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Catholic theologian rejects demand to retract Vatican criticism


A prominent Roman Catholic theologian from Poland has rejected a demand from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to retract and rewrite an article criticising its attitude to other Christian churches.

"It’s another sad story about how Rome sends out condemnations of theologians," said Waclaw Hryniewicz, a founder member of an international commission for theological dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

"I was told disciplinary sanctions would be imposed on me if I did not recall and renounce my unfair, unjust and disrespectful language about the congregation. I do not know what this means – maybe just a publishing ban or excommunication for disobedience," Hryniewicz told Ecumenical News International.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defends theological orthodoxy within the Catholic Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, once headed the body.

Professor Hryniewicz retired in 2005 from Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin.

His article, "The saviour uses many tunes", was published in Open Theology, an online inter-faith journal based in London (www.opentheology.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=42&Itemid=42). .

The article criticised a June 2007 Vatican document that reaffirmed the Catholic view that Protestant denominations are not churches, "in the proper sense".

Hryniewicz wrote that the Vatican document represented a "serious regression" by reflecting attitudes that dated from before the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, which introduced reforms into the Catholic Church.

He received the demand to retract his article in a January letter from Heinz Steckling, the Rome-based Father-General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate order, to which the professor belongs.

Steckling said Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the doctrinal congregation, had complained that the article lacked "scientific and methodological rigour", and was "perceived as showing little respect for the authority" of the Vatican body.

"The Secretary of the Congregation specifically demands that you write another article, revising your position and your evaluation in the article in question concerning above all the domain of ecclesiology and ecumenical dialogue, adding clarifications and corrections where necessary," said the letter, written in French, and shown to ENI.

Hryniewicz was given a three-month deadline to submit his new article to "competent superiors" for approval.

However, he told his order he would not write "clarifications or rectifications", and said other leading Roman Catholics shared his disappointment with the Vatican’s stance.

"My only intention was to share the pain and sorrow of many Protestant sisters and brothers in the Christian faith very profoundly hurt by the Vatican statement," the 72-year-old said in a 26 March letter.

"I am curious that a short text published in London has now been used as an opportunity to accuse me, and I’m worried this judgement may now be extended to cover my previous work as well," Hryniewicz told ENI. "Although some Polish bishops have defended me, others have denounced me to Rome in a bid to silence and destroy me."

Professor Hryniewicz, who headed Lublin’s Ecumenical Institute, was from 1979 to 2005 a member of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

He also helped to draft the 2001 Charta Oecumenica, or ecumenical charter, published by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European (Catholic) Bishops’ Conferences.

Archbishop Jeremiasz Achimiuk, the Orthodox president of the Polish Ecumenical Council, which groups seven non-Catholic denominations, said he was "deeply saddened" by the attack on Professor Hryniewicz. The "worldwide ecumenical movement" owed "a great deal" to the priest’s work, he added.

(c) Ecumenical News International