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Vatican threatens Jesuit theologian in India with censure

"The Asian Jesus" book cover.
"The Asian Jesus" book cover.

Photo courtesy of

“The Asian Jesus” book cover.

(RNS) The Vatican is investigating a Jesuit theologian from India for allegedly espousing unorthodox beliefs, raising new questions about whether Pope Francis — the first Jesuit pope — is in fact moving the Catholic Church in a new direction.

News of the threatened censure of the Rev. Michael Amaladoss, whose best-known book is “The Asian Jesus,” follows on the heels of a blunt warning on orthodoxy and obedience that the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, delivered to a group of nuns who represent most American sisters.

Mueller’s April 30 speech to sisters from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was seen as an unexpected setback in negotiations over a Vatican investigation of the nuns that began a year before Francis was elected. Mueller’s hard line also seemed out of step with the new style of openness and flexibility that has marked Francis’ young papacy.

Church sources say that Amaladoss, a highly regarded expert on interreligious dialogue and Christology, first came under scrutiny by Mueller’s office a year ago. They said Amaladoss believed that his initial responses to questions about his views on the uniqueness of Jesus and the Catholic Church had answered Vatican objections.

But in January, Mueller’s office returned with a demand that Amaladoss write an article publicly endorsing the Vatican’s views or face silencing. For decades, that level of severe sanction was a hallmark of the hard-line treatment of theologians under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.

In early April, Amaladoss met with Mueller and other officials from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and he “agreed to rework … those issues in the light of the dialogue,” the Rev. Edward Mudavassery, who oversees the Jesuits in India, wrote in an email.

“I understand it was an open and honest meeting trying to clarify objectionable issues,” Mudavassery said. “We all know that Pope Francis is a man for dialogue. It seems to me that the CDF, too, may follow this path to sort out differences because these men under the scanner are genuine and loyal to the Church and to the teachings of Jesus.”

Francis reportedly knows about the investigation but does not seem overly concerned that it will end in punishing Amaladoss, according to Jesuits familiar with the case.

Screenshot of the announcement to cancel Michael Amaladoss' lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Photo courtesy of The Union Theological Seminary in New York

Screenshot of the announcement to cancel the Rev. Michael Amaladoss’ lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Francis knows Amaladoss because of his long and distinguished career as a Jesuit, both as a theologian and author of hundreds of books and articles, and also as a longtime assistant at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.

Amaladoss is traveling abroad, Mudavassery said, and the theologian did not respond to emails sent to him at the Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religion that he heads in Chennai.

Mudavassery said he did not know of any restrictions placed on Amaladoss. But Amaladoss has pulled all speaking and writing commitments as he tries to address the Vatican’s concerns.  Jesuit sources said Amaladoss told his U.S. publisher, Orbis Books, to halt work on a planned collection of his writings; Orbis officials declined to comment on the status of any project with Amaladoss.

The priest also canceled a lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York, scheduled for April 8, titled “Is Theology in India Really Different Than Theology in the West?” A note on the seminary’s website reads: “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Vatican has forbidden Dr. Amaladoss from speaking and publishing until a process of examining his thought has been successfully completed.”

“Amaladoss has asked us not to comment on the specific reasons for this cancellation, and we respect his wishes,” added Union spokesman Jeff Bridges.

Investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are conducted in secret, and targeted theologians often don’t know that they are under scrutiny until the investigation is well underway. They also typically do not know who lodges complaints or who in the CDF is conducting the investigation.

Theologians have long complained that such secrecy and the limited opportunities they have to answer charges in person have led to a coercive system that reflects poorly on the Catholic hierarchy.

During the quarter century that Ratzinger ran the office under Pope John Paul II, Jesuits were often the targets of CDF probes, in part because Jesuits have a missionary focus and seek to translate traditional beliefs for modern believers and to other religious cultures.

The process of engaging cultures is especially advanced in Asia, where Christianity is a minority and where Jesuits have established a beachhead for Catholicism. But that also means that theologians working there often use nontraditional formulations to try to communicate the faith to Hindu or Buddhist audiences who have little understanding of Western views of God and Jesus.

Amaladoss’ own teacher, the Belgian Jesuit Jacques Dupuis, faced a long and grueling investigation by the CDF over his views on religious pluralism. The stress of the probe, led by Ratzinger, is said by colleagues to have contributed to Dupuis’ death in 2004.


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • The CHURCH is pulling in all the theologians that dare to offer a different
    “take” on Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, etc. We were manufactured by the
    Annunaki using their knowledge of DNA. They combined their DNA with the species living at the time and created us. They are the gods talked about in the Old Testament. We will make them in our image… God, the real God, creator of the Universe, doesn’t talk. Also Jesus might have been an Annunaki. This information is all found in the translations of the Sumerian Tablets. Many, many people know about this and the CHURCH has known about it for years and years. They are petrified this news will get out.

  • Put that crack pipe down, Betty!! This article is about the Inquisition, nothing more! Take a deep breath, NOW!!

  • So Mueller is at it again? He’s a gestapo agent from Germany just as was Ratzinger/Benedict before him. When is the church going to give up the antique notion that it has a right to dictate thinking or belief to anyone? We are ages past that mad notion–except that it is still being practiced broadly by Francis’ prefect at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    As Mueller goes, just as Levada and Ratzinger before him, so goes the Catholic Church–out of existence. The church has served much more evil than good. It is long past the time for it to cease to exist–at least in the form it has been for centuries.

    Bring on the people in the pews who pay all the bills. They even blindly and stupidly pay all the bills for the royal living styles of bishops like “Bing” of Germany, Myers of Newark, NJ, and Gregory of Atlanta, GA.

  • You can’t have a different belief system in each region and call it all Catholicism, there is one Church and one universal Faith. Attending to doctrinal problems that arise is a service to the unity of the Body of Christ, thankless a task though it may often be. No one can seriously think any Pope would decide the truth of the Catholic faith no longer matters. People who thought the Pope was going to be a-ok with American religious sisters believing and practicing something substantially different from the Catholic faith are bizarre.

  • Does this mean you’re no longer conducting your extensive “investigative reports” on nuns, Elizabeth? Where you trolled through their emails and published materials you decided were heretical?

  • Freethinker: “Hey, I’d like to pursue some research on an Asian Jesus”
    Religion: “Shut up!”

    How can such an approach even be contemplated in an age where the internet is at our finger tips?

    Time for the Church to close up shop.

  • Elizabeth D: I appreciate what seems to me to be your positive attitude very much. I am surprised about the news regarding Fr. Amaladoss, someone I esteem and appreciate. But since I do not know the details of his books and articles, I cannot judge the merits, or possible demerits, of his theology. As in any scientific field, it is perfectly normal that instances of control enter the field whenever doubts arise. I see the work of the CDF, among other things, as an instance of «quality control» in the theological production of the Catholic Church. We need that and we should be grateful for that. I certainly hope that the way of dialogue and mutual concern for the Common Good in the Church will be the path to be followed. On all sides; by all concerned. Including, of course, by the many of us that just see from the outside what might be going on. Thank you!

  • We have the Hierarchy to align all the teaching of the Church. That is why CDF is there. They are under the Catholic church they need to follow the rules, doctrine and teaching of the Church. If they will not sanction these people what is their use? Just watch these people make their own rules? The Catholic Church is Unique because we have authority. If we do not have the Pope and the Holy See what will happen is the church will be broken down into smaller churches like the protestant.

  • They had a public, google-able archive of about 11 years of their congregation mailing list on the internet. I found it via Google. It’s not public anymore, but was at the time of publication of my book. From time to time its participants themselves referred to the fact of it being public and others able to view it. All sources I used were public, there was no “spying” that went into it whatsoever.

  • the sisters had their mailing list archive public online, for many years up until last fall when they decided that was not prudent.

  • I gotta say, Elizabeth, reading through your “report” is one of the creepier experiences I’ve had. Am I reading this right? These nuns wouldn’t accept you as a postulant, and so you spent literally months of your time going through their emails, and then self-published a BOOK of their private correspondence?

    Can’t imagine why they thought it prudent not to accept you. Sounds like you’d be a real winner in community.

  • How “private” is correspondence that was archived publicly by them on the internet and easily able to be found by anyone doing a web search? I was not obliged to pretend I did not see such serious things as I noticed simply by doing a Google search. My other most important source were their similarly revealing congregation magazines from the 60s and 70s, which were at the State Historical Society library. While I am certain you are right the Sinsinawa Dominicans do not want me as a postulant (!) I have never inquired to them about whether I had a vocation to their community. My first personal contact with the Sinsinawa Dominicans was visiting their motherhouse on two occasions, first on a parish pilgrimage and in January of last year when they showed a film about women religious who believe in “women priests” and pantheism at their motherhouse, a disturbing experience that led me to look deeper at what was going on and how it got that way. I describe this at the beginning of my book (There is a PDF link on this page ). When I found sources that gave answers to those questions in a lot of detail, after some serious prayer I began writing the book–always accompanied by prayer for their good.

  • Mueller castigating more people for being insufficiently hostile to others. In this case he is telling the Jesuits that they have to insult the Hindu religion more when they proselytize.

  • Unless I am mistaken, or just plain can’t read, this is the worst article I’ve ever read. I read the article 4 times looking to see what is the issue? What does Amaladoss say that troubles Rome?

    How can an article like this get past any editor?

  • How can this person even pretend that what she did was charitable? Her excuse for publishing their private correspondence was that they hadn’t protected it enough from her?

    Elizabeth D, what you’re doing is openly condemned in the Gospels and in the Catechism.

  • Your comments concerning protestant liberty was a bit disturbing; the catholic church has long been in doctrinal error (since its inception); and I see the current issues of the church as nothing more than “proofs” that confirm two millennial of anti Christ history which blindly leads people to destruction. Catholicism is a political instrument (nothing more or less) not the faith founded by the “BLACK” YESHUA OF NAZARETH” during a time in which you caucasian devils with all of your self tormenting sacrileges were still crawling around in the caucus mountains of europe !!! No one cares about your Popes, Bishops or hired theologians that obviously would better serve the Kingdom of God as a protestant.

  • Dear Elizabeth,
    Your answers to objections are intelligent as well as showing your love for the Church and her Motherly structures such as the CDF. Excellent! Continue loving and defending the Church, our Family to which we all belong!!!

  • These kinds of thought control tactics do not do justice to Jesus. They make the Church seem more like the body of Caesar than the body of Jesus. Uniformity of opinion works really well in a cult, but it does not bode well in the religion department.

  • These old authoritarians really are convinced that they outlast Modernism and democracy, and come out stronger on the other side. Taking the long view, things have been a bit difficult since Galileo. The Reformation was not complete success either. I suggest we are near a tipping point, where people simply ignore the “divinely” appointed Popes, like they ignore the divine right of kings. Perhaps he/she will become like the English Monarchy.



  • Elizabeth,
    You seem very free in deciding who is a blessing to the church and who is a heretic. Have you ever thought about what it might be like if someone went through your personal correspondence and published every moment you had on the web?

    What you did here is shameful. People have a right to their privacy, even if you disagree–and to say “well, I found it easily” is no excuse.

  • Saint Bart, I did not proceed to do anything with the project at all before I first went to Eucharistic adoration and prayed on whether I could do this out of charity toward their authentic good. Your reaction says you realize this material reflects serious problems which, yes, it is uncomfortable to bring to light (to me also it was and is painful to make this public); anyone would be able to see that. I received a lot of grace to approach it with love for them and came to love the sisters even more sincerely and personally. Readers who spend some time with the book comment positively on its charity, it mainly lets them speak for themselves. I also consulted with lay collaborators on ethics (this was entirely grassroots laypeople involved) and continually asked others’ help to do all with charity. I want the sisters to be esteemed and to have a very positive relationship with the Church. I was pained and saddened by what I learned and how they got into, according to them, such a bad relationship with the Church. My approach was to have a positive hope that things can get better.

  • Please,please include me. Put it on the table. What is it about Amaladoss that annoys the watchdogs.