It is polite and courteous to give someone the benefit of the doubt….and an exercise of Christian virtue as well. Vatican PR — during this sexual abuse Roman Catholic tsunami – – would have us believe that Pope Benedict has learned a few things and is now more open-minded and better attuned to contemporary movements and issues. I hope so. Nevertheless, as I see how the abysmal new English missal has been imposed on the Anglo-speaking world, how nineteenth-century-minded Opus Dei bishops are springing up like mushrooms after a Spring rain, and how the far-to-the-right Legio Christi is being reconstituted, I have my doubts. Yes of course you can teach an old dog new tricks. I don’t think however that this old German shepherd has given up his nineteenth century theological ethos.
After the Second Vatican Council Joseph Ratzinger spoke of Gaudium et spes as in spots “downright Pelagian,” as too optimistic, reflecting too much Thomas Aquinas and too little Augustine of Hippo. Ratzinger’s emphasis was more on the Cross than the Incarnation, as when he wrote: “an orientation of the Church towards the world which would mean a turning away from the Cross would lead not to a renewal of the Church but to its decline and eventual decay.”
In the first twenty years after the Vatican II, the approach and the method of Gaudium et spes largely prevailed in pastoral practice and in theological reflection. Emphasis given to experience in catechesis and stress placed on terms like “relevance.” One thinks immediately of theologians – greatly disliked by theologian Ratzinger – like Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan and Edward Schillebeeckx. One thinks as well about successive efforts to construct a theology of secularization, a theology of hope, a political theology, a theology of liberation in several forms, contextual theologies for various cultural and historical contexts.
Today, however, the prevailing theology that has won Roman favor is not the one that was taken in Gaudium et spes. The approach of a Karl Rahner or an Edward Schillebeeckx, which looks for points of contact with contemporary culture, has been replaced by an approach typical, say, of Henri de Lubac, Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. What is being proposed is often called a “a postmodern Augustinian Thomism.”
It is all rather strange. It is in fact so very Augustinian that I doubt that it could be called any kind of Thomism and certainly not modern. It is a theology that sees the world caught up in hopeless chaos: the new barbarians are at the gates and it is the contemporary culture of death vs. the ecclesiastical civilization of love. The possibility of dialogue is denied in favor of out-talking and ignoring the “progressives” and “dissenters.” For the new Augustinians, like Ratzinger, it is black or white: It is the Gospel or post-modern chaos. “Unless you believe you will not understand” was the old Augustinian theme. It is being applied today with such energy and with so little nuance that I think even Augustine must be turning in his grave.
Lest we forget, I suggest a re-reading of the major condemnations of contemporary theology and theologians that came from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Perspectives on the theology of Pope Benedict XVI
Timeline of principal doctrinal decisions, documents, 1981-2005
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Here is a list of the principal public documents and
decisions issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to
2005 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect of the office. He was elected
Pope Benedict XVI April 19.
– March 12, 1983: Notification reaffirming the excommunication of
traditionalist Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc, formerly of Hue, Vietnam, and
his accomplices for the illicit ordination of priests and bishops.
– Oct. 4, 1983: Notification to Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle
that an apostolic visitation of his archdiocese would be conducted, focused
primarily on liturgy, the education of seminarians, clergy formation, the
marriage tribunal and ministry to homosexuals. (The process ended with the
appointment in 1985 of an auxiliary bishop who was given primary responsibility over
many areas of archdiocesan governance.)
– Nov. 26, 1983: “Declaration on Masonic Associations,” saying Masonic
principles and rituals “embody a naturalistic” religion incompatible with
Christianity. Those who knowingly embrace the principles or attend the rituals are
involved in serious sin and may not receive Communion.
– Aug. 6, 1984: “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of
Liberation,’” although applauding efforts to promote social justice, criticized
theologians who borrow “uncritically” from Marxist ideology, reducing salvation to
the liberation of the poor from worldly oppressors.
– March 11, 1985: Notification on the book “Church: Charism and Power” by
Brazilian Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, who argued that the church’s current
hierarchical structure was not that intended by Christ and that authority can
spring from the community of the faithful. The notification said the book was
“dangerous” and asked Father Boff to refrain from publishing or speaking
publicly for one year.
– March 22, 1986: “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation,” a
second document on liberation theology providing guidelines for the theology’s
development, insisting it have as its goal the liberation of people from sin, not
simply from sinful social structures.
– July 10, 1986: Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger head of a
12-member commission charged with drafting the “Catechism of the Catholic
Church.” The text was released in French in 1992 and in English in 1994.
– July 25, 1986: Letter regarding the suspension of U.S. Father Charles E.
Curran from teaching Catholic theology because of his dissenting views on
several issues in sexual ethics. Father Curran was a professor of theology at The
Catholic University of America, Washington.
– Sept. 15, 1986: Notification on the book “The Church With a Human Face: A
New and Expanded Theology of Ministry” by Dominican Father Edward
Schillebeeckx, saying the book was “in disagreement with the teaching of the church,”
particularly regarding ordination and the possibility of lay people presiding at
the Eucharist. However, the doctrinal congregation did not apply any penalties
to the Belgian-born priest, who already had retired from teaching.
– Oct. 1, 1986: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the
Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” The letter called for “special concern and
pastoral attention” to homosexuals, but also for clarity that homosexual activity
– Feb. 22, 1987: “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and
on the Dignity of Procreation,” clarifying the church’s position on assisted
fertilization techniques and other biomedical issues, reaffirming teaching that
an embryo is human from the moment of conception and that conception is moral
only in the context of sexual intercourse within marriage.
– June 29, 1988: Telegram warning traditionalist French Archbishop Marcel
Lefebvre he would be in schism if he ordained bishops without papal consent.
The archbishop went ahead with the ordinations and died in schism.
– Feb. 16, 1989: Note regarding the moral rule of “Humanae Vitae” and
pastoral duty, saying couples who find it difficult to follow church teaching about
birth control “deserve great respect and love,” but the church is firm in
teaching that contraception is an “intrinsically disordered act” that is
prohibited without exception.
– Oct. 15, 1989: “Letter on Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation,”
cautioning Catholics about using Buddhist, Hindu and other meditation techniques
that place the focus of prayer on the self rather than on God.
– May 24, 1990: “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,“
underlining the important role theologians have in clarifying, explaining and
exploring church teaching, but also calling on theologians who disagree with
church teaching not to use the mass media to publicize their views or try to
pressure for change in the church.
– Jan. 31, 1992: Note on the book “The Sexual Creators, an Ethical Proposal
for Concerned Christians” by Canadian Oblate Father Andre Guindon. The
Vatican said the book presented questionable views on premarital sex, homosexual
relationships and contraception, particularly because Father Guindon seemed to
reduce moral goodness to subjective human intentions.
– March 30, 1992: “Instruction on Some Aspects of the Use of the
Instruments of Social Communication in Promoting the Doctrine of the Faith,” reaffirming
church law requiring prepublication theological review of manuscripts dealing
with church teaching.
– May 28, 1992: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some
Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion,” emphasizing the essential bond
between the local church and universal church, particularly through recognition of
the authority of the pope.
– July 23, 1992: “Some Considerations Concerning the Response to
Legislative Proposals on Nondiscrimination of Homosexual Persons,” saying, “It is not
unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account” when making laws
concerning “adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic
coaches and in military recruitment.”
– Sept. 14, 1994: “Letter to Bishops Regarding the Reception of Holy
Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful,” saying the church
cannot ignore Jesus’ clear teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and
reaffirming that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Communion.
– Oct. 28, 1995: Response to questions about the doctrine contained in the
apostolic letter, “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” saying the church’s teaching that
women cannot be ordained priests belongs “to the deposit of faith” and has
been taught “infallibly” by Pope John Paul.
– Jan. 2, 1997: Notification on the book “Mary and Human Liberation” by Sri
Lankan Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, saying the book contained heretical
statements regarding Mary, original sin, Christ’s redemptive role and papal
infallibility. The Oblate was excommunicated, but reconciled with the church a
– May 30, 1997: Revised “Regulations for Doctrinal Examination” of
theologians and their work, encouraging a more direct role for the theologian’s bishop
or religious superior, allowing the possibility of naming an advocate and an
adviser for the theologian, and permitting face-to-face meetings between the
theologian and congregation members.
– Aug. 15, 1997: Publication of the final Latin “typical edition” of the
“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” containing some corrections and additions to
the 1992 text, including a stronger condemnation of the death penalty and an
acknowledgment that science has not determined the cause of homosexuality.
– June 24, 1998: Posthumous notification concerning the writings of Indian
Jesuit Father Anthony De Mello, saying some of the priest’s views “are
incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.” It particularly cited
those views presenting God as an impersonal cosmic reality, organized
religion as an obstacle to self-awareness and Jesus as one master among many.
– Oct. 31, 1998: “Considerations on ‘The Primacy of the Successor of Peter
in the Mystery of the Church,’” saying that, although Pope John Paul called
for an ecumenical discussion of how primacy could be exercised in a united
church, “the full communion desired by Christ among those who confess to be his
disciples requires the common recognition of a universal ecclesial ministry,” and
the Catholic faith holds that that ministry belongs to the pope.
– May 31, 1999: Notification regarding School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine
Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent, barring the U.S. team from
further pastoral ministry to homosexuals, saying they advanced “doctrinally
unacceptable” positions “regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the
objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.”
– June 26, 2000: Publication of a 43-page booklet containing the complete
“Message of Fatima,” including the so-called “third secret” given to three
Portuguese children in 1917. In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger said the third
part of the message is a symbolic prophecy of the church’s 20th-century
struggles with evil political systems and of the church’s ultimate triumph.
– Aug. 6, 2000: “Dominus Iesus,” a declaration on the “exclusive, universal
and absolute” value of Jesus Christ and his church for salvation.
– Sept. 14, 2000: “Instruction on Prayers for Healing,” noting the
importance of believing that God wants to free people from suffering, but encouraging
local bishops to be vigilant that the services do not become occasions for
hysteria or focus more on the so-called gift of healing possessed by certain
individuals than on God.
– Jan. 24, 2001: Notification on the book “Toward a Christian Theology of
Religious Pluralism” by Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Dupuis, warning that
although Father Dupuis’ intentions were good his 1997 book contained ambiguous
statements and insufficient explanations that could lead readers to “erroneous or
harmful conclusions” about Christ’s role as the unique and universal savior.
– Feb. 22, 2001: Notification regarding certain writings of Redemptorist
Father Marciano Vidal, a Spanish moral theologian. At the congregation’s
request, the priest agreed to revise several of his books to emphasize the church’s
official position on contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion and
– May 18, 2001: Letter to all bishops “regarding the more serious offenses,
‘graviora delicta’ reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith.” The letter said Pope John Paul had given the congregation juridical control
over cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, classifying it as one of
several “graver offenses” against church law. The other offenses include acts
committed by priests against the sanctity of the Eucharist and against the
sacrament of penance.
– July 1, 2001: Note on the doctrinal decrees concerning the thought and
work of Father Antonio Rosmini, saying positions attributed to the Italian
philosopher and condemned by the Vatican in 1887 did not accurately reflect Father
Rosmini’s thinking. The 2001 decision removed a major stumbling block to the
19th-century priest’s beatification.
– Aug. 5, 2002: Publication of the declaration of the excommunication of
seven Catholic women from various countries who had attempted to be ordained
Catholic priests. The congregation had sent them a warning July 10 asking them to
indicate their “repentance for the most serious offense they had committed.”
The Vatican said the ordaining bishop, the leader of a breakaway church, had
already been excommunicated.
– Jan. 16, 2003: Doctrinal note on the participation of Catholics in
political life saying that while Catholics are free to choose among political
parties and strategies for promoting the common good, they cannot claim that freedom
allows them to support abortion, euthanasia or other attacks on human life.
– Feb. 7-14, 2003: Revised norms issued for dealing with “serious offenses”
against the sacraments; the new norms included an expedited process for
laicizing priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.
– July 31, 2003: “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal
Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” reaffirming church teaching
requiring compassion for homosexuals, but saying legal recognition of gay unions is
contrary to human nature and ultimately harmful to society.
– July 31, 2004: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the
Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” saying the
subjugation of women is the result of original sin and not of God’s original design
for creation. Rather than ignore the God-given differences between men and
women, the church calls on them to collaborate for the good of the family, society
and the church.
– Dec. 13, 2004: Notification regarding the book “Jesus Symbol of God” by
U.S. Jesuit Father Roger Haight, which said the book contained “serious
doctrinal errors against the Catholic and divine faith of the church,” particularly
regarding the divinity of Jesus and the universality of salvation in him. The
Jesuit was forbidden to teach as a Catholic theologian.
– Feb. 11, 2005: Statement and commentary reaffirming church teaching that
only priests can administer the anointing of the sick and saying the doctrine
must be “definitively” accepted by Catholics.