Two European Scholars under Scrutiny for Heresy

Article excerpt

Two European Catholic intellectuals face separate Vatican heresy probes, according to recent Italian news accounts.

Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis is on leave from his teaching position at the Pontifical Gregorian University while he responds to Vatican objections to his book on religious pluralism, while law professor Luigi Lombardi Vallauri has been suspended from Milan's University of the Sacred Heart for questioning the reality of Hell, the extent of papal authority and the doctrine of original sin.

The 74-year-old Dupuis, who spent 36 years teaching theology in India before joining the faculty at the Gregorian in Rome, told the Italian news service ANSA Nov. 7 that he had received an interrogative survey from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church's doctrinal watchdog agency, about his book Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Orbis Books, 1997). The book draws on Eastern religions to argue that salvation may be found outside the Catholic church.

The survey is the first step in a heresy investigation. Dupuis said he had three months to respond.

Reached at his university office in Rome, Dupuis told NCR that he could not reveal the specific grounds for the Vatican action. "The contents of the survey are strictly reserved," he said. "I cannot enter into the details without making the case worse."

"I cannot discuss the matter even with my colleagues or my students," Dupuis said. "The only thing I am able to acknowledge publicly is the simple fact of my being questioned."

Dupuis said the accompanying letter from the doctrinal congregation instructed him, while the investigation is pending, "not to spread the ideas for which I am being questioned in my teaching, writing or public lectures."

On Nov. 11, the university issued a statement saying that Dupuis would be relieved of his teaching responsibilities for the next three months. Jesuit Fr. General Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, who is also vice-chancellor of the Gregorian University, said the action was intended to free Dupuis so he could prepare his response.

Dupuis told NCR that the decision should not be understood as a "suspension," and that it was made with his consent. "It is the only thing to do," he said. "How can you teach if you can't say what you think?"

Taken in concert with the recent censure of the late Indian Jesuit Fr. Anthony de Mello as well as rifts between Asian bishops and the Roman curia that appeared in last spring's Synod for Asia, the action against Dupuis seems to reflect Vatican concern with the impact of Eastern religious thinking on Catholicism.

In his book, Dupuis argues that Christ should be understood as the "universal" but not the "Absolute" savior -- "who is God himself" -- and hence the other religion can lead to salvation. He invokes concepts such as the Hindu mystical notion of saccidnaanda, a spiritual experience of God's perfection, to suggest that other faiths recognize truths Christian have traditionally affirmed. …