Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the Book Mary and Liberation by Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI and declaration of excommunication latae sententiae, 2 January 1997.

On June 5, 1994, the bishops’ conference of Sri Lanka publicly declared that the publication titled “Mary and Human Liberation1 by Father Tissa Balasuriya, OMI, contained statements incompatible with the faith of the church regarding the doctrine of revelation and its transmission, Christology, soteriology and Mariology. The bishops concluded by admonishing the faithful to refrain from reading the book. The author, on his part, reacted negatively, contending that his text had been interpreted erroneously and demanding that the truth of the accusations be demonstrated to him.

In spite of the declaration by the bishops’ conference of Sri Lanka, the erroneous ideas continued to be disseminated among the faithful, even beyond the borders of Sri Lanka; it was for this reason that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in keeping with its responsibility for safeguarding the faith throughout the Catholic world, decided to intervene. At the end of July 1994, the dicastery sent the superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate some observations on the text, confirming that it contained statements manifestly incompatible with the faith of the church. In addition, the superior general was invited to take the measures appropriate in such a case, including a request for a public retraction.

In his response of March 14, 1995, Father Balasuriya once again stated his positions and maintained that the observations of the congregation had misunderstood and falsified his doctrinal positions.

To assist the author to demonstrate his full and unconditioned adherence to the magisterium, in November 1995 the congregation forwarded the text of a profession of faith to the superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate centered on magisterial definitions relative to those truths of the faith which the author had denied or had interpreted erroneously. Moreover, it was stated that if Father Balasuriya would agree to sign the profession, it would then be decided how most adequately to repair the harm done to the faithful; should he not agree, in

1. The text was published in the journal Logos 29, 12; March/July 1990 (Colombo, Sri Lanka).

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addition to the disciplinary measures which would follow (Canon 1364), the possibility of a public notification would be taken into consideration by the congregation.

In May 1996, Father Balasuriya responded by sending a different text, the “solemn profession of Paul VI,” which had been signed by him with the addition of the following clause: “I, Father Tissa Balasuriya, OMI, make and sign this profession of faith of Pope Paul VI in the context of theological development and church practice since Vatican II and the freedom and responsibility of Christians and theological searchers under canon law.” Prescinding from the fact that the author had responded with a text different from the one requested, the addition of such a clause rendered the declaration defective, since it diminished the universal and permanent value of the definitions of the magisterium.

In June 1996 the congregation again asked the superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to invite Father Balasuriya to sign the text of the profession of faith already given to him within a period of three weeks and without any conditioning clause.

In the meantime, the secretary of the bishops’ conference of Sri Lanka had communicated that Father Balasuriya had made recourse to the state mediation board against the episcopal conference as well as against the archbishop of Colombo and the editors and manager of the Colombo Catholic press in response to the declaration regarding “Mary and Human Liberation” and its subsequent publication in Catholic newspapers.

On July 16, 1996, the procurator general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate transmitted the response of Father Balasuriya, dated July 1, 1996, in which he stated that he had suspended the civil proceedings against the bishops, giving as the reason for this decision his hope that there would be a reexamination of his case within the church. He was, in all probability, referring to his appeal against the bishops of Sri Lanka, dated June 13, 1996, to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, in which he maintained that the procedures that led to the declaration regarding his text had been marred by serious irregularities. The tribunal responded, however, that the question did not fall within its competence. In a similar way the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, having received an appeal by Father Balasuriya dated July 17, 1996, recognized

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its lack of competence in this case and forwarded the author’s letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Balasuriya also asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to allow him some time to reflect further on its request that he sign the profession of faith without any conditioning clause and promised a response before the end of September; such a response, however, never arrived.

Given the clear refusal of Father Balasuriya to publicly and unequivocally profess his adherence to the faith of the church, on July 22, 1996, the congregation, at a meeting with the superior general and procurator general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, communicated that such a situation could not be allowed to continue and that therefore a notification would be published in his regard.

Father Balasuriya was offered a further opportunity to demonstrate his unconditioned adherence to the faith of the church when, on Dec. 7, 1996, he was called, together with his provincial superior, to the apostolic nunciature in Sri Lanka. At that time, the apostolic nuncio read to Father Balasuriya the text of a proposed notification which would be published should he not sign the profession of faith mentioned above. Father Balasuriya once again refused and appealed to the Holy Father, asking that a letter he had prepared be delivered directly to the pope. In this letter, Father Balasuriya continued to maintain that everything he had written in his text “Mary and Human Liberation” was within the limits of orthodoxy.

On Dec. 27, 1996, in the name of the Holy Father, His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state, responded with a letter to Father Balasuriya assuring him that the pope had personally followed the various phases of the procedure used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its examination of his writing, and that the Holy Father had expressly approved the notification of the congregation.

Therefore, given the failure of this latest attempt to obtain from Father Balasuriya an expression of adherence to the faith of the church, the congregation is compelled for the good of the faithful to publish the present notification in which the essential elements of the above-mentioned observations are made public.

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The aim of Father Balasuriya’s publication is, in his own words, “the critique and evaluation of theological propositions and presuppositions” (p. iv) of the church’s Mariological teaching. In pursuing this intention, the author arrives at the formulation of principles and theological explanations which contain a series of grave errors and which, to different degrees, are distortions of the truths of dogma and are therefore incompatible with the faith.

Father Balasuriya does not recognize the supernatural, unique and irrepeatable character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, by placing its presuppositions on the same level as those of other religions (cf. pp. 31-63). In particular, he maintains that certain “presuppositions” connected to myths were uncritically assumed to be revealed historical facts and, interpreted ideologically by the clerical “power holders” in the church, eventually became the teaching of the magisterium (cf. pp. 41-49).

Father Balasuriya assumes, moreover, a discontinuity in the economy of revelation. In fact, he distinguishes “between the faith due in Christianity to what Jesus teaches and to what the churches have subsequently developed as interpretations of his teaching” (p. 37).2 From this it follows that the content expressed by various dogmas is considered to be on the same level as theological interpretations offered “by the churches,” which are the fruit of their cultural and political interests (cf. pp. 42-45, 76-77). This position involves, in fact, the denial of the nature of Catholic dogma and, as a consequence, the relativizing of the revealed truths contained in them.

In the first place the author relativizes Christological dogma: Jesus is presented simply as “a supreme teacher,” “one showing a path to deliverance from sin and union with God” (p. 37), “one of the greatest spiritual leaders of humanity” (p. 149), a person who communicates to us his “primordial spiritual experience” (p. 37), but whose divine sonship is never explicitly recognized (cf. pp. 47, 104-105, 153) and whose salvific function is only doubtfully acknowledged (cf. p. 81).

The ecclesiological errors of the text follow from this vision. In not recognizing that “Jesus Christ wanted a church say the Catholic Church to be the mediator of that salvation” (p. 81), Father Balasuriya reduces

2. The same concept is found also in the response of March 14, 1995, pp. 8-9.

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salvation to a “direct relationship between God and the human person” (p. 81) and so denies the necessity of baptism (cf. 68).

A fundamental aspect of the thought of Father Balasuriya is the denial of the dogma of original sin, held by him to be simply a product of the theological thought of the West (cf. pp. \6\6-78). This contradicts the nature of this dogma and its intrinsic connection to revealed truth.3 The author, in fact, does not hold4 that the meaning of dogmatic formulas remains always true and unchangeable, though capable of being expressed more clearly and better understood.5

On the basis of these positions, the author arrives at the point of denying in particular the Marian dogmas. Mary’s divine motherhood, her immaculate conception and virginity as well as her bodily assumption into heaven6 are not recognized as truths belonging to the word of God (cf. pp. 47, 106 139, 152, 191). Wanting to present a vision of Mary free from “theological elaborations, which are derived from a particular interpretation of one sentence or other of the Scriptures” (p. 150), Father Balasuriya, in fact, deprives the dogmatic doctrine concerning the Blessed Virgin of every revealed character, thus denying the authority of tradition as a mediation of revealed truth.7

Finally, it must be noted that Father Balasuriya, denying and relativizing some statements of both the extraordinary magisterium and the ordinary

3. Cf. Council of Trent, Decree on Original Sin, Denzinger-Schonmetzer 1511-1512; Paul VI, solemn profession of faith, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 60 (1968), 434-445.

4. Cf. response, p. 11: “Are not the definitions of dogma made by councils also particular expressions concerning an ineffable, inexpressible, ultimate divine, and that according to the needs of those who do so, their particular philosophical terms and according to the culture of a given time? To absolutize them could result in a narrowness which the Vatican Council II wanted to avoid.”

5. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae, 5: AAS 65 (1973), 403-404.

6. Cf. Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 14; Symbolum Apostolicum, DS 10; Symbolum Toletanum, DS 189; Constantinople Council II, DS 422; Lateran Council IV, DS 801; Council of Ephesus, DS 252; Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, DS 2803; Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, DS 3903.

7. Cf. Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, 89.

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universal magisterium, reveals that he does not recognize the existence of an infallibility of the Roman pontiff and of the college of bishops “cum et sub Petro." Reducing the primacy of the successor of Peter to a question of power (cf. pp. 42, 84 170), he denies the special character of this ministry.8

In publishing this notification, the congregation is obliged also to declare that Father Balasuriya has deviated from the integrity of the truth of the Catholic faith and therefore cannot be considered a Catholic theologian; moreover, he has incurred excommunication latae sententiae (Canon 1364.1).

The sovereign pontiff John Paul II, at the audience granted to the undersigned cardinal prefect, approved this notification, adopted in the ordinary session of this congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Jan. 2, 1997, memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the church.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone


OssRomEng, 30 (January 8, 1997): 2; Origins 26 (1996-1997): 528-530.

8. Cf. Vatican Council I, Pastor Aeternus, DS 3074, Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 18, 22, 25.