Jesuit provincial says disciplined theologian will be vindicated in the future


During a press conference at the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, the president of the Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America, Father Ernesto Cavassa, SJ, expressed his hope that the theology of Father Jon Sobrino would in time be vindicated, and that therefore the notification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would be left historically outdated.


Earlier this year on March 14, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a notification on some of the writings of Jesuit priest Father Jon Sobrino, stating that parts of his theology are “not in conformity with the doctrine of the Church.”  The warning mainly addressed two works by Sobrino in which the divinity of Jesus is questioned, as well as Jesus’ knowledge of himself and the salvific value of his death.  While the Congregation praised Sobrino for his concern for the poor, it said this option (the preferential option for the poor) should “exclude no one,” and that “the Church cannot express this option by means of reductive sociological and ideological categories which would make this preference a partisan choice and a source of conflict”. 


In response to a question by an activist of the organization “Amerindia” about the censuring of the writings of Sobrino, Father Cavassa said, “The notification on Jon Sobrino is not a condemnation but a notification.  They are very different.  A notification is the Church hierarchy’s lowest category for publishing a statement on issues it disagrees with.”


A notification may signal “disagreement with some points of his theology, but it cannot say absolutely that the Church does not recognize Jon’s testimony.  The notification explicitly says this,” Father Cavassa claimed.


“The notification says absolutely nothing about any sanctions that prevent him from teaching,” he continued.  “It refers to some theological points in two of his works, which are debatable issues, disputed questions, most of which are not his own.  These formulations in his works have been previously taught by other theologians for the purpose of determining whether they are or aren’t within the bounds of the faith of the Church.  In most cases the response has been positive,” Father Cavassa stated.


Father Cavassa continued his comments on Sobrino saying, “This is not the first time that the hierarchy has notified a theologian of the Church about supposed errors or discrepancies.  The theologians of the 1950s were themselves considered outside the Church’s orthodoxy. Ten or thirteen years later they were the theologians of the Council.”


He went on to compare Father Sobrino to the controversial Jesuit theologian Pierre Theilard de Chardin, who was also disciplined but who he said made “significant contributions” to the faith of Church.  “The relationship between charism and institution is not new in the Church and will always be with us,” he said.


Asked by Catholic News Agency if he was saying that the Congregation was in error rather than Father Sobrino, Father Cavassa replied, “I don’t know if what I said can be interpreted that way.  I don’t think that is the most accurate interpretation.”


After the press conference, Father Cavassa told Catholic News Agency, “There have been cases in which the Congregation was mistaken.  I can’t say what will happen in the future. Can you?”

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