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Washington D.C., USA
Vatican Investigates American Theologian
The Vatican and U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are investigating the writings of a well-known American theologian who has analyzed how the Catholic faith relates to other religions.

The inquiry's focus is the Rev. Peter Phan, of Georgetown University, a Vietnamese-American priest from the Dallas diocese and former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

The U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine has traded correspondence with Phan since July 2005 seeking clarification on his writings, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

"There was not complete satisfaction with his response, which is why the dialogue continues," Walsh said. She did not go into further detail.

Phan declined comment September 12.

According a story published in the National Catholic Reporter on September 12, the Vatican raised concerns that Phan's 2004 book, "Being Religious Interreligiously," is "notably confused on a number of points of Catholic doctrine and also contains serious ambiguities."

The Vatican has condemned the writings of other Catholic theologians - including the Rev. Roger Haight, an American Jesuit, and the Rev. Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, a champion of liberation theology - on similar grounds.

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI released a document reasserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, reiterating themes in the 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus. That document states non-Christians are "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

The issues underpinning Phan's case are causing great debate among Catholic theologians grappling with how Catholicism relates to other faiths outside a European context, said Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University and president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

"To come to judgment as the Vatican seems to be doing so quickly, before theologians have had time to work out and critique the positions ... it's just premature," Tilley said. "It's in a sense cutting off debate before the debate's started."

Source: The Associated Press (AP)