CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—At the request of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Jesuit Father Roger Haight has temporarily stopped teaching at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology.

Father Haight's 1999 book, Jesus Symbol of God, took the top prize in theology from the Catholic Press Association. But the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is looking into claims that the book denies Jesus’ teaching that he is the only path to salvation for all.

Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, who gave Jesus Symbol of God a strongly negative review in The Thomist magazine, said that Father Haight's “basic premise is that there's no such thing as God being able to actually act in time and history as God. What were traditionally called supernatural acts just do not happen. The son of God coming to exist as man doesn't happen, the resurrection of the son of God as man doesn't happen, and also the Trinity doesn't exist” according to Father Haight's book, he said.

Father Weinandy said these conclusions were stated “clearly” in the book.

His review cited passages such as Father Haight's claim that the language of “Jesus suffering for us, of being a sacrifice to God, of absorbing punishment for sin in our place, of being required to die to render satisfaction to God, hardly communicates meaningfully in our age.”

On the matter that has caused the most controversy, Father Haight characterized the Church's teaching that Jesus is the only means of salvation as a “lapse” and a misunderstanding by the Church.

Weston is a fully accredited school of theology with a pontifical faculty. That means that all of its professors need permission from the Congregation for Catholic Education in order to teach, a requirement that is not made of Catholic theologians at other schools. Since Weston trains students for religious life, its professors are especially charged with accurately representing and adhering to Church teachings.

Father Haight declined to comment for this story.

But the press has not been so reticent. The Washington Post announced an “escalating conflict between religious pluralism and Roman Catholic orthodoxy.”

Franciscan Father Kenneth R. Himes, professor of moral theology at the Washington Theological Union and president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, took issue with the Vatican's actions, but without the Post's harshness.

Father Himes said, “While I fully recognize and respect that the Vatican has to be concerned with protecting the teaching of the Church, I think this was a book aimed at scholars. There were few, if any, Catholics who were shocked or scandalized by this book” since anyone with the theological background necessary to untangle its complex prose would probably be well versed in Church doctrine already.

Father Himes added, “A number of the reviews I have read, while appreciating the scholarship, indicated fairly serious reservations about aspects of the book.” Father Himes saw this as evidence that “theology is to some extent a self-policing field,” and thus it was not necessary for the Vatican to step in.

Father Himes had not yet read Jesus Symbol of God. But, he said, “I've heard no evidence from anybody that Roger in his teaching was confusing people as to the teaching of the Church or passing off his personal views as the teaching of the Church.”

Father Himes noted, “Roger, to my knowledge, was dealing with this thing rather discreetly and was in conversation with the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith]. Now, people who never read the book will say, ‘Oh, Haight—didn't I read that the Vatican banned him?’"

He also feared that theologians have begun “to look over their shoulders,” unwilling to advance ideas that might draw unwanted attention from Rome—and the press. “I know any number of theologians who have said to me, ‘I have some problems with [another theologian's work], but I don't want to say it publicly if it's only going to give ammunition to the opponents of this author,’” he said.

Father Weinandy disagreed: “A lot of people, primarily theologians, support Father Haight, but I think the Vatican was justified.” Father Weinandy charged that Father Haight had ignored criticism of his positions, and thus “from an intellectual scholarly point of view” the book is “untenable.”

More importantly, Father Weinandy added that “It was in keeping with the Vatican's [role] to protect the Gospel. They had to say something. I don't think Haight is writing from within a Catholic and Christian framework.”

Jesuit Father Robert Manning, president of Weston, issued a statement saying, “Because Father Haight acknowledges the truth of the Church's dogmas concerning Jesus Christ, he has begun the work of clarifying his book in a spirit of fraternal dialogue and will continue this important task for the sake of the Church.”

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