United States: Jesuit theologian forbidden to teach

Source: FSSPX News


After a five year enquiry, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has banned the American Jesuit Roger Haight from teaching because of “serious doctrinal errors”. According to the American Catholic agency, CNS, the condemnation by the Vatican is aimed at the book Jesus, Symbol of God, which Fr. Haight published in 1999. It deals with the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Trinity and the salvation of non-Christians.

A doctrinal note signed by Cardinal Ratzinger was published by L’Osservatore Romano on February 7-8, at the request of John Paul II. It states that Fr. Haight’s book contains “grave doctrinal errors against the divine and Catholic doctrine of the Church”. Consequently, Rome forbids the author to teach Catholic theology, so long as his position is not rectified in such a way as to make it totally in accordance with the doctrine of the Church.

Fr. Haight’s book, Jesus, Symbol of God, is devoted to interreligious dialogue; in it, he affirms that “the revelation of Jesus teaches that the grace of God is at work in other religions”. To affirm the validity of other religions, according to Fr. Haight, “does not diminish the normativeness of Jesus Christ. And to affirm the normativeness of Christ, not only for Christians but for all human beings, in no way diminishes the validity of other religions”. Paradoxically, in 2000, Jesus, Symbol of God won the prize in America awarded by the Catholic Press Association, for the best theological book of the year.

The Vatican’s note says that Fr. Haight’s assertion, according to which Catholic theology must be “in dialogue” with the modern world, leads him to minimize or deny the central teachings of the Church, in particular, that the Word of God exists from all eternity, that the Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ, that Jesus has a divine nature, that salvation is offered to men through Jesus, and that the Son and the Holy Ghost are persons within the Trinity and not merely “metaphors” showing the actions of the unique God.

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith also criticized the assertion by Fr. Haight that – because of the modern pluralist conscience – one can not continue to claim that Christianity is a superior religion, or that Christ is the crux of God’s salvific plan. The Congregation said that by using phrases such as: “Jesus must be considered as divine”, Fr. Haight implies that this assertion is merely symbolic and that “Jesus was a human being like us”. 

The Vatican’s note specifies that Fr. Haight had responded to Rome’s demands in June 2000, but his responses “had neither clarified nor corrected the errors” which had been noted. Further to this, a more in depth theological analysis was undertaken, concluding in 2002 that the work of the American Jesuit contained serious errors. Fr. Haight was invited to provide an explanation of his methods and to make corrections to the content of his work. A reply signed by Fr. Haight was issued at the beginning of last year. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered it unsatisfactory.

The Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in New York, Fr. Gerald J. Chojnacki, stated that Fr. Haight had handed in his letter of resignation to the president of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in February 2003, and that it was accepted in October 2004. “Fr. Haight is now living in New York, where he is pursuing his research and his writing.” - More precisely, he is currently teaching in a Protestant theological seminary in New York.

In response, the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) said it was “profoundly saddened” by the Vatican’s action against Fr. Roger Haight. It claims that the work of Fr. Haight had rendered a great service by putting forward crucial questions which need to be addressed. The CTSA office does not deny that there may be errors in the theology presented in this book, and theologians do admit that there are serious problems with the content of this work. Controversial points were debated during a congress of the CTSA in 2002, and it was a question then, according to the American theologians, of “precisely the kind of internal debate and mutual correction which has been encouraged by the Magisterium.” The CTSA also said that the intervention of the Roman Congregation in this case, “seriously threatens the authentic process of serious and systematic criticism, which the Congregation and the bishops have encouraged among theologians.” In the opinion of the CTSA, the intervention by the Roman Magisterium should only come as a last resort, only in cases where this process of correction has clearly failed.

According to Roberto S. Goizueta, president of the CTSA and professor of theology at Boston College, the note of the Roman Congregation confuses the borderline between theology and catechesis, “while theology concerns the creative exploration of Revelation and the doctrine of the Church” (sic). In his opinion, the controversial book is “an exploration, and Fr. Haight does not claim otherwise.” William P. Thompson-Uberuaga, professor of theology at the Duquesne University of Pittsburgh and former president of CTSA, declared himself, for his part, in agreement with the Vatican note. But he would have preferred the theological community and the Jesuits themselves to resolve the problem in the first place, according to the “principle of subsidarity.”