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The suffering of a true believer: Vatican inquiry pained Dupuis, whose love of Christ was absolute.

One of the few occasions that I ventured out of my quasi-monastic enclosure in December, imposed for the purpose of pounding out a draft of a forthcoming book on Opus Dei, was the Dec. 30 funeral of Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis. The Belgian Jesuit, who died at 81 on Dec. 28 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, was one of the Catholic church's leading theologians on the subject of religious pluralism.

The Word From Rome

Over the years, Dupuis had become a personal friend, and although I was not as close to him as some others in Rome, I knew him well enough to understand how much his final years were marked by suffering--both physical, in the sense of declining health, and emotional, related to a lengthy Vatican doctrinal investigation and its aftermath.

The funeral was held in the community chapel of the Gregorian University, where Dupuis lived and taught for 20 years. In attendance were many of the people who had been his friends and allies--including Australian Jesuit Fr. Gerald O'Collins, himself a distinguished theologian, who was Dupuis' canonical advocate during the Vatican investigation; and Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, an office that Dupuis served for many years as a consultor, including his role as the primary author of the 1991 Vatican document "Dialogue and Proclamation."

As a young Jesuit in Belgium, Dupuis saw the horrors of the Second World War. He wanted to be part of building a new world and developed an intense yearning to be sent to the missions. So it was that he arrived in India in 1948, where he remained until 1984, when he was called to Rome to teach at the Gregorian. In India, he became fascinated by the great religious traditions of Asia, and played a leading role as an adviser to the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in carving out a new theological approach to religious diversity, one that strove to uphold traditional Catholic doctrine about the uniqueness of the salvation won by Christ, while at the same time acknowledging that other religions play a positive role in God's plan for humanity. That effort led to his groundbreaking 1997 book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism.

As is often the case with innovative theological approaches, Dupuis' explorations made the guardians of orthodoxy nervous, in 1998 he was notified that an investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had been launched, which ground forward over 32 months, ending in a "notification" in January 2001 warning that the book contained certain "ambiguities," but it did not mention doctrinal error. It could have been worse, since earlier versions of the notification cited a host of alleged deviations. In the end, many people felt Dupuis had been vindicated, though he was always less sanguine himself.

Dupuis was widely seen as the primary target of the September 2001 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, "The Lord Jesus," which asserted that other religions are in a "gravely deficient situation" with respect to Christianity.

No doubt the result was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it made Dupuis a worldwide celebrity, as a never-ending stream of speaking and writing invitations will attest. Dupuis gained an audience for his ideas that might otherwise have eluded him. On the other hand, the lingering whiff of scandal meant that Dupuis was always under a cloud. His works were subjected to intense scrutiny, and in recent months he felt his Jesuit superiors had been under pressure to silence him.

I can testify that this was not just Dupuis' overactive imagination. In December, I organized a presentation in Rome of Tom Fox's book Pentecost in Asia, and Dupuis was part of the panel. Plans called for the presentation to take place in the Aula Magna of the Gregorian, but in the period leading up to the event I got a call from a Jesuit official who asked me if I could find another location. Granting permission for Dupuis to speak in the main lecture hall, he said, would invite unwanted attention from the Vatican. In the end, the panel took place at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita, and Dupuis was his usual dry-witted, incisive serf. Afterward he asked me if somebody had refused permission to use the Gregorian; I didn't have the heart to add one more bit of pain, and blamed it on scheduling.

Some theologians might simply shrug all this off, seeing it as the inevitable price of pushing the envelope. Privately, some observers say that Dupuis took things too personally, that he closed in on himself and focused on his own angst rather than the issues. I had lunch with some Jesuit friends some months ago, and one laughingly referred to Dupuis as the "Norma Desmond" of the Gregorian, a reference to the character in "Sunset Boulevard," a fading silent-film-star-cum-recluse. Perhaps. It's also not for me to judge the doctrinal disputes between Dupuis and the Vatican; there are complex questions at stake, and I recognize that no intervention by authority, however well motivated, will ever be popular.

Still, one cannot help but be saddened by the way Dupuis spent his final years, feeling at times that a church he had served loyally had turned on him. Dupuis was a true believer, a man of deep and constant prayer, whose devotion to Christ was absolute. The suggestion that he had done something to compromise the church's faith in Christ devastated Dupuis; it was, in a very real sense, a cancer that are away at him. It will be for future generations to assess the content of his theology, but as for the character of the man, his rectitude seems beyond dispute.

It is no criticism of anyone in particular to voice the hope that in the future, the Catholic church may be able to find more humane ways of resolving its doctrinal quandaries.

Dupuis detested any false, saccharine forms of piety, and so I hesitate to make this final point. Still, something in my Catholic soul yearns to believe that it was part of God's providence that Dupuis would be called home just as the Indian Ocean region was struck by a mammoth natural disaster. In Dupuis, the peoples of Asia have a powerful new intercessor, who no doubt is even now urging on their behalf the compassion of the Lord Jesus, whom he loved, and loves, so much.

The Word From Rome

Allen, who took a break to write a book about Opus Dei, has resumed his weekly column on
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Title Annotation:The Word From Rome
Author:Allen, John L., Jr.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Jan 14, 2005
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