A Clear-Cut Case for Excommunication
April 1997By Ronald Rychlak
Ronald J. Rychlak is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi. Kevin Slattery is Pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Oxford, Mississippi.
On January 2, 1997, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Churchs doctrinal watchdog, issued a Notification of excommunication for Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, a theologian from Sri Lanka.
Balasuriya is protesting his punishment, and he reports that phone calls and telegrams of support have been coming in to him from around the world. A petition of support has been signed by colleagues from the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. Indeed, he has become something of a cause célèbre in certain circles.
Feminist theologian and writer Margaret Hebblethwaite says Balasuriyas stance in favor of female priests is the reason for the excommunication: I suspect Tissa Balasuriya may be the first martyr to the cause of womens priesthood. Frances Kissling, head of the pro-abortion Catholics for a Free Choice, states that Balasuriyas positions are no more radical, no more deviating than many other Catholics who have not been excommunicated. People are wondering whether by using this extreme measure, the Vatican isnt sending a signal. More generally, Balasuriyas sympathizers are issuing dire warnings of a new Inquisition.
Balasuriya is an Oxford-educated theologian and author of nine books. Despite being a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Balasuriya has some peculiar ideas about Mary. He has said Mary was the first female priest. He refuses to affirm that Mary was immaculately conceived, was a virgin, or was bodily assumed into heaven, and has expressed opposition to praying the Hail Mary and reciting the Rosary.
You have two options:
- Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
- Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.
If you're already a subscriber log-in here.