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Priest Denounces Vatican Order of Public Silence

October 20, 1988

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A priest sentenced by the Vatican to a year of public silence for his unorthodox blend of New Age thinking and Catholic doctrine denounced the order Thursday as ″institutional violence,″ but said he would obey as long as he could.

″I have to wrestle with my conscience every day, and the issues that I have been dealing with are of such grave concern that I do not know what the eventual outcome will be,″ the Rev. Matthew Fox said at a news conference.

However, the internationally known author and lecturer lashed out at the punishment, calling it the act of a dying patriarchy already demonstrating ″the characteristics of a dysfunctional family.″

″The news is not that one more theologian has been silenced, but that the Vatican has grown deaf - deaf to the cries of Mother Earth, deaf to the cries of women, of native peoples, of young persons,″ he said in a slight and occasionally trembling voice.

The order from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith takes effect Dec. 15 and prohibits the 47-year-old founder of the Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality from preaching, lecturing or teaching.

The Dominican theologian said he will take a six-month sabbatical at the suggestion of his superiors and travel to Latin America. He did not say what his plans would be after that.

Fox reserved his most heated criticism for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican office that reviewed his teachings for 4 1/2 years.

The priest said Ratzinger’s objections to ″creation spirituality″ were ″unbelievably thin,″ adding that ″power, not theology, is the real issue.″

Fox suggested the Catholic Church will die as an institution unless it adopts democratic practices, and acknowledged he eventually may be forced to renounce his priesthood because of his views.

″The very act of silencing theologians instead of engaging them in dialogue is a sign of institutional violence,″ he said.

The Vatican cited Fox’s ″dangerous and deviant teachings,″ a esoteric mix of Christian mysticism, feminism and environmentalism.

Those include criticisms of traditional church doctrine for an ″overemphasis ″ on sin and redemption, calling God a ″Mother,″ not clearly denying a belief in pantheism and support for homosexuals.

Fox has said in the past he favors optional celibacy for Catholic priests and the ordination of women, both major deviations from positions of the Roman Catholic Church.

He also has irked conservative Catholics by hiring faculty members who include a certified masseuse, a Zen Buddhist, a yoga teacher and a self- described witch named Starhawk.

The controversy over Fox’s silencing may further strain relations between the U.S. church and the Vatican, some Catholic officials indicated.

Those relations already are tense as a result of Ratzinger’s 1986 order to dismiss the Rev. Charles Curran from the faculty of Catholic University in Washington for holding views on sexual ethics that deviate from traditional church teaching, and the Vatican’s disciplining of liberal Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for apparent laxity in pastoral administration.

The National Catholic Reporter, an independent paper that first reported the silencing last week, called the order ″a fruitless exercise.″

″People cannot be told to stop thinking or recording their thoughts. Silencing efforts come from another time,″ the paper said in an editorial appearing in Friday editions.

Fox’s own Dominican Order has not condemned him. Instead, it concluded after a special commission reviewed his work that he is not a heretic, according to the Rev. John Gerlack, vicar provincial of the Dominican Order office headquarters in Chicago.

Fox blamed ″various ultraconservative groups″ in Seattle for inaugurating the doctrinal review, saying the investigation began after some of the same groups that protested Hunthausen’s liberal actions mailed material to the Vatican.

Fox founded his institute in 1977 and in 1983 moved from Chicago to Oakland, where it is affiliated with Holy Names College.

Fox holds master’s degrees in philosophy and theology from the Aquinas Institute, a Dominican college and seminary in St. Louis, and a doctorate in spirituality from the Institute Catholique de Paris.