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 for celibacy:

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)



Warning of 'Just Punishment' for Those Who Resist His Changes in Canon Law


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 punishment."

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 rulings irreversible.

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 it.

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 well known.

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 officials said.

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 in 1986.

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 statement.

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 ordination."

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 10 years.

"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 States.

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 out.

"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 and discuss."

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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