Pope muzzles Theologians -
and maybe others
Once again the Pope of Rome is in the news acting ever more strongly
and sweepingly to bring unity to the Catholic Church. However, his actions
may hasten that which he aims to forestall. To some, his actions reveal
fear, and suggest the time for the undoing of the Church may be coming upon
us. The latest events: the June 4, 1998 New York Times ran a frontpage headline
"John Paul Moves to Stifle dissent on heated issues - Slap at
Church Liberals." Five days later the Times had an article
entitled "Pope's Guidance on dissent Provokes New Debate in the
U.S." We have included both these articles below.
Some of the terminology is technical. Essentially, the Pope has declared
that more views of his are now infallible - including controversial
positions on women's ordination. He has first of all squelched Theologians.
However, it is not clear where he has drawn the line - priests and even
lay people may also be affected. He has announced "just punishment"
for those who don't shut up.
Since infallibility is an underlying issue here we wanted to say some
more. Somewhere in her writings we recall Blavatsky pointing out that the
doctrine of papal infallibility is only recent having occurred around 1871
(just before she had started her active work). It is so surprising to so
many people that the doctrine of infallibility is so recent that we would
like to present some detail.
The First Vatican Council (1869/70) was convoked to put an end to the
spiritual confusion of the 19th century, which affected even Christians,
by clarifying the Catholic faith and the Catholic view of the Church. The
Syllabus had been the first step. The only constitutions to be promulgated
were the Dei Filius, dealing with the relation between faith and
knowledge, and Pastor Aeternus, dealing with the extent of papal
jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility. The council ended prematurely
with the occupation of the Papal States by Piedmontese troops as a result
of the Franco-Prussian War; decrees in preparation on the Church and pastoral
questions never reached the voting stage. The definition of the Pope's
primacy and infallibility, intended as part of a comprehensive definition
of the Church, thus remaind a torso. The primacy question presented the
greater difficulty in view of the inherent rights of the diocesan bishops.
But widespread alarm was aroused by "infallibility"
even before the council opened. yet this definition did not have the unhappy
consequences which had been feared. While excluding existing Gallican
ideas, it also set limits to extreme ultramontane views; in substance it
did not go beyond the traditional doctrinal teachings of the 13th and 16th
centuries. The declaration of universal jurisdiction of the Pope, on the
other hand, was fraught with far greater cosequences in the intensification
of curial centralization. (From Encyclopedia of Theology - the Concise
Sacramentum Mundi. A heavily pro-Catholic document. Entry under Council.)
In other words, the infallibility of the Pope had not been an official
part of Church teaching prior to 1869! When the doctrine was raised for
consideration at the council, it caused "widespread alarm"! But
it turned out that some extremist positions were not adopted!
Another issue at stake in this recent round is the Pope choosing celibacy
for the priests - now infallibly. You may be interested to know that as
an official doctrine this was first enunciated by Pope Gregory about the
year 1000. His motive, clearly known, was to avoid having the church lose
financial assets to the wives and family of the priests. Lets put it more
directly: it was cheaper for the church if priests did not marry. This was
the real life origin of the doctrine that now this Pope has pronounced "infallible".
As evidence for this shockingly mundane origin of church policy we quote
again from the same Encyclopedia of Theology (Catholic) under the entry
A historical factor in the promotion of celibacy in the Middle Ages
was the problem which had already exercised minds in the 5th and 6th centuries
- the effort to prevent the alienation of Church property, which
might otherwise pass into the possession of the priest's family.
The apostolic letter expressing these views of the Pope was first offered
to the world only in Latin and Italian. A temporary English translation
of the letter is here.
You will see phrases there that are quite alien to independent thinking.
For a refreshing contrast of view, and to close this issue, we quote
Blavatsky on education:
Children should above all be taught self-reliance, love for all men,
altruism, mutual charity, and more than anything else, to think and
reason for themselves. ... We should aim at creating free
men and women, free intellectually, free morally, unprejudiced
in all respects and above all things, unselfish. And we believe
that much if not all of this could be obtained by proper and truly theosophical
education. (p270-1 Key to Theosophy)
JOHN PAUL MOVES TO STIFLE DISSENT ON HEATED ISSUES
SLAP AT CHURCH LIBERALS
Warning of 'Just Punishment' for Those Who Resist His Changes in Canon
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
ROME, June 30 -- In one of his sharpest rebukes to liberal Catholics
to date, Pope John Paul II today made changes in canon law aimed at stamping
out debate on a wide range of passionately discussed issues, including euthanasia
and the ordination of women.
Reasserting the articles of faith that are "definitive" and
binding to all Catholics, the Pope today inscribed those teachings into
church law, and warned that those who dissent would be subject to "just
Many Roman Catholic theologians in the United States have questioned
Rome's authority on doctrinal matters. In an apostolic letter that was made
public by the Vatican today, the Pope made it clear that he was addressing
-- and reining in -- those academics.
The apostolic letter was both an act of Vatican housekeeping and a cornerstone
laid down for this Pope's legacy. On one hand, the Pope was merely filling
a gap to the code of canon law, but his eagerness to make his teachings
as clear, and binding, as possible was one of the most vivid signs yet that
in the twilight of his papacy, John Paul II, at 78, is seeking to make his
The Pope explained that he was acting "to defend the faith of the
Catholic Church against errors that arise on the part of some of the faithful,
above all those who dedicate themselves to the disciplines of holy theology."
The Pope's letter addressed the church's "profession of faith,"
a list of essential Catholic beliefs that the Pope reformulated in 1989.
All clergymen and Catholic teachers and theologians are required to follow
By inscribing his teachings about the articles of faith into canon law,
Pope John Paul II said he was establishing norms that would "impose
the duty to observe the truths."
Today's decree is likely to disappoint those theologians who had hoped
to keep open a discussion of women's ordination, among other things. But
John Paul II had previously made his opposition to any such deliberations
Canon law covers such grave crimes as heresy and a refusal to accept
what the church considers "divinely revealed truths," as well
as far lesser crimes, but did not deal with those who disavow truths that
the church holds to be "definitive." In a sense, he was closing
a loophole that had allowed some theologians to expound a more liberal interpretation
on some issues than Rome ever has.
The apostolic letter did not specify which teachings the Pope was addressing,
but it was published along with a highly detailed doctrinal commentary written
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith and who is the Vatican's leading conservative thinker. Cardinal
Ratzinger's definitions of what constitutes "infallibly taught"
doctrine are likely to rekindle debate among the very theologians the Vatican
had hoped to silence. His document mentioned sexual relations outside marriage,
euthanasia and the ordination of women.
Dissenters, the Cardinal warned, "would be in a position of rejecting
a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion
with the Catholic Church."
The consequences could range from warnings to excommunication, some church
It was not the first time the Pope has moved to bring dissenting theologians
to heel. The Rev. Charles E. Curran, an American priest who differed with
the Vatican on contraception, homosexuality and other issues, was stripped
of his right to teach Catholic theology at Catholic University in Washington
Last year the Vatican excommunicated a Sri Lankan priest, Tissa Ba lasuriya,
for challenging papal authority and important teachings. The decision was
reversed after he signed a profession of faith and a short reconciliation
In 1989, the Vatican added a category of fundamental truths like the
ban on contraception and on the marriage of priests. At the same time, it
broadened the doctrine to require theologians teaching in church-sponsored
schools and universities to pledge that they would follow it. Many American
Catholics viewed the development as a blow to academic freedom.
Now there is a fear that canon law could be used to further clamp down
on dissent. "The obvious purpose could be to unite the church, but
the real consequence could be to divide it,". said the Rev. Richard
McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. "The
last thing the Catholic Church needs is heresy-hunting or demands for oath-taking
or any finger-pointing."
Many American theologians were already troubled by a papal apostolic
letter in 1994 forbidding the ordination of women. The Congregation for
the Doctrine of Faith issued a document in 1995 insisting that the Pope's
ruling on the matter was "infallibly taught."
Last year, the Catholic Theological Society of America challenged that
interpretation and asked the Vatican for further study of the question.
Today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which published a "doctrinal
commentary" alongside the papal decree, cited the ban on women becoming
priests as an example of doctrine that is "infallibly taught."
That doctrine, among others, was enshrined in canon law by today's decree.
And that is likely to disappoint many American theologians. "Church
documents have to be read very carefully, but on the face of it, this appears
to be quite troubling," said Dr. Jon Nilson, a professor at Loyola
University in Chicago, and a member of the Catholic Theological Society
of America. "Women's ordination is at the forefront of issues in the
process of reconciliation with other Christian churches. If you are serious
about unity within the churches, you have to keep open discussion of women's
There were other signs that reconciliation with Protestant faiths was
not paramount in Cardindal Ratzinger's mind. In his list of articles of
faith that are "definitively held" by the church and therefore
"infallibly taught," the Cardinal included the declaration by
Pope Leo XIII on the "invalidity of Anglican ordinations." While
the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican ordinations, it has made
huge strides at ecumenical reconciliation with its sister church. The timing
of the reference was awkward: a few weeks before 800 Anglican bishops, who
include women, meet at the Lambeth Conference, which takes place once every
"That touches a pretty tender nerve," said the Rev. Francis
Sullivan, a Jesuit who teaches in the theology department of Boston College.
"The fact that he would include the declaration of invalidity as
an example of what is infallibly taught is going to raise a reaction from
our Anglican brethren -- and from many Catholics."
Pope's Guidance on Dissent Provokes New Debate in the U.S.
Some see mandate from the Vatican as a limit on speech.
by Nadine Brozan New York Times 7/4/98
In issuing an apostolic letter this week deeming some of the most con
troversial issues within the Roman Catholic Church beyond debate -- including
euthanasia, the ordination of women and sexual relations out side marriage
-- Pope John Paul II ignited new debate among Roman Catholics in the United
While the letter made clear that the Pope was addressing Catholic theologians
in the United States who question the Vatican's authority on doctrine, threatening
"just punishment" for dissenters, it left the Pope's supporters
and his questioners, parish priests and lay people, trying to decipher the
decree, whether it restricts freedom of speech, and how it is to be carried
"I would see it rather as a clarification of certain issues that
have been discussed by theologians," John Cardinal O'Connor of New
York said in a statement criticizing assertions that the letter's effects
would be stifling, and that it was a slap at liberal elements in the church.
"I welcome it and I am looking forward to seeing the entirety of the
docunient so that I can promulgate it in the archdiocese of New York in
the manner I think it was intended."
Cardinal O'Connor was not alone in waiting to read the Pope's letter.
One problem for priests and lay people was that the letter, which inscribed
into church law the articles of faith that are "definitive" and
binding to all Catholics, was released only in Italian and Latin.
The Rev. Walter Modrys, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park
Avenue in Manhattan, said he was struggling with the prospect of explaining
and possibly defending the letter in church.
"An awful lot of people in the church don't accept the prohibition
against women being ordained," Father Modrys said. "To declare
that the church believes this is an infallible truth, when a lot of people
in the church don't believe that or understand it, raises serious questions."
Is it then up to the laity to decide what to accept and what to reject?
"No," Father Modrys said, "it is not the personal whim
of the Pope that determines what is infallible, nor is it a popularity contest
to be decided by vote. But there is a great deal of wisdom and grace in
the laity, and we must not ignore that."
Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, a spokesman for the Diocese of Orange County
in California, which has 606,000 Roman Catholics in its jurisdiction, called
the letter "comforting" and added: "We have to have norms
and guidelines. We have to be able to recognize what is the truth and what
isn't. This should be seen as liberating, not oppressive."
Jo Iannello, a Catholic living in Los Angeles, said she supported the
expansion of canon law and punish ment for dissenters.
"Priests are there to interpret the reading of the gospel, not to
foist their opinions on people," she said. "They can think what
they like, but they can't vocalize it. I'm a Catholic person who believes
in the Pope, certainly not blindly but I believe in church policy. I don't
believe in smorgasbord Catholics who think that they can take parts of the
religion that they want and leave the rest."
If there was one issue that predominated, it was what some see as severe
restrictions on speech and thought.
"It's very disturbing that he would attempt to shut down public
debate over issues that people feel so strongly about in their church,"
Suzanne Snyder of St. Paul said as she walked out of St. Patrick's Cathedral
in Manhattan. "I don't think it will affect Catholics in the pews in
terms of how we think, but the Pope is effectively silencing the clergy
and the religious, and I think that's oppressive.
Tears coming to her eyes, she continued: "It won't drive me away
from the church, because I'll continue to adapt my faith as I see fit. But
what will happen to our clergy?"
Beth Lenort, 28, of Manhattan, who describes herself as a non-practicing
Catholic, said she expected the letter to alienate young people who are
already questioning the church's seeming authoritarianism.
"No one ever learned by not talking about something," Ms. Lenoi
said. "That tells me there's a fundamental fear about their stand.
The must have reservations about what they are mandating."
Frances Kissling, a practicing Catholic and president of Catholics for
a Free Choice, which works for the advancement of women's causes, particularly
reproductive rights, said, "This is a statement that in essence speaks
out against freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom to doubt
Still, Ms. Kissling said, she did not believe that the edict would drive
people away from the church.
"For the most part," she said, "people who are disturbed
by these issues have already left. What we have now are people committed
to staying, fighting and changing the church. We are not leaving."
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