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Vatican showing renewed interest in Asian theology

KOCHI (UCAN): India’s leading theologians and along with 18 bishops, archbishops and cardinals met with leading officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the southern city of Bangalore. The January 21 to 24 gathering was the second since their first such meeting in 2011.
Jesuit Father Kuruvilla Pandikattu, observed that such dialogues “show the Vatican’s desire to know more about developments in Asian theology, and the trends and changes in the social milieu, in which theologising takes place.” 
Its prefect, Luis Cardinal Ladaria; adjunct secretary, Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia; and two other officials represented the Vatican congregation.
The Bangalore event follows a similar dialogue in Bangkok, Thailand, in which the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog met with officials of bishops’ conferences in Asia, said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona, who attended both events.
Bishop Dabre said that the doctrinal congregation’s interest in Indian theology and theologians should be seen as “a manifestation of their recognition of theology in India” rather than implying any negative connotations.
Hard times over yet?
Bishop Dabre, who has been associated with the CDF for almost two decades as an Indian theologian, recalled that in the past “there were some concerns and questions about some of our theologians and their writings.”
Those concerns were expressed “in view of protecting the deposit of faith. Both theologians and the CDF, no doubt, wish to safeguard the data of revelation, which includes the teaching of the Church,” he said.
The latest Asian theologian to face Vatican’s ire was Jesuit Father Michael Amaladoss from India. His book, Asian Jesus, which also discussed the Church’s mission in a multi-religious context, came under scrutiny in 2014. He faced threat of censure and met with congregation’s officials in May 2014 to explain his views on Jesus as expressed in the book.
Several prominent Asian theologians were faced with threats and severe sanctions between 1981 and 2005, when Cardinal Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later become Pope Benedict XVI, headed the CDF.
Theologians in Asia, in their attempts to present Christ to regions where the majority of the population is Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim, have often proposed non-traditional doctrinal formulations. The Vatican has been skeptical about such approaches saying they water down the uniqueness of Christ as the source grace and means of salvation.
Father Tisa Balasuriya from Sri Lanka, was excommunicated in 1997 after being accused of heresy and misinterpreting the doctrine of original sin in his book, Mary and Human Liberation.
Following a long and harrowing process of negotiations, his excommunication was revoked in January 1998. He died in 2013, at the age of 89.
Jesuit Father Jacques Dupuis from Belguim, a missionary and theologian in India, faced investigation for his views on religious pluralism. Media reports say the stress of the probe contributed to his death in 2004.
Renewed Asian vigour
Asian theologians became increasingly silent during the quarter of a century when Cardinal Ratzinger led the CDF. Under his leadership, even the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences fell inactive in terms of discussing Asian theology.
With Pope Francis at the helm, liberation theology “is getting more acceptance” and “across the Church, newer ways of theologising is gaining acceptance,” Father Pandikattu said.
Months after becoming pope, Pope Francis, hosted Father Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru—the most recognised voice of liberation theology—at his residence. This led some to say it was a sign of thawing relations between the Vatican and liberation theologians.
The renewed dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Asian Catholics shows the Vatican “wants to gain first-hand knowledge about social trends and changes taking place in the social milieu in which theologising is taking place,” Father Pandikattu said.
Father Thomas Kollamparampil of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, who presented a paper in the Bangalore colloquium, said, “it was great experience of friendship and sharing of pastoral responsibility.”
He said, “They are coming out of the earlier suspicions about theology in Asian countries. There is a very positive attempt to understand Asian contexts and difficulties.” 
Since 1996, bishops and theologians in India have been meeting annually. Following a proposal to involve Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at these meetings, representatives of the top theological authority attended a colloquium in 2011, a press note from Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Bombay, president of Indian Bishops’ Conference, said.
“A spirit of open dialogue, mutual respect and cordial exchange of thoughts and experiences characterised” the Bangalore discussions Cardinal Gracias said.
Among the topics included were evangelisation in the multi-cultural and multi-religious context of India and the role of laity in the Church and civil society.
The meeting also discussed questions regarding the specific role and work of the CDF, and its cooperation with episcopal conferences and their doctrinal commissions, the press statement said.
Bishop Dabre said theologians and CDF work together “in a collaborative manner” for the growth of the Church. The colloquium should be looked at “with such a perspective of openness and trust” rather than with any scepticism, he said.
“The CDF is concerned with the status of theology, not only in India but all over the world,” said the archbishop, who presented a paper at the Bangalore colloquium.
Bishop Dabre recalled that “some of us were examined and corrected in the past. I personally would have no difficulty in appreciating their correction.”
He said Asian theologians “have made a significant contribution to the development of theology. Particularly in response to our multi-cultural, multi-religious and poverty-stricken situation for which our theologians merit a high commendation.”
The bishop said, “As you can see in recent times, we have not heard of any investigative procedure being launched.” 

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