A Thank You And An Interim Reflection On The Reconciliation

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Tissa Balasuriya, OMI

 

 

I wish to thank you for your solidarity with me during the course of the problems concerning my book Mary and Human Liberation.  The kindness, concern and support from so many from all over the world helped me to face the difficulties involved.  It showed the openness of persons and groups from the entire Catholic world towards a search for a more meaningful theology and especially Mariology and Marian spirituality.  There was also a persistent demand for the due process and justice in the Church.

My intention was to develop a relevant Marian theology and spirituality from the biblical data and contemporary tradition reflected from our own context.  I had always asked for a fair trial into this case.  Fortunately the OMI Superior General and two Assistant Generals came here for a week with a North American Oblate facilitator to try to resolve this issue in an amicable manner.  A group of ten Oblates: the four of them, three Sri Lankan Oblates chosen by me, the Oblate Provincial Superior and a Sri Lankan Oblate as notary spent six days in intense and prayerful corporate dialogue on this issue.

The Oblate General government had the views and conditions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a settlement of this question.  The dialogue was not meant to go into the process, or even to be a theological seminar.  It was journeying together in faith, and a forum for respectfully listening to one another and strengthening our common faith  The group spent the first three days in dialogically listening to my point of view on the various aspects and stages of the matter.  We began with the assumption of goodwill in all concerned and the search for a reconciliation in understanding and mutual acceptance.

The six days involved difficult stages in the dialogue, as the two sides: the CDF and I expressed our positions clearly.  I agreed to sign again the 1968 Solemn Profession of Faith of Paul VI a an adequate expression of my faith, but not the “Profession of Faith” drafted specially for me by the CDF in 1995.  I signed the agreed “Statement of Reconciliation” on the basis of the introductory sentence.

“that the meaning of dogmatic formulas remains always true and unchangeable, though capable of being expressed more clearly and understood better.”

This sentence, taken from the CDF declaration of my excommunication on 2nd January 1997, gave one sufficient leeway to be able to agree to the traditional formulations of dogma, while acknowledging the right to their varying interpretations in different contexts.

During our discussions I presented to the group several documents stating clearly my position.  They are filed for future reference.  As I mentioned in my interview with the Sunday Times, Colombo, of 25th January 1998, there is no error proved, no confession of error by me nor any punishment in this reconciliation.  The Statement I signed affirmed that

“doctrinal errors were perceived in my writing and therefore provoke negative reactions from other parties, affected relationships and led to unfortunate polarization in the ecclesial community.  I truly regret the harm this caused.”

AN IMPLICIT REAFFIRMATION

What I regretted was the harm caused by such perceptions and negative reactions of others.

It is now two months since the reconciliation of 15th January 1998.  There have been various interpretations of this event and of my position in the press here and elsewhere.  The phrases in the Statement of Reconciliation left room for some ambiguity, and I claimed the right to express the position more clearly should the need arise.  In this connection I may mention some of the points on which I maintained my thinking in the book, in the correspondence with CDF and at the corporate dialogue prior to the Reconciliation.

I affirmed that:

  • God is one, but as our sages stress, the names of God and the paths to God are many;
  • God alone is absolute, all theologies, as human expressions, are analogical, culture-bound and relative;
  • The Truth is one, but the expressions of truth are many;
  • Salvation is ultimately a relationship between God and the human conscience, as affirmed by Vatican II (G.S. 16, L.G. 16);
  • While Mary is Immaculate, no baby is conceived and born alienated from God or “maculate”.  The dogma of original sin is understood by many of us in this sense;
  • Baptism is not essential for the salvation of infants;
  • The Church is a sign and sacrament of salvation, but not the unique or necessary medium of salvation;
  • Jesus Christ, is the Son of God and universal savior; Jesus of Nazareth is not the only savior of humankind;
  • The reconciliation implies the acceptance of the twofold criterion proposed in my book for evaluating Christian theologies viz: negatively, in a theology any element that insults, degrades, dehumanizes and discriminates against any section of humanity of any time or place cannot be from God in Jesus; positively, everything that is truly humanizing and ennobling in any religion or theology is also ultimately from the divine source and must be respected as such;
  • I recognized the rights of the CDF and the Bishops in the Catholic community within the framework of an open dialogue and objective scrutiny;
  • The Imprimatur was accepted in terms of Canon Law and as it is thus binding on all Catholics;
  • I undertook to abstain from any declaration that is in contradiction to this reconciliation.  The reconciliation includes the right and duty to work for a more relevant Asian theology and for human rights in the Church including women’s rights in the Church.  All these are enshrined in Canon Law;
  • The reconciliation did not include an acceptance of the view that the Church can never ordain women to the priesthood.

It is the view of most commentators that this settlement of the dispute in this manner has in fact meant an expansion of the areas of freedom of thought and expression within the Catholic Church.  More space for research and evolution of theology, spirituality and pastoral practice is implied in it.  Though the CDF did not explicitly sign any statement, their not insisting on my signing their special ad personam “Profession of Faith” meant, de facto, an acceptance that no error has been proved in my book.  The book remains in circulation.  In fact, much more attention is now given in the Church to the search for a more relevant Marian theology and spirituality, for women’s rights and a plurality of positions regarding the understanding of salvation particularly in the Asian context.

VALUE OF CORPORATE DIALOGUE

This whole experience has affirmed and helped advance the role of public opinion in the Church both for the evolution of theology and for the promotion of human rights in the Church.  It has also demonstrated the value of corporate dialogue and listening to all sides as a vital element for conflict resolution.  The agreed decisions of the theologians, canonists, bishops and CDF concerning theological dissent in the USA were cited as an example for problem solving within the Church.  It is to be hoped that experiences such as ours would contribute towards the setting up and effective functioning of structures for truth, justice, peace and human rights within the Church, including the local Church.  This is very much implied in the orientation being given by the Holy Father to the preparation for the third Millenium.  The forthcoming Synod of Bishops for Asia may also contribute towards this process of maturing of the Church.

I am very grateful to all those who contributed over the past five years towards the resolution of this issue through a mediated reconciliation.  I am particularly thankful to the Superior General and General Council of the OMI Congregation, the Oblate Facilitator, and the Sri Lankan Oblate Provincial superiors, Oblate Theological Circles, other Sri Lankan Oblates and numerous Oblates and others throughout the Catholic world who helped to bring about this understanding.  Several Catholic Priests and religious including whole congregations, Catholic lay organizations and international movements, women’s movements, theologians and theological faculties, canonists, Catholic justice and peace commissions, in their own way some Bishops and Cardinals as well as persons and organizations of other Churches, religions and secular bodies, journalists, reviews, radio and TV stations helped in this cause.

In a sense the excommunication latae sententiae led to the articulation of an explicit “in-communioning” by the world Church.  This is a witness to the Spirit of God working in the Church and in the world among us all.

The final point in the Statement was the hope and prayer

“that together we will be able to build up a Church that Ôgrows to maturity and longs for the completed kingdom’ (L.G. 5)”.

I trust and pray that the future will lead to respect for truth and justice and a deeper unity in diversity in the Christian community as it “grows to maturity and longs for the completed kingdom”.

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