Appeal by ‘silenced’ priests fails to elicit Vatican response

Dissident theologians accuse church watchdog of heartless, unchristian attitude

Fr Iggy O Donovan says Swiss theologian Hans Küng is ‘hopelessly optimistic’ in perceiving a ‘new freedom’ in the Vatican. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Fr Iggy O Donovan says Swiss theologian Hans Küng is ‘hopelessly optimistic’ in perceiving a ‘new freedom’ in the Vatican. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

An appeal by dissident theologians for “accountability and transparency” within the Catholic Church’s powerful Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has yet to receive a response from the Vatican authorities.

Vatican senior spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said he had not read the document, adding that it was very unlikely that there would be any public response from the CDF.

Other Holy See insiders suggested that there was nothing new in the dissidents’ critique, adding that it looked like similar criticism “voiced 10, 20 or 30 years ago”.

The appeal, written by 15 dissident and silenced theologians, including Irish priests Tony Flannery and Brian D’Arcy, was sent last February to German Cardinal, Ludwig Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

In their document, the dissidents repeat long held objections to the authoritarian, self-referential and seemingly heartless manner in which the Church’s theological watchdog body sanctions and disciplines dissenting priests, saying that the CDF “doesn’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the Catholic Church professes to uphold”.

They continued: “The CDF acts in ways that are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organisations.”

The dissidents’ appeal to the CDF attempts to enlist Pope Francis to their cause, pointing to a key consideration in his recent post-synodal exhortation, in which Francis wrote that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the Magisterium [Church teachings]”.

Ironically, the well-known dissident Swiss theologian, Hans Küng, pointed to exactly the same passage of the exhortation in an open letter published on Wednesday in which he speaks of a “new freedom” in the Vatican.

Recounting how he had been “overjoyed” to receive a letter from Pope Francis in response “to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility”, Küng writes of a “new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium”.

Vatican insiders, however, argue that Professor Küng may be a little over-optimistic, pointing out that the difficulties currently encountered by Pope Francis in his attempts to reform the Curia do not suggest any sort of “new spirit”.

Fr Flannery has recounted how by way of response to the dissident’s appeal, the CDF had instructed his superior general to send him a copy of “To Promote and Safeguard the Faith”, a 2015 CDF publication.

Augustinian theologian, Iggy O’Donovan, one of five Irish priests to have signed the appeal, told The Irish Times: “Küng has got it wrong. He is hopelessly optimistic. Pope Francis is a well-intentioned man but the Curia is fiendishly difficult to reform”