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Pope warns Catholic theologians against arrogance

PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict has warned Roman Catholic theologians against becoming arrogant and forgetting God in a broadside following reports that the Vatican is probing the writings of a priest in the United States.

In a sermon at a private mass on Sunday, Benedict said theologians could know everything about the history of the Scriptures and how to explain them, but know nothing about God.

This came only days after it became known that the Vatican’s doctrinal office was probing Father Peter Phan, a theologian at Washington’s Georgetown University who says that non-Christian religions have a place in the salvation of mankind.

Benedict, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) before his election in 2005, has long opposed any blurring of lines between faiths and reprimanded theologians he felt portrayed other religions as being equal to Catholicism.

Benedict said at a mass with some of his former doctoral students that theologians sometimes “only talk in the end about ourselves (and) don’t go beyond ourselves and beyond people.”

So it sometimes happened “that God cannot come to us and speak to us through all our knowledge of human things ... that we don’t hear him and don’t know him,” he said according to an audio report posted on the Vatican Radio website in German.

The Vatican Radio report on the speech was entitled: “Pope warns against theological arrogance.”

National Catholic Reporter, an independent U.S. weekly, reported last week the CDF had been quietly probing Phan’s writings since 2004, while Benedict was still at the helm.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a parallel probe. Asked about this, spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh only said: “There is an on-going dialogue between the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and Father Phan.”

Phan, who migrated from Vietnam to the United States with his family in 1975, is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

He has close ties to Catholic theologians in Asia, where several leading Church intellectuals say the Vatican is too European-centric and the Church should recognize the positive aspects in non-Christian religions.

His book under investigation is called “Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue.”

In recent years, the CDF has criticized similar ideas in the writings of the late Belgian Jesuit Jacques Dupuis, who lived in India for 36 years and also worked on inter-faith dialogue.

It has also barred U.S. Jesuit Roger Haight from teaching Catholic theology because of his reinterpretation of Jesus Christ and reprimanded Spanish Jesuit Jon Sobrino for his writings on liberation theology.

Additional reporting by Michael Conlon in Chicago