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Theologian Dupuis says he’s free at last

NCR Staff

Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis, whose pioneering theology on the relationship between Christianity and other religions has long set off Vatican alarms, said Feb. 27 that after two and a half years of “very great suffering,” he feels like a free man.

He added, however, that he wouldn’t recommend his particular mode of liberation.

The price of Dupuis’ freedom was a Feb. 26 Vatican censure of eight “ambiguities” in his best-known book, Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism, published in 1997. The result ends 36 months of silence imposed as part of the investigation.

Most observers believe the Vatican’s main concern with Dupuis’ complex book is his belief that other religions play a positive role in God’s plan for humanity. Officials worry that this idea will lead to diminished missionary efforts as well as to a “one’s as good as another” kind of religious relativism.

Dupuis, who spent 36 years in India before coming to Rome to teach at the Gregorian University, was among primary targets of the recent Vatican document Dominus Iesus. It criticized theologians who “relativize” Catholicism’s superiority over other religions and Christian churches.

The Feb. 26 Vatican censure, known as a “notification,” came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The notification lauds Dupuis for raising new questions and for his “attempt to remain within the limit of orthodoxy.” Nevertheless, it cites “notable ambiguities or difficulties” in the book, and lists several points that theologians must uphold. Those points are:

  • Jesus Christ is the “sole and universal mediator of salvation for all humanity”;
  • The revelation offered in Jesus offers everything necessary for salvation and has no need of completion by other religions;
  • Elements of truth in other religions derive from Jesus;
  • The Word of God and the Holy Spirit are not agents of salvation apart from Jesus Christ;
  • Different religions are not ways of salvation complementary to the Catholic church;
  • Followers of other religions are called to be part of the Catholic church;
  • In themselves, other religions are not means of salvation because they “contain omissions, insufficiencies and errors.”

Dupuis told members of the press Feb. 27 that he had not contradicted these principles, even if his approach to them differs from his critics.

The notification appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, with Dupuis’ signature. Dupuis told reporters, however, that a paragraph had been inserted that was not in the document he signed. It obliges him to “hold the doctrinal content” of the notification; the other asked him to “take account” of that content.

Despite the switch, Dupuis said he would not challenge the notification. Instead he claimed vindication, noting that it condemns possible “misinterpretations” rather than “errors” in his book.

Dupuis also made it clear that he regards the more than two years of silence and investigation as unjustified.

“What I have held and written is not against the faith of the church,” he said.

Dupuis first learned of the investigation in September1998, when he was instructed to respond to 12 pages of accusations and refrain from “further diffusion” of his ideas. The ban meant that the 77-year-old Jesuit had to cancel the last class he was ever to teach at the Gregorian, which has a mandatory retirement age of 75.

Dupuis was summoned to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s office on Sept. 4, 2000, and presented with a draft notification. It contained accusations of “grave errors,” Dupuis said. That draft was revised in light of the meeting.

Dupuis was accompanied by Jesuit Fr. Gerald O’Collins, an Australian theologian who was his advocate, and Jesuit superior Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. Ratzinger was joined by his assistant, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, consultant Salesian Fr. Angelo Amato and a stenographer.

In meeting with the press, Dupuis said that despite having taught at Rome’s premier pontifical university for 16 years, this was the first and only time he has met either Ratzinger or Bertone.

Dupuis said Kolvenbach pointed out the lack of references to page numbers or quotations from Dupuis’ book. The suggestion was that the authors of the notification had relied on negative reviews rather than the book itself.

O’Collins argued that the “errors” cited were either not in Dupuis’ book or were lines from works Dupuis himself was criticizing.

Ratzinger agreed to revise the notification, although the pope had already signed it.

One oddity produced by the behind-the-scenes maneuvering is that John Paul actually signed three different versions of Dupuis’ censure, in June and November of 2000 and again on Jan. 19. Each time he ordered publication, although only the final version appeared. The sequence seems likely to renew speculation about how closely the pope scrutinizes documents that appear under his signature.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org.

The text of the notification to Dupuis by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the accompanying congregation commentary and the statement released afterward by Jesuit superior Kolvenbach are available on the NCR Web site at http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/documents/index.htm

National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2001