Religion: Theologian on Trial

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It may come to pass that one of the best-known and most creative theologians in the Roman Catholic Church will have to stand trial for doctrinal error, an accusation not far short of heresy. Dominican Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the principal theological adviser to the Dutch hierarchy, has been under investigation by Rome. According to a Vatican source, the charges concern "certain apparent errors in his teachings and writings, aspects of which do not seem to conform to norms established by the church."*

Schillebeeckx (pronounced shill-a-bakes) is an ardent advocate of change and renewal within the church. A Flem ish Belgian who teaches at the University of Nijmegen, he was a major influence on the revolutionary and highly popular "Dutch Catechism" .(TIME, Dec. 1). His voluminous writings, all of which have been published with episcopal imprimaturs, blend insights from Thomas Aquinas and modern existentialists, and his opinions are frequently provocative. He believes, for example, that Mary's perpetual virginity is symbolic rather than a biological fact. The resurrection, he suggests, does not imply the physical recomposition of Jesus' body, but "the impact of his personality on his disciples and his presence in the hearts of all Christians."

The Vatican has apparently been compiling a dossier on Schillebeeckx since 1961, when he wrote a pastoral letter, signed by the Dutch bishops, that proposed decentralization of authority in the church. Matters came to a head last July, when Monsignor Angelo Felici, the papal internuncio to The Netherlands, suggested to Schillebeeckx that he might help rehabilitate himself by introducing the Pope's birth control encyclical on Dutch television. Schillebeeckx refused. He has been dropped from lectures and other public functions sponsored by the Dominican order, and

Rome has arranged for a formal, secret hearing on his errors next month.

Schillebeeckx has not yet decided whether to attend the hearing. If the Vatican pursues the case, he will have two powerful allies in his corner. His friend, German Jesuit Karl Rahner, who is Schillebeeckx's only peer as a speculative theologian, has been appointed as his court defender. And Bernard Jan Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht has made it clear that a condemnation of Schillebeeckx would be an unwarranted condemnation of the entire Dutch church.

* Last April, a summons to appear in Rome was issued to Swiss Theologian Hans Küng of Tubingen University, who has so far refused to accept the invitation until the Vatican accepts his conditions. One is that Küng be allowed to see the dossier of charges against him; Rome refuses to let him.