The board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America has expressed profound distress at the Vatican action condemning a book by Roger Haight, S.J., an American theologian, and banning him from teaching Catholic theology. Father Haight’s book Jesus Symbol of God has done a great service in framing crucial questions that need to be addressed today, the board said in a statement given to Catholic News Service on Feb. 16. It said the book, sharply criticized for doctrinal errors in a notification issued on Feb. 7 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has provoked the kind of lively debate and criticism within the theological community that is encouraged by the church’s teaching authority.
Ironically, rather than promote greater criticism of the book, the congregation’s intervention will most likely discourage debates over the book, effectively stifling further criticism and undermining our ability as Catholic theologians to openly critique our colleagues, the board said.
Father Haight, a member of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, was teaching at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., when his book was published in 1999. In 2000 the Vatican ordered his suspension from teaching there pending an investigation of the book. He is currently teaching at Union Theological Seminary, a Protestant interdenominational institution in New York City.
The Vatican notification criticized the book for statements contrary to truths of divine and Catholic faith and said disseminating those statements is of grave harm to the faithful. The C.T.S.A. board did not deny there were errors in the book’s theology, and individual theologians contacted by CNS also said they had serious problems with the book.
The C.T.S.A. board said that during the association’s convention in 2002, there was an open forum on the book, during which Father Haight willingly explained his views and responded to his colleagues’ critical observations. In many ways, it added, the theological community has been engaging in precisely the kind of internal debate and mutual correction that has been encouraged by the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church.
The congregation’s intervention in this case gravely threatens the very process of serious, systematic, internal criticism which the congregation and the bishops have long been encouraging among theologians, it said. While this process of internal critique can never replace the proper teaching and disciplinary roles of the magisterium, the intervention of the magisterium should be a last resort, reserved for situations where this process has clearly failed.
Roberto S. Goizueta, C.T.S.A. president and a theology professor at Boston College, told CNS that he viewed the doctrinal congregation’s notification as blurring the line between theology and catechetics. What they’re trying to do is get him to restate the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said. That’s not what theology is. Theology is about creative exploration of revelation and the doctrine of the church. The book is an exploration, and Father Haight doesn’t pretend anything else, he said.
William P. Thompson-Uberuaga, a theology professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a former C.T.S.A. president, told CNS that he basically agreed with the content of the Vatican notification. Many of us in the theological community had real issues with the book on those same points, he said. I just wish the congregation would let the theological community sort things out first.
Thompson said that while the theological assertions criticized by the doctrinal congregation are in Father Haight’s book, many of them are presented more tentatively than one would gather from the notification. On many of the issues, he said, it is possible to make a more generous interpretation of the author’s intent and meaning than that expressed by the doctrinal congregation.Church Trial Suspends New Jersey Priest
The Rev. James A. D. Smith has been permanently suspended from ministry after a three-judge church court in the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., found him guilty of at least one act of sexual abuse of a minor. It was the first canonical trial of a diocesan priest held in the diocese since the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted in 2002.
He may no longer represent himself as a priest or exercise any of the authorities or duties of ecclesiastical office, said Marianna Thompson, diocesan director of communications. Father Smith plans to appeal the decision, which eventually could go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.
Father Smith, who turned 74 on Feb. 21, had been suspended from ministry and placed on administrative leave since 2002, when allegations of abuse were first brought to the attention of the diocese. The diocese immediately reported the allegation to the Passaic County prosecutor’s office, which subsequently determined that the case was past the statute of limitations for criminal action in New Jersey.
In December 2003 the diocese settled a civil suit against Father Smith brought by a man who said Father Smith had abused him over a period of years in the 1960’s, beginning when the accuser was 15.Paterson Diocese Settles Clergy Sexual Abuse Suit
The Diocese of Paterson, N.J., has reached a settlement with 26 plaintiffs in a lawsuit over sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The settlement was announced on Feb. 15 by Gregory Gianforcaro, the plaintiffs’ attorney. I hope this will bring closure for all those involved to a long and painful experience for our church, said Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, who has headed the Paterson Diocese since last July. We look forward to conciliation and healing.
Gianforcaro thanked Bishop Serratelli, saying, I am convinced that he is a kind and compassionate man who is trying to assist the victims in their healing, and I believe that the Paterson Diocese will be well served with his leadership in the future.
Local newspapers reported that the total settlement was approximately $5 million, but Gianforcaro said his clients wanted the terms of settlement kept private. This request was made solely by the plaintiffs, not by the Diocese of Paterson, he said. In addition to the monetary compensation, the Paterson Diocese will pay for psychological counseling for my clients for the next four years.
According to Marianna Thompson, Paterson diocesan spokeswoman, the Diocese of Paterson was a party only to the overall settlement. We have no knowledge, nor have we apportioned sums among the clients. That is the purview of the plaintiffs’ attorney. As requested, we will continue to honor his ongoing request not to announce the amount of the settlement.
As to where the money for the settlement will come from, Thompson said, The money comes from insurance reserves and interest income derived from past surplus revenues. Thompson also said the diocese intends to submit insurance claims to the appropriate carriers. She noted that the settlement is not an admission of liability and is actually a compromise of a disputed claim.Four Boston Priests Laicized by Vatican
The Vatican has laicized four Boston priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors, the Archdiocese of Boston said in a brief announcement on Feb. 11. The priests may not function in any capacity as a priest with the exception of offering absolution to the dying, and they cease to receive any financial support from the archdiocese. Just two weeks earlier, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced that the Vatican had laicized three of its priests after investigating similar allegations.
By some estimates the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has received at least 500 cases involving accused U.S. priests, although the congregation itself consistently declines to discuss the number of cases or the particulars of any case. The announcements in Boston and St. Louis were among a number of statements from various U.S. dioceses issued over the past year or so that indicated the doctrinal congregation is steadily working through its clergy abuse caseload and reaching decisions.News Briefs
On the day Pope John Paul II left the hospital after 10 days of treatment for respiratory problems, a Vatican statement said the pope’s throat inflammation had been cured and that tests had ruled out other complications.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis settled eight cases of sexual abuse by clergy for $267,500 in January in a mediation process. The cases involved claims against five priests who have been removed from ministry, one of whom is now in prison. Since January 2004, the mediation process has resulted in the settlement of 31 cases in that archdiocese for a total of $2,399,300. Approximately $742,000 was recovered from an insurance carrier.
The Diocese of Brooklyn announced on Feb. 9 that budgetary constraints have forced the diocese to close and/or consolidate 26 of its parish elementary schools at the end of the current school year. The closings will affect 3,000 students.
Paul R. Shanley, the former priest and major figure in the scandal of sexual abuse by priests in Boston, was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison on multiple counts of raping and assaulting a boy in the 1980’s.
After a year-and-a-half of suspensions and abortive meetings, the Vatican-Israel Commission negotiating a new treaty met on Feb. 15-16 at the Israel Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. No progress was reported. Additional talks were scheduled for March 31 and April 20-21.