18Apr Pope has consistently come down on dissent within the church like a hammer

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


9 Responses

  1. Pól

    Grim reading indeed.
    I was meditating on that very subject only last night and thinking of some of the pioneers of yore who had followed their conscience in the face of institutional opposition.
    One such was Anne Bieźanek. I Googled her only to find she had died just a year ago aged 83. I then put up this post as I strongly feel she should be remembered and what better time than now.

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Just to really cheer us all up there are two very interesting articles on the National Catholic Reporter site tonight. Firstly, Breaking News!! from John Allan ” Lefebvrite schism may be nearing end”. And then, if that was not bad enough, “Vatican orders LCWR ie–Religious Women — to revise” by Joshua McElwee.
    Goodnight and God bless.

  3. Mary Wood

    One exception of course is the official treatment of the followers of the late Archbishop Lefebvre (SSPX) who are back in the news. There’s a rumoured “reconciliation” on the cards.
    Know your future bedfellows -if, of course, you can bear to stay in the bed. There’s a discussion on the praytell website where Jonathan Day gives some details of positions held by SSPX.
    Day’s quotes begin in earnest under present numbering at
    #24 by Jonathan Day on April 18, 2012 – 2:37 pm – but as praytell re-numbers if someone inserts a reply to a comment, it’s safer to follow the time reference.

    Check out also Sister Joan Chittister’s comments on ncr about freedom of thought in relation to the draconian measures being taken against the US Leadership Conf of Women Religious, who represent 80% of US nuns.
    Sister Joan’s remarks are quoted by the writers, not given “straight.” Stern stuff though.

  4. joannes sacredotus

    By inference, Patsy says that the sight of those student priests from the North American College were a sign of despair; I would say that rather they were a sign of hope. What the priest is called to is to win souls for- as the Cure De Ars would say- for the Good Father ( God. If these students see in Benedict the means to achieving that, then we must rejoice.

  5. Jim Stack

    After years of reading Patsy McGarry’s contributions to the Irish Times, here is my summary of his approach to a typical piece on the Catholic Church:
    1. Assemble the facts
    2. Remove any facts which might reflect well on the Church
    3. Publish the remainder
    4. Get indignant

  6. Jane Murphy

    This has to be the most disturbing article to be written on this issue.
    We should have known that the silencing of Tony Flannery was not a once off .
    His treatment, and that given to Fr Sean Fagan, are just two examples, it seems, of this kind of horrific abuse ‘of silencing’ that is clearly systemic in the church.
    I despair at what our Church leaders have done to the Good News of Jesus Christ…
    “I came that you may have life and have it to the full”
    The media voice- as we learned from the exposing of sexual abuse- is the only one that the church cannot silence.
    We live in hope that there will be courageous, honorable journalists who will nail this sinful behaviour.

  7. Mary O Vallely

    Yes, as Joe said in another post, it does seem to smack of totalitarianism. However,let us not lose heart altogether. Today’s Psalm (34) reminds us that “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.He helps those whose spirit is crushed.” Remember also Peter’s words in today’s Reading, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.” (Acts 5:29)
    So the Vatican orders the LCWR in the US to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church” and has sent an AV to make sure they do. I wonder at the zeal, energy and determination for this work in getting everyone to tow the Papal line compared to the reluctance to have any real examination into WHY the abuse happened, WHY it was covered up; what was it in the structures and governance that allowed this to happen; why was it only when the secular agencies probed and forced them was there any admission?? Where was the zeal and energy then? Where was/is the compassion for suffering children?
    I fear that many,many more thinking Catholics will walk away now to search for Christ outside of the Church. The Temple/Thought Police will not even allow us to think for ourselves but we must stay strong and remain in solidarity with all those who truly are broken hearted after a lifetime of service to Christ and Christ’s people in the Catholic Church. Keep the hearts up and the prayers as never before. Courage! Mary V (Armagh)

  8. Martin

    Paddy, it should be a cause of rejoicing for all Catholics that our brothers are coming home to Rome. We should all hope and pray for a reconciliation with the SSPX, for truly they have a lot to offer the Church.

  9. Fintan Sheerin

    It’s strange…I just started reading Hans Kung’s ‘Infallible?’ and am perusing the 1989 preface by Herbert Haag. The context that Haag described then, 23 years ago, could be the situation in Ireland today. It is both fascinating and sad.