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Priest Ruled Loyal, Gets Doctrinal Post

August 28, 1986|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

The controversial appointment of Jesuit Father Michael J. Buckley, a theology professor in Berkeley, to a key doctrinal position for the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops was confirmed Wednesday by the bishops' general secretary.

Msgr. Daniel F. Hoye said that after consulting a panel of three bishops convened in July to look into Buckley's loyalty to official Vatican teachings, he had decided to go ahead and name Buckley as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' chief adviser on doctrine. Buckley, 54, teaches at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

Buckley's original appointment to the job by Hoye last May had drawn objections from several bishops--including Archbishop Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles--and conservative Catholic media. Their opposition stemmed from a statement that Buckley and 22 other faculty members at the seminary signed in 1977 disagreeing with a Vatican declaration that women are unsuited to be ordained as priests.

Mahony, in an interview with The Times last week, had said the person given the job "should be as free as possible of any past history of challenging the Holy See in the public forum." He declined comment Wednesday on Buckley's confirmation.

The bishops' panel, headed by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, recommended hiring Buckley, saying:

"We have no evidence that Michael Buckley ever publicly dissented from the teaching of the magisterium (official church teaching) or was in any way disloyal to the church, the Holy Father or the Holy See. On the contrary, his faithfulness and loyalty have been made clear on more than one occasion."

The controversy over Buckley came at the same time that several other U.S Catholic theologians and nuns have felt Vatican pressure to submit to church authority and refrain from public dissent.

Last week, Father Charles E. Curran, a professor of theology at Catholic University in Washington for 20 years, was stripped by the Vatican of his right to teach theology at Catholic institutions because he refused to retract his unorthodox views on some sexual ethics.

And Father James Provost, a Catholic University professor of church law, was under fire from the Vatican for his controversial interpretations of church canons (laws). But in an unusual mail ballot last week, he narrowly won a crucial tenure vote by the school's 18 bishop-trustees.

The 1977 statement signed by Buckley, former rector at the Berkeley school, attacked both the scholarship and the conclusions of a declaration by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--headed by conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger--that women cannot be Catholic priests. But unlike Curran, who has repeatedly made his dissent public, Buckley has consistently refused to discuss the statement or questions surrounding his appointment.

Public Dissent Not Seen

Pilarczyk's committee said that while it agreed with neither the stand of the signers nor their decision to make their views public, "We do not see that participation in the issuance of this statement constitutes public dissent from church teaching."

In the 1977 statement, Buckley and his 22 fellow Jesuit faculty members said, "Dissent is neither a luxury nor a rhetoric.

"There are times when those whose lives are consecrated to the assimilation and explanation of the word of God cannot remain silent when that word is attenuated seriously by indifference or by error or by insensitivity or by ignorance. The question then becomes one of conscience. Dissent becomes a moral imperative and at that moment of morality, there are no spectators."

In approving Buckley, the panel of U.S. bishops said: "We have assured ourselves that Father Buckley's position on . . . the ordination of women is . . . theologically sound and in accord with church teaching."

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