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US theologian barred in book controversy

A Jesuit theological school has placed a priest on leave because the Vatican says several parts of his award-winning book may contradict church teachings.

The school says he is "clarifying" the book.

Fr Roger Haight's book, Jesus Symbol of God, explores the possibility that non-Christians can get to heaven without the help of Jesus. He argues that Jesus is the path to salvation for Christians, but that for non-Christians, God may work in other ways.

The 505-page tome, which won first prize in theology from the Catholic Press Association and was a selection of the Catholic Book Club, failed to pass an investigation by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"This is a sad commentary on the state of the church, where you don't have the same kind of openness for intellectual freedom and discussion of issues," said Francis Schussler Fiorenza, a Catholic theologian at Harvard Divinity School.

In a statement, Weston Jesuit School of Theology Fr Robert Manning said Haight "acknowledges the truth of the church's dogmas concerning Jesus Christ, he has begun the work of clarifying his book ... and will continue this important task for the sake of the church."

"What he's (Haight) doing is really at the edge of theological inquiry," said the Rev. William E. Reiser, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. "He's trying to be faithful to the tradition, but recognizes that we're in a new theological climate in which as Christianity interfaces more and more with world religions, how do you present the Christian case?"