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Chronology of Balasuriya’s troubles:

1971 -- Oblate Fr. Balasuriya, a native of Sri Lanka with a growing interest in making Christian teachings accessible to people in his predominantly Buddhist nation, founds the Center for Society and Religion. Four years later, he founds the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.

1978 -- Balasuriya’s book Eucharist and Human Liberation is published by Orbis.

1990 -- Fr. Tissa Balasuriya’s center publishes his book Mary and Human Liberation.

June 1994 -- Sri Lankan bishops publish a warning of heretical content in Balasuriya’s 1990 book, saying he misrepresented the doctrine of original sin and cast serious doubts on the divinity of Christ.

July 1994 -- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith demands that Balasuriya retract his views. The congregation dismisses his 55-page theological defense as “unsatisfactory.”

May 1996 -- The congregation demands that Balasuriya sign by Dec. 8 a profession of faith, apparently written exclusively for him. It states that he will “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings of the Roman pontiff,” even those teachings not proclaimed as definitive, and that he understands that “the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” Balasuriya responds by signing a profession of faith composed by Pope Paul VI. He adds a caveat: that he was signing it “in the context of theological development and church practice since Vatican II and the freedom and responsibility of Christians and theological searchers under canon law.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican congregation, said the caveat had rendered the profession “defective.”

December 1996 -- His excommunication imminent, Balasuriya appeals directly to Pope John Paul II, citing lack of due process. Eighty Third World theologians announce plans to write the pope on Balasuriya’s behalf.

January 1997 -- With the pope’s approval, Balasuriya, 72, is declared excommunicated on Jan. 2 under Canon 1364, a church law that applies to apostates and heretics. Balasuriya appeals to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the church court that oversees due process. Leaders of Sri Lanka’s 222 Oblate missionaries urge the Vatican to repeal the penalty.

February 1997 -- The tribunal notifies Balasuriya that Pope John Paul II had determined his case should not go forward. Balasuriya subsequently agrees to drop the caveat from the Paul VI profession. NCR publishes an open letter to Balasuriya from Fr. Charles Curran, who decries the penalty as “inhumane” because it “destroys the most fundamental identity of your life as a baptized Catholic, a theologian and a priest.”

April 1997 -- Bishop Peter Takeo Okada of Japan warns a top Vatican official, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, that the church “will forever lack a voice for justice” unless Balasuriya’s excommunication is rescinded. Etchegaray heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

September 1997 -- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues new norms aimed at safeguarding the rights of theologians accused of unorthodox or “dangerous” opinions.

November 1997 -- Balasuriya addresses some 1,500 U.S. Catholics at a national meeting of Call to Action, by far his largest U.S. audience ever. He strenuously objects to what he said was suspension of canon law in his case, “a dangerous situation.”

January 1998 -- The excommunication is rescinded following six days of negotiations.

Stories about the Balasuriya case have appeared in the following issues of NCR: Dec. 20 and 27 in 1996; Jan. 17 and 31, Feb. 14 and 21, Aug. 1 and Dec. 5, all in 1997. Excerpts from his book were published on Feb. 21, 1997, and an open letter to Balasuriya from Fr. Charles Curran, the U.S. theologian removed from his teaching post at Catholic University of America, was published on Feb. 7, 1997.

National Catholic Reporter, January 30, 1998