Polish theologian rejects Vatican demand to retract article

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A top Polish theologian known for his work in the field of ecumenism has rejected a demand from the Vatican to retract and rewrite an article criticizing the Vatican's attitude toward Christians of other denominations.

Oblate Father Waclaw Hryniewicz received the demand in a January letter from Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after publishing the article in an online theological journal.

However, he later refused to publish an "approved retraction" and could now face a publishing ban and suspension, according to a church source in Poland.

Contacted by telephone, Father Hryniewicz, who retired in 2005 from the Catholic University of Lublin, told Catholic News Service: "I am close to death and do not see how I can now go against my conscience by writing an article with clarifications and rectifications, even though I've been told to expect disciplinary sanctions. What worries me most of all is that this judgment may now be expanded to cover all my previous work as well, in which I expressed similar views and convictions."

The Polish bishops' conference spokesman, Father Jozef Kloch, told CNS in mid-September that Polish church leaders had not been notified of the demand issued to the 72-year-old Father Hryniewicz, who had surgery for cancer this summer.

However, the editor of Poland's Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, Marian Father Adam Boniecki, who regularly publishes the academic's work, said he was aware the professor faced a "collision" with the doctrinal congregation.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic University of Lublin, Beata Gorka, said in a Sept. 12 interview with CNS that Father Hryniewicz was well-known for views on ecumenism and universal salvation "which some theologians consider controversial," but added that staff at the Catholic university were responsible for their own opinions.

"If a decision is made to withdraw his ... canonical license, Professor Hryniewicz would not be able to teach in a church department here," the spokeswoman said.

"But while some staffers disagree with his teachings, we're not aware that any petition has been collected against him," she said. "The university doesn't interfere with people's views, provided they're ethical, and doesn't believe anyone should be condemned for their views if they are in line with church doctrine."

Father Hryniewicz, who headed the university's Ecumenical Institute, has published more than 820 books and papers and held teaching posts in six countries, including the United States.

He was a member of the joint international commission for Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, 1979-2005, and a consultant to the Vatican on Christian unity, 1979-1984. He also was a member of the interdenominational committee of European church leaders that drafted a 2001 ecumenical charter.

In September 2007 his Polish-language article, "The Savior uses many tunes," was published in Open Theology, an interfaith Web discussion group. The 1,100-word article was critical of a July 2007 doctrinal congregation document, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church."

Father Hryniewicz's article said the Vatican document had "disappointed many theologians engaged in ecumenical dialogue" by "stressing what divides, not what unites Christians," and had been a "serious regression" by "seeking to interpret the Second Vatican Council in the spirit of pre-conciliar teaching."

In the Vatican letter, given to the priest Jan. 31 by Father Heinz Wilhelm Steckling, the Rome-based superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Archbishop Amato said the article lacked "scientific and methodological rigor" and was "written in emotional language perceived as showing little respect for the authority of the dicastery."

The French-language letter, shown to CNS, added that the congregation "deplored above all" Father Hryniewicz's "gratuitous judgment that the Roman Curia is going back to the old ecclesiology and ecumenical theology before Vatican II" and "wishing to have a monopoly of the truth."

"The secretary of the congregation demands specifically that you write another article revising your position and evaluation," the letter added.

"The paper may be written in Polish and submitted to competent superiors, who will revise it in advance of publication. It is demanded that you do this within three months," the letter said.

However, in a March 27 reply, the professor said he had been "deeply involved in the process of ecumenical reconciliation" and had attempted "to share the pain and sorrow" of non-Catholics who had been "profoundly hurt" by the Vatican document.

"I wrote my comments in consonance with my own conscience," Father Hryniewicz said.

"You may be sure in the future I will not comment on any documents of the CDF. I have been sufficiently discouraged by the present experience," he said.

The vicar general of the Lublin Archdiocese, Auxiliary Bishop Artur Mizinski, said Sept. 11 he could not comment on the controversy or likely sanctions the professor is facing.

However, the Polish church source said Sept. 12 that Father Hryniewicz had received no reply to his letter. The source added that the Oblates' Poznan-based Polish province has written to the general superior insisting there was "nothing in the life and writings of Father Hryniewicz which deserves such an attitude."

Father Steckling has asked the congregation not to proceed with "disciplinary sanctions" threatened in earlier correspondence, the source told CNS. However, the general superior did not meet and discuss the controversy with Father Hryniewicz during a June visit to Lublin.

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