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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Vatican forbids U.S. Jesuit to teach as Catholic theologian

By John Thavis and Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a five-year investigation, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation said it had found "serious doctrinal errors" in the work of U.S. Jesuit theologian Father Roger Haight and forbade him to teach as a Catholic theologian.
The Vatican's critique focused on Father Haight's 1999 book, "Jesus Symbol of God," which explored the themes of Christ's divinity, the resurrection, the Trinity and salvation for non-Christians.
A lengthy notification summing up the investigation's conclusions was published by the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, in its Feb. 7-8 edition. The notification, dated Dec. 13, was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; a note said Pope John Paul II had approved the notification and ordered its publication.
The doctrinal congregation said Father Haight's book contained "serious doctrinal errors against the Catholic and divine faith of the church."
"As a consequence, the author is forbidden to teach Catholic theology until his positions have been rectified in such a way as to be in full conformity with the doctrine of the church," the notification said.
Contacted by telephone in New York, Father Haight said, "I'm not going to comment at all" on the Vatican document.
The notification said Father Haight's assertion that Catholic theology must be "in dialogue" with the modern world leads him to downplay or deny central teachings of the church, including that:
  • The Word of God existed from all eternity.
  • The Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus was divine.
  • Salvation is offered to all humanity through Jesus.
  • The Son and the Spirit are separate persons within the Trinity, not simply "metaphors" for actions of the one God.
The congregation also criticized Father Haight's assertion that "because of modern pluralistic consciousness," one cannot continue to affirm that Christianity is a superior religion or that Christ is the centerpiece of God's plan for salvation.
The congregation's notification said that by denying the pre-existence of the Word, Father Haight moved to an "equally erroneous understanding of the doctrine on the divinity of Jesus." While Father Haight used phrases such as "Jesus must be considered divine," he also asserted that such statements are simply symbolic and that "Jesus was 'a human being like us,'" the congregation said.
"This interpretation of the divinity of Jesus is contrary to the faith of the church, which believes in Jesus Christ, eternal son of God, made man, as has been repeatedly confessed by various ecumenical councils and in the constant preaching of the church," the congregation said.
Father Haight recently resigned as a professor of theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. He had been barred from teaching there since 2000, pending the outcome of the Vatican's investigation.
The Vatican notification said that in June 2000 Father Haight responded in writing to questions about his work. It said Father Haight's response "neither clarified not corrected the errors that had been pointed out."
A more extensive theological examination was then launched, and in 2002 it concluded there were serious errors in the work. Through the Jesuit order, Father Haight was invited to submit an explanation of his methods and corrections of the content of his work. A signed response from Father Haight arrived in early 2004, and the doctrinal congregation found it unsatisfactory.
In 2000, "Jesus Symbol of God," published by Orbis Books, won an award from the Catholic Press Association as the year's best book on theology. It was a selection of the Catholic Book Club, operated by America Press.
In the book, Father Haight says the religious pluralism of the world is a given, and "theologically, from a Christian standpoint, this pluralism should be interpreted positively. The normative revelation of Jesus posits that God's grace is operative in other religions."
He argues that "affirming the validity of other religions does not undermine the normativity of Jesus Christ. And affirming the normativity of Jesus Christ, not simply for Christians but for all human beings, does not undermine the validity and truth contained in other religions."
In 2000, the doctrinal congregation issued a declaration, "Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus"), reiterating church teaching that Jesus Christ is the one savior of all and warning sharply against any theories that would contradict or undermine that teaching.
At the start of his book, Father Haight expresses the conviction that in the postmodern era, with its pervasive consciousness of pluralism, "Christianity in the 21st century must confront new problems and issues that will generate genuinely new understandings and behavior patterns in and by the churches. ... But at the same time Christianity, in this case in its theology and Christology, must remain faithful to its originating revelation and consistent tradition."
In a brief statement, the Jesuit provincial superior in New York, Father Gerald J. Chojnacki, said Father Haight "has collaborated with the congregation and is available for consultation with them."
He said the priest submitted a letter of resignation to the president of Weston in February 2003, and it was accepted in October 2004."
Father Haight now lives in New York City, where he continues his research and writing," Father Chojnacki said.
  • Contributing to this story was Jerry Filteau in Washington.

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