VATICAN CITY, MAY 15, 2001 ( Moral theologian Marciano Vidal´s works regarding Church views on topics such as homosexuality and abortion are marred by "ambiguities," the Vatican said, as it urged the Spanish Redemptorist to write a new manual fit for teaching the faith.

Father Vidal´s books at times imply that the position of Christian ethics on questions of artificial insemination, the legalization of abortion, and homosexuality is relative, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a "Notification" published today.

The problematic texts include "Morality of Attitudes" and "Dictionary of Theological Ethics" -- books used in moral theology classes in some seminaries of Spain, Latin America and Italy. Father Vidal is professor of moral theology at the Pontifical University of Comillas and the Higher Institute of Moral Sciences in Madrid.

The books cited, in fact, are not in keeping with Catholic doctrine, the Vatican congregation said.

The congregation had numerous official contacts with the author over the last four years, in order to clarify his views. The priest was cooperative during the whole process, the congregation noted.

The Notification was signed by the congregation´s prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and its secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone.

According to the document, the fundamental problem is that, in Father Vidal´s view, Christianity offers an "influence," a "context," an "orientation," a "new ambit of reference" for morality, but it strips the revelation of God in Christ from concrete ethical normativeness.

Without a moral norm, the "contents" of Christian Revelation become relative -- or at least this might be the conclusion of readers, the Vatican congregation said.

"Thus," the Notification said, "the author maintains, for example, that the doctrine of the Church on homosexuality has a certain consistency, but does not have sufficient biblical foundation and suffers from serious conditioning and ambiguities."

It continued: "These moral judgments are not compatible with Catholic doctrine, which hold a perfectly clear and firm appreciation on the objective morality of sexual relations between persons of the same sex."

"The degree of subjective imputability that these relations might have in each concrete case is a different question, which is not under discussion here," the document clarified.

At one point, Father Vidal argued that the teaching of the magisterium has no reason to exist in the case of masturbation and contraception.

In the latter case, he gives criteria to spouses who are considering contraception, yet fails to include the moral norms from "Humanae Vitae" or other papal documents.

The theologian approves of homologous in-vitro fertilization -- involving only the couple -- without keeping in mind the objective moral questions pointed out by the Church.

In the case of abortion, the author gives a negative valuation "in general terms," but believes that "not all juridical liberalization of abortion is downright contrary to ethics." Yet, the Vatican document points out, it is not possible for the reader to understand what type of laws legalizing abortion are regarded as not being "downright contrary to ethics."

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith proposes that Father Vidal should now write a new manual, which is "apt for the formation of students of moral theology." For this, he would have the cooperation of the doctrinal commission of the Spanish bishops´ conference.

"With this ´Notification,´" the Vatican document concluded, "the Congregation hopes, at the same time, to encourage moral theologians to continue on the path of the renewal of Moral Theology, especially with further study of fundamental morality and rigor in the theological-moral method, in keeping with the teachings of ´Veritatis Splendor,´ and with that real sense of ecclesial responsibility."