Cover story -- Theological Disputes
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Issue Date:  February 25, 2005

The List

Editor's note: Following is a list of Catholic theologians and others disciplined by the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul II. Though not an exhaustive list, it is a substantial representation of the range of people subject to papal discipline during the past 26 years. The list was compiled by Tara Harris, assistant to the editor.

Fr. Jacques Pohier: A French Dominican priest, he was the first theologian to be disciplined by Pope John Paul II. In 1979 Pohier, the dean of the theology faculty at the Dominican theological school near Paris, lost his license to teach theology, was banned from saying Mass or participating in any liturgical gatherings. The Vatican objected to his views on Christ’s resurrection. He left the Dominicans in 1984.

Fr. Hans Küng: A Vatican investigation into the writings of this Swiss-born theologian began in 1975. He lost his license to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after the Vatican found fault with his views on papal infallibility. He continued to teach at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology.

Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx: A Belgian Dominican, he was the theologian of the Dutch bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and has endured several Vatican investigations. He was initially investigated in 1968 for questioning the virginity of Mary. The Dutch hierarchy, clergy and laity rallied to his defense, and Fr. Karl Rahner, who himself would be investigated, convinced the Vatican of Schillebeeckx’s orthodoxy. In 1979, a trial or “procedure” was convened to investigate his writings on Christology. In the face of an international campaign of protest against the trial, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dropped the matter in 1980. He has since received several “notifications” from the congregation that his writings remain in conflict with church teaching.

Fr. Charles Curran: Once a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, Curran lost his license to teach theology in 1986 because the Vatican did not approve of his views on sexuality and medical ethics. He currently teaches at Southern Methodist University. He is a member of the NCR board of the directors.

Leonardo Boff: A Brazilian Franciscan and one of the most famous proponents of liberation theology, Boff was investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. The Vatican objected to his views on Christology and the structure of the church. Boff was silenced for a year in 1985. Boff enjoyed the support of his religious order and two of Brazil’s cardinals, Aloisio Lorscheider and Evaristo Arns, but he was silenced again in 1991. In 1992 Boff left the Franciscans and the priesthood.

Fr. Anthony Kosnik: A priest of the Detroit archdiocese, he was forced to leave his teaching position at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary because he co-authored a Catholic Theological Society study called Human Sexuality. The Vatican disliked the study’s theology and Kosnik was pressured to resign in 1982. Seminarians and faculty threatened to boycott the school’s spring commencement if Kosnik was not reinstated. He got his job back, but was forced to resign the next year.

Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez: Often called the “father of liberation theology,” Gutiérrez has had to face numerous investigations by the Vatican. In 1983, the Peruvian bishops received a notification from the Vatican containing 10 complaints about Gutiérrez’s writings. They declined the request to condemn them. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued instructions in 1984 and 1986 that criticized certain aspects of liberation theology. In 1988, the congregation began another investigation of Gutiérrez. Nothing came of any of these investigations. In 2001 Gutiérrez joined the French province of the Dominicans in a move that was seen as an attempt to distance himself from the conservative Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, the conservative archbishop of Lima.

Fr. Karl Rahner: Considered one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, Rahner spent much of his career under Vatican scrutiny. John XXIII had him silenced and was extremely critical of his writings. Under Paul VI, he was rehabilitated and his theology greatly influenced the Second Vatican Council, where he served as an expert for the German bishops. In his later years, he was very critical of the conservative direction the church had taken under John Paul II. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took issue with Rahner’s views about priestly ordination, contraception and his doctrine of the “anonymous Christian.” After his death in 1984, a gradual reassessment of Rahner’s theology took place, and by the time of his centenary in 2004, the secretary to the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith declared Rahner to be “an orthodox theologian.”

Fr. Matthew Fox: A former Dominican priest, his views on sexuality, original sin, and pantheism attracted the notice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1983. His work was reviewed by a panel of fellow Dominicans and cleared. However, he was silenced by his superiors after the congregation found fault with his views. In 1993 he was expelled from the Dominican order after refusing to return to his community in Chicago. He joined the Episcopal church in 1994.

Mary Agnes Mansour: A Sister of Mercy, she was forced to choose between her job as the director of Michigan’s Department of Social Services and her religious vows. In 1983 after 30 years of religious life, Mansour left her congregation.

Elizabeth Morancy and Arlene Violet: Both were Sisters of Mercy in Rhode Island. Morancy, a Rhode Island legislator, and Violet, Rhode Island’s attorney general, were forced by the Vatican to choose between keeping their jobs and remaining in religious life. They chose to keep their jobs and left religious life in 1983.

Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen: The former archbishop of Seattle found himself under investigation after the Vatican received letters complaining of liturgical abuses. In 1983, Archbishop James Hickey of Washington conducted a visitation of the Seattle archdiocese. His report to the Vatican resulted in the appointment of an auxiliary bishop in 1985, and Hunthausen was stripped of much of his authority. After a wave of complaints and protests from laity, clergy, religious and Hunthausen’s brother bishops, the Vatican restored Hunthausen’s authority and replaced his auxiliary bishop with a coadjutor in 1987. He retired in 1991.

Fr. Ernesto Cardenal: He was a member of the Sandinista party in Nicaragua. When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979, Cardenal became the Sandinista’s minister of culture. When John Paul II visited Nicaragua in 1983, he publicly chastised Cardenal for his participation in the Sandinista government. Cardenal and four other priests were ordered to quit their government posts by the Vatican. Cardenal refused and lost his priestly faculties. He remained in the government until 1988. In 1994 he resigned from the Sandinista party, accusing its leadership of corruption.

Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick: The two spent much of their religious careers working in ministry to homosexuals. In 1984 they were forced to leave their New Ways Ministry. In 1988, they were again investigated and in 1999 the Vatican sanctioned them for not representing authentic church teaching about homosexuality. They received sanctions from their religious congregations that essentially prohibited them from participating in public ministry to homosexuals. Nugent, a Salvatorian priest, accepted the sanctions. Gramick left the School Sisters of Notre Dame and joined the Loretto Sisters in 2004 ( see story).

Dr. John McNeill: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith opened an inquiry in 1974 into the former Jesuit priest’s view about homosexuality. In 1977, church authorities in Rome officially silenced him. He was no longer allowed to speak about or minister to homosexuals. He disobeyed that order in 1986 and the Society of Jesus began formal procedures to expel McNeill. The expulsion became official in January 1987 and McNeill became a psychotherapist.

Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namour, they left their religious order 1988. They and 91 other nuns and priests signed an ad in a 1984 issue of The New York Times that proclaimed a “diversity of opinion regarding abortion” existed among Catholics. Ferraro and Hussey alone refused a Vatican order to retract their support for the ad. Although their religious congregation supported them throughout their investigation, the two left religious life, protesting the process used by the Vatican against them.

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: The leader of traditionalist Catholics was excommunicated in 1988 for ordaining four bishops. Lefebvre rejected the reforms of Vatican II, believing the council opened the church to the negative influences of communism and modernism. He also rejected the “new Mass.” During the reform council, he led a group of traditionalists who firmly opposed anything new or different. After the council, he established his own seminary in Econe, Switzerland. Paul VI suspended him for ordaining the graduates of this seminary. John Paul II made many attempts to reconcile Lefebvre to the post-Vatican II church, but the episcopal ordinations made Lefebvre’s excommunication automatic.

Fr. Tissa Belasuriya: A Sri Lankan Oblate of Mary, he attracted the negative attention of the Vatican with his writings on Mary, the divinity of Christ, and original sin. In 1994 he was notified that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had found errors in his writings. In 1995, he was ordered to sign a profession of faith or risk excommunication. He responded by signing a profession of faith written by Paul VI. He was formally excommunicated in 1997. One year later, after protests and negotiations, Belasuriya was “reconciled” to the church.

Fr. Eugen Drewermann: A German theologian, he was suspended from the priesthood in 1992. He questioned the virgin birth of Christ and the physical reality of his resurrection. He was later expelled from the priesthood.

Ivone Gebara: A Brazilian Sister of Notre Dame found herself under investigation in 1993 for publicly advocating legalized abortion. A yearlong investigation by the Brazilian bishops’ conference ended with Gebara reaffirming her defense of human life in all forms. Although the Brazilian bishops considered the matter closed, the Vatican did not. Citing problems with her theological writings, in 1995 the Vatican pressured her religious congregation to sanction her. The sanctions resulted in Gebara being silenced for two years.

Bishop Jacques Gaillot: He was removed from his position as bishop of Evreux, France, in 1995. The Vatican, and several of his brother bishops, saw his identification with the poor and advocacy of homosexuals and contraception as too unorthodox for a bishop.

National Catholic Reporter, February 25, 2005

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