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'Diversity Is One of the Riches of Catholicism. . . . '--Father Matthew Fox : Oakland Priest May Be Next in Line for Vatican Censure

December 20, 1986|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

Dominican Father Matthew Fox of Oakland hasn't heard from Rome since June, but he may well be the next U.S. priest to be disciplined by Cardinal Joseph A. Ratzinger and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The "watchdog" agency of Roman Catholic orthodoxy began reviewing three of Fox's books after a group of conservatives in Seattle sent excerpts to Rome in 1983. Fox had held a workshop on his controversial "creation-centered spirituality" in the Archdiocese of Seattle. The archdiocese is administered by liberal prelate Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, who was recently disciplined by the Vatican.

Those who attacked Fox's teachings were "the same well-organized group of people who complained about Hunthausen," Fox, 45, said in a recent interview. "They sent a thick file of documents to Cardinal Ratzinger. They took statements from my books out of context and put them opposite statements by (conservative) bishops and theologians."

Case Still Pending

Fox's religious superior said that, so far, no news from Rome is good news. But, although a panel of three Dominican theologians who investigated Fox's writings found nothing heretical, Ratzinger reportedly was not convinced, and the case is still pending.

"You might say the ball is in Ratzinger's court," Fox said wryly.

Fox said Vatican concern about his work centered on his views of feminism, homosexuality, premarital sex, "sensuality," the doctrine of "original sin" and charges that he advocated pantheism, the belief that "everything is God and God is everything."

Fox denied that his teachings are heretical, or that courses taught in his Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland are unorthodox.

'Blowing the Whistle'

Fox said those responsible for "blowing the whistle" on both Hunthausen and himself were supporters of the conservative independent Catholic weekly, The Wanderer, and the lay group, Catholics United for the Faith.

(Hunthausen revealed last September that Vatican authorities, acting under Ratzinger, had shifted his pastoral authority in five sensitive areas to an auxiliary bishop. The Vatican said Hunthausen had been lax in handling marriage annulments, liturgy, sterilizations at Catholic hospitals, ministry to homosexuals and clergy education.)

The Wanderer, published in St. Paul, Minn., is edited by its sole owner, Al J. Matt Jr., and has a circulation of about 40,000. News sources credited the newspaper with generating 10,000 postcards during a campaign earlier this year in support of Vatican action against Father Charles Curran. The Washington priest was stripped in August of his right to teach theology at Catholic University because Ratzinger considered his views on sexual ethics too liberal.

Frank Morriss, a Wanderer contributing editor in Denver, said, "We have readers everywhere," adding that some could have complained to Vatican authorities about Fox. But Morriss added that he knew of no organized effort by the publication against Fox's work.

Won't Discuss Details

"I personally object to much of Father Fox's observations and conclusions," Morriss said by telephone this week, "but I am not prepared to discuss the details."

Erven Park, whose husband edits "Roman Catholic Laity for Truth, a Wanderer Forum Affiliate" in Kelso, Wash., agreed:

"We're very much against his (Fox's) teachings and those he's hired, but we have never organized any opposition or communicated (our views against Fox) to the Vatican."

Catholics United for the Faith, based in New Rochelle, N.Y., has a membership of about 15,000. Its publication, "Lay Witness," presents traditionalist support for the magisterium (official teaching authority of the church hierarchy).

Donald McClane, president of Catholics United, said members of his organization may have independently complained to Rome about Fox, but "Catholics United didn't do it as any direct activity. It was not an organized move." McClane said during a telephone interview that some of Fox's teachings "appear to be out of line with Catholic doctrine . . . (and) a denial of Christian religion."

'Crazy Right-Wingers'

In the interview with The Times, Fox said angrily: "Part of the scandal is that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would listen to these people. They are not theologians; they are not conservatives. They are crazy right-wingers. . . . They're rabid. They spit on you and scream at you."

Fox said Ratzinger had asked the head of the Rome-based Dominican order to examine Fox's writings. He, in turn, asked Father John Gerlach, then-vicar provincial of the Dominican's Chicago office, to set up an evaluation team.

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