Theologians work merits encouragement, not censure
In a different kind of Catholic church, Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis might have been one of the veteran theologians made an honorary cardinal in the consistory that took place Feb. 21.
His 36 years of scholarship in India, his 16 years at the Gregorian University, his service as an adviser to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue clearly demonstrate his fidelity to the church. His breakthrough 1997 work Towards a Theology of Religious Pluralism will long be a point of reference as Catholic theologians struggle to uphold central doctrines about Christs universal role of salvation while also affirming humanitys various religious paths.
Alongside choices such as Avery Dulles and Leo Scheffczyk, theologians who have spent much of their careers conserving tradition, the pope might have honored a man who has faithfully but courageously pointed a way forward for further developments. At 77, hes close enough to 80 that the timing would have been about right.
Instead, Dupuis finds his book rebuked Feb. 26 by the Vaticans doctrinal authority, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as containing dangerous ambiguities.
Dupuis book is not accused of errors, merely passages open to multiple interpretations that could lead some readers astray. Its difficult to think of any serious theological work that couldnt fit that description, and thus Dupuis is correct to assert that the congregation has not condemned him.
Yet the long investigation remains troubling on two levels.
As Catholicism grows into a world church, finding ways of being Catholic rooted in local cultures is a critical task. In many parts of the world, above all in Asia, this challenge implies dialogue with other religions. The church must find ways for Asians to be Catholic without rejecting their cultural patrimony, which includes millennia of influence from their religious traditions.
Dupuis has attempted to construct a theological framework in which this dialogue can unfold. His results are open to improvement, but they are widely recognized as an important step forward, and surely merit encouragement rather than censure.
Second is a question of procedural justice. In September 1998, Dupuis learned of the investigation, secretly launched several months before. At that time a silence began that lasted until Feb. 26 of this year. Following two years and 260 pages of self-defense, in September 2000, Dupuis finally met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His advocates were able to show that the case against him was built on elementary misreadings of his book.
It took six more months for the case to grind to completion, ending with Dupuis finding his name affixed to a document changed in important respects from the one he had signed under obedience.
The lack of justice in such a process scarcely needs comment.
It is also startling to hear that one of the best-known theologians at Romes most prestigious pontifical university could have gone 16 years without so much as once meeting the men whose task it is to support the theological work of the church. The reform of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed by Paul VI in 1965 was supposed to transform it from a prosecutorial agency into a source of encouragement for theologians; the failure of that reform has rarely been clearer.
Dupuis said Feb. 27 that he feels close to the late Fr. Yves Congar, the Dominican theologian silenced and harassed by the Vatican in the 1950s. Congars diary from that period has recently been published, and in it he writes:
I am crushed, destroyed, abused, disowned by all. I have to deal with a wicked system, a system incapable of correcting itself, that never recognizes its own injustices, that is served by men stripped of goodness and mercy.
Such lines were written in anguish. Happily Congar lived to see his own rehabilitation, first at the Second Vatican Council and eventually by being made a cardinal.
There are small signs that perhaps Dupuis story may also find a happy ending. In the popes Jan. 6 document laying out a program for the new millennium, when John Paul turns to other religions he quotes a 1991 document of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue of which Dupuis was a primary author. The pope never once mentions Dominus Iesus, the document released last fall by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that created consternation among many by asserting that followers of other religions suffer grave deficiencies.
The popes choice is encouraging. Perhaps under a future pontificate, structural reforms will be carried out so that belated rehabilitation of good people is no longer necessary.
National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2001