Catholic theologian may sue over atheist claim
A leading British Roman Catholic academic is considering legal action against an American television company that quoted him on its website as describing his ìjourney to atheismî reports the Times.
Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, could not recall saying any of the things attributed to him.
He was assured, however, by the broadcaster that he had made the remarks in an interview four years ago about the Pope.
Professor Duffy said: ìI was appalled. I thought, have I been drinking?î He started to write letters of apology and prepared his resignation from the Pontifical Historical Commission.
It was only after he demanded a copy of the tape, and saw it for himself last week, that he realised that it was a case of mistaken identity.
He said that he had almost begun to believe he had indeed uttered the heresies attributed to him. ìThen the tape arrived. Half of me said, ëThanks be to Godí. The other half said, ëYou bastards, you stupid bastardsí.î
The Catholic weekly The Tablet reports today that the material came from an interview with the German theologian Gerd L¸demann, who rejects the central tenets of Christianity in his book The Great Deception.
His interview had been wrongly labelled and added to Professor Duffyís comments by mistake. The interview has not been removed from the website but has been correctly labelled and an apology to Professor Duffy appended.
He is, however, consulting an American libel lawyer.
After the comments attributed to Professor Duffy were publicised, representations were made to the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OíConnor.
Professor Duffy, who is President of the Catholic Theological Association, was quoted on the website as saying that he did not believe in the Resurrection.
In the transcript of the interview given to Professor Duffy, the respected and orthodox historian appeared to boast of being an unbeliever. He was quoted as saying that dying without belief in resurrection ìmakes life even better, makes this world a better placeî.
He describes his ìlong journeyî from devout believer to sceptic.
Professor Duffy, who described the past few weeks as a nightmare, said: ìI am orthodox, I am a practising Catholic. I can laugh about it now but I got e-mails and letters and an appalling editorial in First Things, which is read by conservative Catholics all over the English-speaking world.î
Professor Duffy is the author of two widely read and authoritative histories, The Stripping of the Altars and Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes.