The Sunday TimesPlus

9th February 1997



Mary and Human Liberation-the other side

Bishops did their duty

The following is the concluding part of our serialisation of excerpts from the book Mary and Human Liberation-The Other Side, written by Manel Abhayaratna in response to Fr. Tissa Balasuriya's controversial book Mary and Human Liberation

Continued from last week.

5. Question: Isn't there any requirement of ecclesiastical law to submit such writings for ecclesiastical approval prior to publication?

Answer: Certainly, Canon 827 states, "Books or other written material dealing with religion or morals may not be displayed, sold or given away in churches or oratories, unless they are published with the permission of the competent ecclesiastical authority".

In the case of this book, no such permission had been obtained. Fr. Balasuriya once challenged the application of this canon to his book stating that it is not sold in churches or oratories. But that was after the issue was taken up by the Bishops. Earlier this book was freely sold through some of our own church establishments and he was surely aware of it. Besides, we are told that the Centre for Society and Religion, which is the Publisher of this book, is selling it even now. The Centre is located in a church compound.

6. Question: Fr. Balasuriya has been repeatedly stating that proper procedure was not followed in this matter. Is that correct?

Answer: This talk of proper procedure by Fr. Balasuriya is totally one sided. One has to ask who really broke proper procedure? He ignored procedure set out by canon law and published his book in 1990 - two years before the Bishops moved in on the matter. Even many of his other publications on some aspects of the faith had been already published without adhering to such required procedure. When he had violated procedure, the Bishops were required to follow what is laid down for them as duty" to condemn writings which harm true faith" (canon 823:1).

Yet the Bishops were patient and dignified in their approach. They did not, as could have been done, according to canon law 823:l, condemn the book straight away but instead followed a long procedure, over a perid of l 1/2 years to give an idea of it:-

1. An ad hoc committee was appointed to study this book and express their views on it in a confidential manner. This group consisted of two Bishops, well versed in theology and two theologian- priests, one of whom was a renowned Oblate of Mary Immaculate.

2. This group presented an interim report which advised a dialogue with Fr. Balasuriya and pointed out some of the misgivings that the members had expressed about the book.

3. On 7th January 1993 a dialogue between Fr. Balasuriya, some Bishops and the members of the ad hoc committee took place at which these misgivings were expressed to him in a fraternal manner with some advice on what could be done in the future. This dialogue was confidential and was to be only a sharing of views with possible clarifications. During this dialogue, Fr. Balasuriya took a negative attitude rather than face the arguments squarely.

4. The then President of the Bishops' conference who presided over that dialogue then invited Fr. Balasuriya to reflect over the points of the interim confidential paper and send his written submissions to him.

5. These submissions were sent by Fr. Balasuriya to all the Bishops in instalments on - 31st March 1993 and - 12th June 1993.

6. The Bishops found such submissions inadequate and some Bishops met him privately in and attempt to convince him about at least some of the attitudes in the book which were wrong according to them. Among those who personally met him were his Grace the Archbishop of Colombo, His Lordship Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, His Lordship Bishop Vianney Fernando and His His Lordship Bishop Rayappu Joseph. His Lordship Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando even sent him written appeals for flexibility on the matter.

7. When all of these attempts seemed to take them nowhere and knowing very well that some statement concerning the book would have to be made, they called Fr. Balasuriya for a second dialogue which was held in Kandy with the full Conference in session on 20th April 1994. Even that attempt to find some sense of flexibility on the part of Fr. Balasuriya failed as he adamantly refused to accept any of the errors pointed out to him by the Bishops. This is clear from the report of this meeting prepared by Fr. Balasuriya himself.

8. It is only after that, that on 5th June 1995 the public statement on the book by the Bishops was finally published - almost one and a half years after that first dialogue on 7th January 1993.

7. Question: You stated that Fr. Balasuriya always took a negative attitude to the whole issue from the beginning. How did you come to that conclusion?

Answer: Fr. Balasuriya assumed an unhelpful and reactive attitude to the whole issue from beginning. To cite some examples:-

a) Unlike the Bishops, he allowed the matter to go public from the very beginning calling the Bishops' sincere search for fraternal correction, a harassment. The Bishops wished the matter tobe confidential. But even before the Bishops published their statement, public articles came out with information about.

1. His getting into hot water about this book (interview given by Fr. Aloysius Peiris S.J. to Sunday Times correspondent Noel Crusz on 14th February 1993) and

2. His being the victim of a "dialogue/inquiry/inquisition headed by a local Ratzinger" article in Christian Worker 4th quarter 1992

page 61).

b) Even when he stated that he was ready to correct any errors in his book he placed a condition which rendered such readiness meaningless. He stated that he would correct himself if it was proved he was wrong "at the level of contemporary theological scholarship".

While the usefulness of new theological thinking is not denied, the main concern of the Bishop was the purity of the Catholic faith and doctrine as outlined and defined by the teaching Authority of the church. But Fr. Balasuriya wanted to have a debate with the Bishops on contemporary theology.

c) He took an attitude of reaction to all questions and criticisms of his book at different points during the period before and after the publication of the Bishops' statement.

I. He wrote letters of an angry tone to different persons involved in the matter in a manner that put them off and antagonised them.

II. He challenged the Bishops to prove from his book, the errors pointed out by them in their statement of 5th June 1994 giving exact text, page and line references letter dated 29th July 1994).

III. After the public statement of the Bishops there was a pletehora of public responses, criticicms and vehement attacks on the Bishops in the different media fora. We will outline some of these:-

8. Question: Is it true that Fr. Balasuriva was treated rashly?

Answer: You can make your own judgement from what has been stated above. It is true that error has tobe repudiated firmly. But the rule of charity has also got to be observed strictly. The Lord too visualised a process whereby ample opportunity is given for a change of heart to any person (Lc 12:58). But understanding cannot end in acceptance.

9. Question: Is it correct that Fr. Balasuriya was not given adequate opportunity to explain himself?

Answer: Well, the above presentation would have shown you as to how much of time, possibilities and occasions were offered to him to explain himself. One cannot wait endlessly when manifold dangers to the faith of the community entrusted to the Bishops' pastoral care are clearly seen and felt.

Besides, once a book is printed and sold, readers have a right to understand it at its face value - according to normal rules of semantics, syntax and common sense. It is public property. Nobody is to be blamed for "not allowing an explanation". People understand it as it is written and have a right to evaluate it positively or negatively. The author has given freedom for people to agree or disagree.

10. Question: Fr. Balasuriya has claimed on different occasions that he is a reputed theological writer, for example, in his application of 13th May 1996 before the State Mediation Board. Similarly others too have claimed such in some of their letters. The following are some of the quotes:-

a) "This statement (of the Bishops) has injured and adversely affected my reputation as a Christian and theological writer").

(Fr. Balasuriya to the State Mediation Board on 13th May 1996, p. 7).

b) Letter of Robert Cruze. to the Bishops dated 18th April calls Fr. Balasunya "one of Asia's most reputed theologians".

What is your view about these statements by people concerning Fr. Balasuriya ?

Answer: Even in the public statement made on 5th June 1994 by the Bishops on the book "Mary and Human Liberation" the Bishops did not make any adverse statements or comments about Fr. Balasuriya as a person. Rather the Bishops spoke understandingly of the goal for which he had written the book and the milieu in which Fr. Balasuriya's desire to seek a fresh interpretation of Jesus and Mary had arisen. The Bishops' concerns were pastoral and doctrinal.

However, here one has to make a distinction between what he is and what he states. The Bishops could not agree with the latter and that exactly was the content of the statement the Bishops made.

Secondly, the Bishops did not question Fr. Balasuriya's claim of being a recognised and reputed theologian, but they questioned his claim to be a Catholic theologian. His views, found especially in the book under study were contrary to some beliefs of the Catholic church. To state so is the duty and responsibility of Bishops (canon 823:1).

11. Question: What about the four glaring errors you mention in your statement? Fr. Balasuriya has often challenged you to prove that from his book. How would you explain yourselves?

Answer: Let us take each of these errors, one at a time, and we will give our reasons for calling them erroneous. This can be a bit long. But there is no way out.

The First Glaring Error-Sacred Tradition and its Role in Divine Revelation.

Bishops' Statement: "The author down-plays the validity of Sacred Tradition which in the Church's teaching is on par with the Sacred Scriptures themselves as a source of Revelation. He rather portrays it as some sort of unwarranted creation of some self interested church men".

Comparison of Texts

Ecclesial Teaching Fr. Balasuriya

"This living transmission (meaning the Apostolic Tradition handed over to the Bishops as their successors by the apostles and handed by them to others) accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, the church in her doctrines, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes".

(Catechism of the Catholic Church 78).

"Hence, there exists a close connection between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine spring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend towards the same.

"In Christian Theology we have the situation in which the original mythical presentation of the beginning of the universe, and of human life, have been subject to interpretations in later centuries, by ecclesiastical authorities. These in turn have claimed divine authority to do so, on the basis of divine inspiration, and the power given to them by Jesus Christ.

These interpretators, have also been at the same time male clergy, feudal lords and medieval rulers as in the Holy Roman Empire. It is therefore necessary to exercise a critical judgement on the evolution of myth (or from the myth) into religious teaching and later defined dogma of the Catholic end.

For Sacred Scripture is the word of God in as much as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles Sacred Tradition hand on, in its full purity, God's Word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

Thus led by the light of the Spirit of Truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it and make it more widely known.

Consequently, it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence".

(Vatican II - Constitution Dei Verbum No. 9).

Hand that signed

By Noel Crusz

On a street level apartment in the 'Piazza del S Uffizio' in Rome is the office of the 'Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith' (formerly the Holy Office). Here on January 2nd Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger signed the excommunication papers of Fr. Tissa Balasuriya.

Cardinal Ratzinger is at the of the centre of the controversy of how Rome dealt with an Asian theologian. London's international Catholic weekly The Tablet called it "ruthless" and "alarming". It pointed out that you don't willy-nilly excommunicate a priest, especially when there has been no trial about the facts, no open investigation of these facts, no discussion of doctrinal points with Fr. Balasuriya and what is worse a refusal of Rome to be drawn into a discussion with the author of Mary and Human Liberation.

The Tablet emphatically queries: "What sort of justice is this, which finds a man guilty before he has had a chance to prove his innocence and denies him his freedom and rights? Where is the due process of law? Without that process there is tyranny."

No one can find fault with the Cardinal's motto: "Truth is the whole". He rightly wants theologians "to feed on the Church's sources and feel with the Church's mind". Theological speculation becomes an occupational hazard. If you are a liberation theologian or a founder member of "The Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologian's" you come under Ratzinger's sights.

What is alarming is that Ratzinger functions on double standards. 'The hand that signed the paper' has made a significant back-flip from what he openly professed as progressive and an adviser in Vatican II. Didn't he say: "The setting of theology in the midst of the Church ought not to deprive its vigour or close off its openness to new styles of thought". Theologians of the First and the Third world have walked almost mesmerised into the Ratzinger trap. There is a cruel ambiguity however when the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith' the Pope's top theologian, at Vatican II told us: "Tradition is the perpetuation of everything the Church is and believes. But the Church has failed to make room for a judicious criticism of particular elements within that tradition."

Those who have criticised and rocked the boat have paid their price. In November1981 Ratzinger upset the Roman Curia buy seeking wide media publicity for his hard line conservative views. He openly sought lectures and interviews and this did not impress some Cardinals in the Vatican. Then Ratzinger published an article in the secular press, while an 'Instruction' was being prepared and consulted. One member felt that Ratzinger's efforts to combine his role of Prefect and Theologian "unworthy and imprudent."

Joseph Ratzinger who got his doctorate from the University of Munich in 1953 was a brilliant student. He became Professor of Theology at the Universities of Bonn, Munich, Tubingen and Regensberg. He conforms to the hard line view that is conservative and anti-liberation. He is Pope John Paul II's principal defender and enforcer of orthodoxy and principal architect of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church."

There was a little known reason for Rome's attempt to expedite the Balasuriya investigation before November 25th. That was the day that Ratzinger's 15 years term of office was to end. But Pope John Paul extended Ratzinger's stay for another five years. The Prefect said he accepted the extension with reluctance!

It was Ratzinger who subsidised the doctoral thesis of Leonardo Boff. But when the Brazilian theologian published his book "Church, Charism and Power"(1982) he was summoned by the Cardinal to attend a meeting in Rome (a privilege that Fr. Balasuriya was asking, but never given). Boff was ordered to pull down the shutters for ten months. Eventually he left the Priesthood and Congregation. He described his dealings with dictatorial power as being "Cruel and merciless, forgetting nothing ,forgiving nothing,but exacting a price for everything." Yet Boff unlike Fr. Balasuriya said: I prefer to walk with the Church than to walk alone with my theology."

In December 1979 Edward Schillebeeckx of the University of Nijemegen was summoned by Ratzinger to explain heterodox views on Christology and the Immaculate Conception. In 1980 Hans Kung's licence was revoked. In 1988 Australian theologian David Coffey was asked to explain his theology of the Resurrection. None of their was excommunicated.

Twenty years ago Tissa Balasuriya wrote in his book "Jesus Christ and Human Libertarian". "The Church often tend to silence, censor and ostracise the critical spirit within it. We used to render the questioning minds ineffective within the fold. They were occasionally placed on the index and excommunicated. The prophecy has come to pass.

Continue to Plus page 4 - It's heaven at Hellbodde * Legacy of Bandaranaike -what is it?

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