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Provincials decry Vatican suspicion of Asian theology


Jesuit provincials of South Asia, in a statement highly critical of Vatican “mistrust” of Asian theology, voiced their strong support for two of the order’s theologians whose work has come under doctrinal scrutiny.

The major superiors, in a statement issued after their biannual meeting Feb. 28 to March 6 at Mount Abu in northern India, said that they and many in the Jesuit community “are pained by the atmosphere of suspicion, not to say mistrust, created by recent decisions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about our brothers Anthony de Mello and Jacques Dupuis.”

They called the decision “symptomatic of a general discouragement, even disapproval, of the direction that Asian theology is taking. We think that such suspicion has been a disservice to the whole church.”

In June 1998, the congregation issued a notification warning that some writings by the late Indian Jesuit Fr. Anthony de Mello “are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause harm.”

It then launched an initial inquiry in November on the book Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis, who taught theology in India for 25 years.

Such moves, along with rifts between Asian bishops and the Roman curia at last year’s Synod for Asia and the since-lifted excommunication of Sri Lankan Oblate Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, seem to reflect Vatican misgivings about the impact of Eastern thinking on Christianity.

The major superiors noted “with satisfaction” that many bishops at last year’s Synod for Asia demanded “a rightful autonomy for the churches of Asia.”

The approximately 20 provincials attending the meeting also expressed thanks for the support that Jesuit theologians in Asia have received from bishops and others among the people of God in Asia and the rest of the world. They invited continued support “with trust that is sympathetic but not naive, critical but not censorious.”

The superiors noted that interventions such as those against Dupuis and de Mello are “eventually detrimental to the life of the church, to the cause of the gospel and to the task of interpreting the Word to those who do not belong to the Western cultural tradition.” The statement was signed by Fr. Lisbert D’Souza, president of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia.

The statement said that de Mello, who died in 1987 at age 56, pioneered integration of Asian and Christian spirituality. “Abundant testimonies and our own personal experiences” show that he helped thousands in Asia and across the world “in gaining freedom and in deepening their life of prayer,” they observed.

Dupuis was noted for his experience of South Asia’s “inter-religious situation” and his loyalty to the church’s theological tradition, they said.

“We do not claim that their work is above critical attention,” the superiors said. “In an evolving situation, open and constructive criticism and dialogue are healthy and welcome. But we wish that this is done in full appreciation of the Asian cultural and inter-religious context in which these and other theologians are working.”

They also called on the church “to be mindful of legitimate pluralism in theology” and said that decisions “taken unilaterally without a dialogue with the Asian churches” reflect a “lack of appreciation of differences and of proper procedures.”

They assured continued support and encouragement to their theologians “to go ahead, joyfully and in fidelity to God, to the gospel and to the church, with the difficult and challenging task of making the Word of God relevant to the situation in South Asia.”

D’Souza told UCA News March 18 that the statement underlines “the need for inculturation that considers the multireligious and multicultural South Asian milieu.”

It also stressed the church’s teaching that the universal church is a “communion of local churches” and that there is “legitimate pluralism in theology within the unity of faith,” D’Souza said.

He added that the South Asia Jesuit provincials meet twice a year, and “this was the first time we met” after the development connected with the two Jesuit theologians, “and so we discussed the issue.”

This story is based on UCA News reports.

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1999