupuis "serious errors or doctrinal ambiguities on doctrines of divine and Catholic faith concerning revelation, soteriology [teaching on salvation], Christology and the Trinity." The page ended by naming several "dangerous affirmations" that "cannot be safely taught," such as the application of "Mother" to the first person of the Trinity. Dupuis was given three months to reply. Dupuis began by spending two weeks in hospital. As a chronically sick man, this may have been inevitable. But the stress he experienced under the quite unexpected onslaught from the CDF unquestionably played its part.
At the time, I was a visiting professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. On Dupuis' behalf, the dean of theology phoned me with the bad news, asking me to act as the one adviser the CDF allowed Dupuis. I was particularly astonished and scandalized at the poor quality of much of the 14 theses prepared by the CDF, which repeatedly attributed to him views that he had not only never expressed in the book but also had in several passages explicitly rejected: for example, the bizarre notion of different heavens for the followers of different religious traditions. Thesis one attacked him for interpreting the Bible along the very lines recommended by the Pontifical Biblical Commission's "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" (1993), the document for which [CDF head] Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger had himself written the preface!
On Jan. 16, 1999, the London Tablet carried a two-page article, "In Defence of Fr. Dupuis," by Cardinal Franz König, retired archbishop of Vienna, a prominent personality at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), a longtime advocate of interreligious dialogue, and someone who was reputed to have played a major role in the election of John Paul II. The archbishop of Calcutta and some other Catholic leaders had already expressed their support for Dupuis, but König's powerful advocacy could not be ignored.
Shortly after that interview appeared, The Tablet carried an English translation of an open letter addressed to Cardinal König and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger began by expressing his "astonishment" and "sadness" about König's article, and then went on to claim that the CDF's action "had consisted simply in sending some confidential questions to Fr. Dupuis and nothing more than that." He rejected König's statement that the CDF "may well suspect him [Dupuis] of directly or indirectly violating the Church's teaching." I read these assertions with both sadness and astonishment. What Dupuis had received from the CDF included much more than "some confidential questions." It began with fierce charges about the orthodoxy of Dupuis's book; he was explicitly accused of directly violating church teaching. It made me sad that Cardinal Ratzinger (or, presumably, someone at the CDF writing in his name) could be so economical with the truth.
The letter to König repeatedly referred to the CDF's desire to "dialogue" with Dupuis and to "consult him personally." "If this is dialogue," I thought, "I would hate to see confrontation!" Cardinal Ratzinger had never met Dupuis nor contacted him personally by phone or letter, let alone asked to sit down with him for a discussion.
When Dupuis submitted his lengthy response [in December], he received no acknowledgment. Months of silence followed, and that played on Dupuis' nerves. In February 1999, he fell ill. The response came at the end of July. It began with a letter that welcomed the clarifications, but said nothing about the many places where he had shown the CDF's theses to be mistaken. Once again, the CDF gave Dupuis three months to reply.
Dupuis' skirmish with the CDF was making me cry out for more love and more justice in the church. Primarily for love. The CDF's misgivings about his book might have been solved by a phone call or by a personal invitation to join Cardinal Ratzinger over afternoon tea for a serious, face-to-face discussion. They never met until September 2000, and they lived less than 3 miles from each other!
Full Story: A look back on Dupuis' skirmish with the Vatican
Source: National Catholic Reporter