Jesuit’s text draws fire from Vatican

In what is considered a surprising development, the Vatican has effectively censored a six-year-old theology text by a Boston Jesuit.

"Jesus: Symbol of God" by the Rev. Father Roger Haight, "contains serious doctrinal errors in the fundamental comparisons of some truths of faith" and "erroneous affirmations, the spreading of which was of serious damage to the faithful" according to the English translation of a Vatican notification published in L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of Vatican City and "the official voice of the Holy See."

The notice goes on to say that the areas of contention are the book's treatment of the divinity of Jesus, the universality of the Church and other authorial viewpoints that run contrary to Church dogma.

The notice also reads, "As a consequence, the author is prohibited from teaching Catholic theology as long as his positions are not rectified so as to be in full conformity with the doctrine of the Church."

The notice bears the signatures of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and Archbishop Angelo Amato.

The move to censor Haight's book came as a surprise to the Rev. John Donnelly, a history professor and Jesuit scholar.

"Usually, Jesuits try to be supporters of Catholic tradition, but I think he stepped over the line," Donnelly said, adding that he has not read Haight's book. "He must have stepped outside of the usual boundaries."

In 2001, "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" by the Rev. Jacques Dupuis received a warning from the Vatican. However, it was judged to have no doctrinal errors, according to JesuitUSA News, a religious news service.

"Jesus: Symbol of God" was published in 1999, and the Vatican board investigating the book has been examining it and seeking explanation from Haight since February 2000, according to the notice.

Haight and his book were defended by Howard Schwartz, director of media relations for the parent organization of the publisher of "Jesus: Symbol of God."

"Whenever you write theological interpretations, people are bound to disagree with you," Schwartz said.

Schwartz added he thought some of Haight's points judged unacceptable by the Vatican were probably intended to open discussion within the Church.

The publisher, Orbis Books, will not cease publication of Haight's book and will not get rid of their current stock, according to Schwartz.

Marquette has a copy of Haight's book in the Memorial library collection. There are no plans to remove it now that it has run afoul of the Vatican.

"We wouldn't withdraw the book from the library," said Nicholas Burckel, dean of libraries. "I don't think the church gets into having universities withdraw books from collections. That would be a disastrous policy."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 17 2005.