The Irish Times filed this report May 19th. 2012 about Pope Benedict’s problem with dissent within the Catholic Church. Under the banner ‘Pope has consistently come down on dissent within the church like a hammer’. Reporter PATSY McGARRY provides the following retrospective view on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI on April 19th, 2005.
The scenes on St Peter’s Square that afternoon illustrated what this divisive figure has meant for his church. Middle-aged and older people were crestfallen. A man sat at one of the great fountains in the square and wept openly. Around him danced seminarians from the North American College.
Well-scrubbed and in cassocks, they could not contain their glee. “Benedicto, Benedicto, Benedicto,” they shouted. “It’s a regular party,” a seminarian from Pittsburg told this reporter.
For them, the election of John Paul II’s enforcer as pope represented the final defeat of that liberal Catholicism ushered in following Vatican II which they and their mentors see as at the root of all that is wrong in the church today. The rigid certainties enforced by the new pope had so much more appeal for them than the porous, inclusive Catholicism of the previous generation.
Pope Benedict’s views were well-known, as were his attitudes to dissent. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger helped to force closed many windows thrown open by Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.
For instance, where ecumenism was concerned and in his infamous Dominus Iesus document of 2000, he dismissed all reformed churches as not churches “in the proper sense”. They were merely “ecclesial communities”. All other faiths were“gravely deficient”. In 1997, he described Buddhism as an “auto-erotic spirituality”. Hinduism was based on a concept of reincarnation resembling “a continuous circle of hell”.
On celibacy, women priests or women in the diaconate, he was immovable. Similarly on the use of condoms even to combat Aids. On homosexuality he was virulent. In 1986, he described it as a “strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”.
Where dissent was concerned he brooked no hostages. It extended to former colleagues such as Hans Küng. In 1966, at Küng’s instigation, the Catholic faculty at Germany’s Tübingen university appointed Fr Ratzinger professor of dogmatics. In 1979, Küng was stripped of his licence to teach because he challenged papal infallibility. In 1981, when Ratzinger became dean of the CDF, he upheld that decision.
In 1986, he stopped US priest Fr Charles Curran from teaching because of his views on sexuality and ethics. A Brazilian, Fr Leonardo Boff, was silenced twice by him, in 1985 and in 1991. Fr Robert Nugent and Sr Jeannine Gramick, who worked with gay people in the US, were sanctioned in 1999. In 1995, Sri Lankan theologian Fr Tissa Belasuriya was excommunicated by him over writings on Mary, original sin and the divinity of Christ. He was later reconciled with the church.
There were so many more.
There is also something deeply insidious about the methods he and Rome use to silence those who disagree, as we have seen in Ireland. You might say Rome has ways of making you “think with the mind of the church” (sentire com ecclesia), in that memorable phrase directed by Rome at Fr Tony Flannery last month as he was told“ . . . to a monastery go!”
The Irish Times has, for instance, been aware for years of the curt silencing of three other Irish priests/theologians as they sought their way to a more compassionate, Christian understanding of human life. All three belong to different religious congregations.
In all instances, the head of their congregation was summoned to the CDF in Rome after anonymous complaint. The congregation head was advised to bring the“dissident” into line. He in turn contacted the congregation head in Ireland. The “dissident” was summoned and confronted with his aberration.
Usually, at local level, the relevant head has been kind. The priest/theologian in each case has been torn between a need to articulate his convictions for the benefit of the distressed and the consequences this for his congregation. Each priest felt he had to accept silence.
In each case too, those of us in the media aware of it were asked not to write about this lest the sky fall and bring further misery on the already crushed. So Rome has had its way and through exploiting finer human emotions such as loyalty and respect. Clever? Yes, but hardly Christian.”
Like any other Institutionalized religion Catholicism demands that its followers adopt a particular way of expressing the faith along with a prepared set of beliefs. Religious institutions demand that dissent from church teachings is not acceptable and can be met with certain censures and even excommunication. But how do these demands meet our understanding of God? While a lot will depend on our cultural and family background the bible suggests that God gave us complete freedom to choose. Scripture tells us that God proposed only two primary conditions necessary to receive his daily blessings to be shared among all his people and that was ‘to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your entire mind. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ We are free to accept or reject God’s offer of love. Even when we reject God it does not mean that God stops loving us. God’s love is unconditional. Only a merciful God is able to accept us after we have rejected Him again and again in our broken condition. Should religious institutions not follow suit? Neither is God’s salvation limited to the converted or the ‘religious’. Scripture tells us “for he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil”. Should religious institutions not follow suit?
People celebrate their love for God in many different ways, but some have been made to believe that God can only be reached by following a prescribed form of prayer or particular form of liturgy. Yet Jesus tells us “There are many rooms in my Father’s house and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am”. There is no hint here about exclusivity instead Jesus speaks of the many rooms where unconditional diversity brings us together in unity. Should we think that failure to accept certain religious teachings is a sin and a rejection of God? Then remember that God meets us where we are. And know that when our heart is right so God will respect and judge our decision. Should religious institutions not follow suit?
Recently I came across a blog which seems to put the primacy of conscience in its proper perspective.
The perfect Scriptural example using one’s God given conscience is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. To any objective observer, such an act would be murder! Can you imagine Sarah’s reaction if God had permitted the sacrifice to occur? Put yourself in Abraham’s place. How was Abraham certain that it was God, rather than his ego, who demanded the sacrifice of Isaac?
Should religious institutions not respect an individual's primacy of an informed conscience when they cannot obey their teachings?
Readers may also be interested in 'How dissenters from Galileo to John Courtney Murray have helped the church to see mare clearly' which orginally appeared in the U.S. Catholic, July 28, 2008 by Jesuit Fr. Robert J. McCLory under the title 'When Wrong Turns Out To Be Right'.