Pope has consistently come down on dissent within the church like a hammer


OPINION:TOMORROW is 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.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Corespondent

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.