The Rev. 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 Vatican's position is that salvation comes only through Jesus, who is an unseen savior for non-Christians.
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, Pope John Paul II's main guardian and enforcer of orthodoxy.
``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 Roman Catholic theologian at Harvard Divinity School.
Haight did not return a call Tuesday morning from The Associated Press and declined to be interviewed by The Boston Globe. However the Rev. Robert E. Manning, president of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, said the graduate school put Haight on leave because of the Vatican's decision.
In a statement, 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.''
The school trains men and women to be priests and other forms of clergy.
The move to place Haight on leave comes as U.S. bishops prepare to implement a new requirement that Catholic theologians working at Catholic colleges and universities seek permission from the bishops to teach. The rule takes effect May 3.
``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?''