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The Papal Chill Part I: Freezing out Freedom

The pontificate of Josef Ratzinger has been a long time in the making. In the first of two parts, Dr Vacy Vlazna tracks the course undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over the last 25 years, directed at a restoration of a pre Vatican II church.

by Vacy Vlazna

1. The Iceman Cometh
The onset of John Paul II's pontificate cast a bleak chill over the Catholic Church freezing the nanosecond of freedom in church history embodied in Vatican II. For 26 years, the pope's lieutenant, Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith enjoyed the customary papal prerogative of releasing doctrinal documents and writing encyclicals to the bishops of the whole world. He masterminded and executed the systematic enforcement of doctrinal compliance, the uncompromising condemnation of independent thought and the deliberate exclusion of liberationists justified by John Paul's zealous anti-communism. In effect Ratzinger conducted the last rites for the liberation theology movement and the act of conscience was the first victim of Ratzinger's War on Relativism. Homosexuality, ecumenism, condoms, abortion, euthanasia, ordination of women came under his line of fire in sharp contrast to the corrupt whitewash of clerical child molesters.

In 1987, Ratzinger concluded that the US Conference of Bishops suggestion that education on the use of condoms could be an acceptable part of an anti-AIDS program "would result in at least the facilitation of evil".

In 1992, Ratzinger sent a letter to US bishops that sanctioned legal discrimination against "the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity". He urged the prohibition on teaching and adopting by gays and a ban on gays in the military. His 1994 Ordinatio sacerdotalis Declaration announced the almost unheard-of prohibition of even "thinking" about the possibilities of women's ministerial ordination.

March 1997, Ratzinger called Buddhism 'spiritually self-indulgent eroticism'. In 2002, a German Benedictine, Fr Willigis Jager, who is also a Zen master, was ordered by Ratzinger to cease all public activities, including lectures, courses and publications.

In July 2004: "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia," Ratzinger wrote. "For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion... There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

In June 2004, Ratzinger's strategic intervention discouraged votes for Kerry thereby boosting Bush's re-election. In his missive to the bishop of Washington DC, Ratzinger wrote: "A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia." A week before Ratzinger's statement, Bush visited the Vatican.

In August 2004 Ratzinger rebuffed Turkey's bid to join the European Union because it is a majority Muslim country with Muslim roots and Turkey should seek its future with Muslim nations rather than try to join a European community with Christian roots.

As top cop of clerical crime, in December 2004 Ratzinger reviewed the Marcial Maciel Degollado case in which nine seminarians had lodged, in 1998, a formal complaint against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, accusing him of sexual assault. Ratzinger concealed the matter commenting that he didn't think it was "prudent" to proceed against a man who had recruited many young men to the priesthood.

On January 4, 2001 in St Peter's Square, Pope John Paul received Maciel and praised him before 20,000 Legion members in Rome. "With special affection I greet your beloved founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, and extend to him my heartfelt congratulations on this important event... I especially appreciated his confirmation of your characteristic fidelity to the successor of Peter." In May 2005, after Benedict's election, the Vatican announced no charges would be brought against Degollado and the investigation was closed.

2. The Artic Waste of Anti-Liberalism
Popes are not infallible; John Paul's personal political hubris rendered him unable to separate Marxist goats from his impoverished sheep, i.e. put the higher good of liberation theology before his personal antipathy to communism. As the Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara lamented, "When I called for the role of the Church to be with the poor, I am called a saint; when I'm asked to do something about the causes of poverty, I am called a communist."

Throughout the unholy war against communism, Ratzinger fired volleys against liberation theology and its Shepherds. In 1984 Ratzinger issued his critique of liberation theology stating it "constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church". And in 1986 stated; "it would be criminal to take the energies of popular piety and misdirect them toward a purely earthly plan of liberation, which would very soon be revealed as nothing more than an illusion and a cause of new forms of slavery."

However, no doubt half the world, the nearly three billion people who live on less than two dollars a day would agree with Bishop Casaldiga that "today the option for the poor is more timely than ever. There are two reasons: There are more of them, both in Latin America, and in all the Third World; and they are ever- poorer."

During his watch, over 100 theologians whose doctrinal deviancy was independent thought or liberation theology were silenced, admonished and disciplined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These include:

  • Leonardo Boff, Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga of Brazil, the 'pastor to all the Americas' because of his solidarity with the poorest;
  • Gustavo Gutierrez, father of liberation theology (a meeting of Peruvian bishops was convened in Rome in September of 1984 to condemn Gustavo Gutierrez);
  • Father Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua for refusing to resign as the minister of culture in Nicaragua's Sandinista government;
  • Mexican Samuel Ruiz, champion of the rights of the indigenous Mayas of Chiapas, was charged by the Vatican of having "doctrinal and pastoral errors" and also "a Marxist misinterpretation of the Gospel."
  • Hungarian Fr Gyorgy Bulanyi, who set up non-violent base communities, for proposing the ordination of women and equality of laypersons and priests;
  • Hans Kung for erroneous teaching about papal infallibility;
  • Fr Charles Curran, a moral theologian known for his dissent from official church teaching on sexual ethics. Curran wrote: "Homosexual acts in the context of a loving relationship that strives for permanency can in a certain sense be objectively morally acceptable.";
  • The Rev Tissa Balasuriya for arguing for greater flexibility in adapting the Christian message in the Asian context and his visionary view of original sin and the immaculate conception: "I agree that Mary was born without original sin. But I am also saying that nobody is conceived in sin";
  • Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle for ministering to gays and giving communion to divorced Catholics;
  • Jesuit Fr John McNeill for his pastoral ministry with homosexuals;
  • Edward Schillebeeckx for discussing the question whether a layman could preside at the Eucharist;
  • Austrian priest Fr Peter Hausberger was forced to publicly disavow his act of jointly celebrating the Eucharist with a Methodist minister to rescind his suspension;
  • Fr Bernhard Haering, a moral theologian for stating persons should follow their conscience on birth control;
  • Fr Eugen Drewermann, German theologian, for questioning the virgin birth of Christ and the physical reality of his resurrection and for religious pluralism;
  • Jacques Pohier, French Dominican, for his heterodox views on the Resurrection;
  • Brazilian Sr Ivone Gebara for publicly advocating legalized abortion;
  • Fr Anthony Kosnik because his writings on sexuality conflicted with basic Catholic teachings;
  • Fr Matthew Fox for teaching pantheism (creation theology);
  • Sister Agnes Mary Mansour as director of the Department of Social Services in Michigan, oversaw funding of abortions;
  • Bishop Mathew Clark of Rochester, New York ordered to cease inclusive practices;
  • Fr Alex Zanotelli of Columbia for publishing an expose of the relationship of arms sales and Italian relief agencies;
  • Bishop Jacques Gaillot for his promotion of contraception and homosexuality;
  • Fr Philipe Denis, Dominican, for criticizing the Opus Dei;
  • Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello's works of "radical apophaticism" received a posthumous notification;
  • Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr Robert Nugent of the United States for ministering with gay and lesbian Catholics because they had not "condemned the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts;
  • Jesuit Roger Haight for proposing a shift from Christocentrism to Theocentrism as it isn't necessary to believe that God saves only through Jesus;
  • Sr Joan Chittister was prohibited from taking part in the Conference of the World Network for the Ordination of Women in Dublin. However, she ignored the order.
  • In March 2005, Ratzinger ordered the resignation of the dissident editor of America magazine, Jesuit Thomas Reese. (on the bright side - any theologian with a CDF notification is worth reading).

    There is a huge irony in the quashing of freedom of thought and conscience by Josef Ratzinger. It is this: the young Ratzinger gained his doctorate by arguing in his dissertation on Augustine that the Church could not be Church if founded on the exclusion of others: that is, even where another believer may reasonably be considered to be in doctrinal error, such people must still be embraced with caritas. Charity is the defining hallmark of the Christian, Ratzinger wrote, then. Charity has not characterised Ratzinger's treatment of those with whom he disagrees. The Chilean journlist, Tito Tricot (who was arrested, gaoled and tortured by that regime) described a meeting between the silenced liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, and the present pope:

    "Boff pointed to the lattice window of the room they were in and said: 'Cardinal, [Ratzinger] you cannot look at liberation theology through a window like this, where it is framed in little lead squares. You have to go and feel what it's like to be poor. That's where this theology is made, it's the cry of the poor.'

    Christian liberation, Tricot wrote, has nothing to do with luxurious robes or golden chapels, but with poor children and devastated forests. It has nothing to do with cryptic masses and transparent angels, but with little girls shivering in the rain, begging for a smile.

    Next week in the Papal Chill Pt II: Warming up the Work: Ratzinger and Opus Dei

    Vacy Vlazna received her PhD from Macquarie University for her thesis "God and the Imagination are One: A study of the Mystic Experience in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens". She was convenor of Australia-East Timor Association and East Timor Justice Lobby and served as an electoral officer in East Timor with UNAMET during the referendum and later returned to work for two years in Timor with UNTAET re-establishing the university, introducing civic education, training staff in the National Council and as District Field Officer in Same, Manufahi. She is presently convenor of Acheh Papua Maluku Human Rights on Line and was a political advisor to GAM during the second round of the Acheh peace talks in Helsinki in February 2005.

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