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De Mello new Vatican target

By NCR Staff

Catholic bishops around the world have been instructed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to see that the books of the late Jesuit Fr. Anthony de Mello are withdrawn from sale, not reprinted or are accompanied by a notification warning that certain passages may depart from “the essential contents of the Christian faith.”

The notice came in a July 23 letter from Ratzinger, the church’s top doctrinal official, to the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences. Ratzinger asked the bishops to keep his order “strictly confidential” until Aug. 23, when it would be printed in L’Osservatore Romano.

De Mello, an Indian Jesuit who died in 1987, was a well-known writer and speaker on spiritual topics. His approach blended insights from Eastern religions with Christian traditions. He became familiar to American audiences through a series of summer workshops offered over 15 years. His books included 1984’s Sadhana: A Way to God, and 1988’s One Minute Wisdom (both published by Image Books).

Ratzinger’s letter said that “for some time” reports about de Mello’s work had reached the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Upon examination, Ratzinger said his office had determined that aspects of de Mello’s writings “lead to a relativizing of every affirmation of faith and thus to religious indifferentism.”

An accompanying “notification” spelling out the grounds for the Vatican action charges de Mello with six specific offenses:

  • Asserting an impersonal God, as opposed to “the revelation which has come in the person of Jesus Christ”;
  • Denying that the Bible contains valid statements about God, and claiming that sacred religious texts “can cause people to become obtuse and cruel”;
  • Denying that Jesus is the Son of God;
  • Declaring that the question of life after death is “irrelevant”;
  • Advocating moral relativism, in the form of saying that “since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality”;
  • Criticizing the church for “making the word of God in holy scripture into an idol,” and hence “banishing God from the temple.”

“This congregation declares that the above-mentioned positions are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm,” the notification concluded.

The notification said that de Mello’s early works were on more solid theological ground. “His works ... contain some valid elements of oriental wisdom,” it said. “Especially in his early writings, Fr. de Mello, while revealing the influence of Buddhist and Taoist spiritual currents, remained within the lines of Christian spirituality.”

National Catholic Reporter, August 28, 1998