March 18, 1994

VATICAN CITY (Reuter) - The Vatican Friday criticized literal interpretation of the Bible and said the fundamentalist approach to Scripture was "a kind of intellectual suicide."

A Vatican document said fundamentalism "refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language ...... by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources."

The 125-page document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, was written by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, a group of scholars who assist the pope in the study of Scripture.

It noted that a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible had been gaining strength. The Vatican is increasingly concerned about the number of [Roman] Catholics, especially in Latin America, who have abandoned the church for fast-growing fundamentalist sects.

"The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life," the document said. "Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide."

Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible began during the Reformation, when Protestants showed an increasing concern for fidelity to the literal meaning of Scripture.

The document said fundamentalism refused to admit that there was a human element in the transmission of the Word of God.

One member of the commission, Jesuit Reverend Joseph Fitzmyer, said fundamentalists failed to recognize that several years elapsed between the time Jesus spoke and the time when the gospels were written.