A LEADING FEMINIST theologian has likened the Church authorities in Rome to the Inquisition at the height of its powers this week.
Speaking to supporters of excommunicated priest Fr Tissa Balasuriya, who had flocked to a London church for the launch of his book Mary and Human Liberation, Professor Mary Grey of Sarum College, Salisbury, said that the decision in January by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to excommunicate the Sri Lankan priest "awakens restless ghosts of the Inquisition — one of the Church's darkest hours".
The diminutive whitehaired Fr Balasuriya was introduced by the Reverend Nicholas Holton, the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, the venue for the launch. He said that the building, with its special ministry to the homeless, had always been "on the edge of society and our institutions" and was therefore a fitting location for the event.
Fr Balasuriya, one of the world's most provocative liberation theologians, was excommunicated in January for his refusal to renounce his views on the Church's interpretation of the Virgin Mary, who he claims has been hijacked as a symbol of women's oppression.
In a defiant speech to a 400-strong audience, he attacked the institutionalisation of the Church.
He said: "A human conscience is not subordinated to any power on earth, only to God. Christ wouldn't bow to the insolent might of Rome. That is why he died by crucifixion.
"The Church is a community of human beings, not a system whereby power is in the hands of a few."
Professor Grey said that while Fr Balasuriya has been publicly condemned for his "supposed theological abberations", he has never been publicly thanked for his "zealous support of women and justice". Speaking in a language reminiscent of 1970s sociology, she said that the doctrine of Mary "serves power interests" where women are forever obedient, subservient and docile, and described the doctrine of original sin as "a dead parrot".
An Anglican nun, a supporter of the priest, told the Herald: "It's what you come to expect from the Vatican. He's an old man now, so it's very sad."
Jill Peterson, Fr Balasuriya's publisher, said: "It was a difficult decision to publish."
She added: "There is a myth in publishing that liberation theology doesn't sell." One suspects that Mary and Human Liberation will sell very well.
Mary and Human Liberation: the story and the text, with an introduction by Edmund Hill OE is published by Mowbray.