Theologian on the ropes: The integrity of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger comes under scrutiny

Fr Jacques Dupuis’ masterpiece, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, was published to widespread acclaim in 1997. The following year, Dupuis was told by the Jesuit Superior General, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, that the CDF had found “serious errors” in his work. He was devastated, and his health broke down.

Aug 25, 2017

By Jacques Dupuis. Introduced by Brendan Walsh
Fr Jacques Dupuis’ masterpiece, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, was published to widespread acclaim in 1997. The following year, Dupuis was told by the Jesuit Superior General, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, that the CDF had found “serious errors” in his work. He was devastated, and his health broke down.

In January 1999, Cardinal Franz König, retired Archbishop of Vienna and a prominent personality at the Second Vatican Council, defended Dupuis in an article in The Tablet. A few weeks later, a defence of the actions of the CDF appeared – also in The Tablet. It was written by Cardinal Ratzinger, and expressed his “astonishment” and “sadness” at König’s article, and claimed that the CDF’s action “had consisted simply in sending some confidential questions to Fr Dupuis and nothing more than that”.

Fr Dupuis’ hearing at the CDF was eventually scheduled for 9.30am on Monday September 4, 2000. The previous weekend Dupuis had been sent a 15-page Notification, along with the text of the hugely controversial CDF declaration Dominus Iesus. Both documents had been officially approved by Pope John Paul II. Dupuis was accompanied by Fr Kolvenbach and by his friend and advisor Gerald O’Collins SJ; Cardinal Ratzinger sat in the middle; Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the CDF, and Angelo Amato (as a CDF consultor) were seated opposite. Dupuis takes up the story.

This meeting was the first time, after having lived in Rome 16 years by then, that I met Cardinal Ratzinger and had the occasion to talk to him; it is, even today, after more than 18 years in Rome, the only time that we have met. The meeting was due to start at 9.30am. In fact, Fr Kolvenbach, myself, and Fr O’Collins were kept waiting in a small parlour for about half an hour before the other participants showed up. The September Roman heat was oppressive in a room without ventilation or air-conditioning. It lasted two full hours, without a coffee break — we were told explicitly that coffee was not available — and was tense though polite.

Cardinal Ratzinger and his secretary opened the proceedings with some general observations. The cardinal observed that the Notification did not prejudge my “subjective thought” — whatever this expression might mean; it judged the book at its face value and in its objective content.

The cardinal further remarked that at no time during the proceedings so far had I expressed a wish to meet personally with someone on the staff of the Congregation, which he interpreted as a sign of my agreement with its findings. He congratulated himself on what he called the process of “dialogue” which had been going on between the CDF and myself — whatever concept of dialogue might be implied in the affirmation. He hoped that the session might end with an agreement on both sides and my signature on the text of the Notification, thus attesting my agreement with it.

Not much time was in fact spent on discussing which errors against the faith were or were not actually contained in the book. The intervention made by Fr O’Collins was not challenged with any explicit reference to the text, even while all participants had in front of them a copy of its Italian edition. The consultor, Fr Amato, was conspicuously silent, though his own negative evaluation and open criticism of the book were well known, expressed as they had been, publicly, on previous occasions.

Cardinal Ratzinger looked embarrassed by this silence on the part of the accusation. Eventually, he himself raised a question with regard to the alleged incomplete nature of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. I held that the “fullness” of revelation in Christ does not and cannot “exhaust” the mystery of God. To which the cardinal objected that, since the person who speaks in Jesus is a divine person, it must be held that he reveals God completely and definitively.

My response was swift. I observed that divine revelation in Jesus has its source in Jesus’ human consciousness of being the Son of God in a unique manner, not in the divine self-knowledge, which is not communicated to Jesus’ human intellect. To postulate a communication to Jesus’ human intellect of the divine self-knowledge would smack — though this was not explicitly said — of monophysitism. The cardinal left the matter at that and passed on to practical questions.

The cardinal asked me whether I was disposed to sign the text of the Notification as it stood. My answer was that I could not sign a Notification about my book in which I was being accused of grievous errors against the faith, which were not substantiated with references or quotations.

In a last resort, the cardinal asked me whether I would be prepared to sign a declaration stating that my book must be interpreted in the light of Dominus Iesus, to be made public the next day. My answer this time was very circumspect; I stated that such a request “was asking too much from me.”

The meeting thus came to an end after two hours and more tense discussion. The Osservatore Romano carried no Notification on my book in September 2000. A document already approved and ordered by the Pope for publication was thus silently dropped — a rare happening, I suppose.

Judged even before the case was heard!
In December, Dupuis received a new, much shorter version of the Notification. It spoke of “ambiguities” but no longer of doctrinal errors or heresy. Despite his misgivings, he signed it. When it was finally published in February 2001, it included a passage added without his knowledge. In his memoir, Dupuis reflects on the way the affair had affected not only his health, but his relationship with the Church:

I felt, and continue even today to feel, like a broken man who can never fully recover from the suspicion, which the authority of my Church — a Church which I love and have served during my whole life — has thrust upon me. The joy of living has gone, perhaps never to return.

I had learnt that the Church is not the Roman Curia and its bureaucracy, the Church is the people of God gathered in Jesus Christ and deriving its worth and meaning from its Master and Lord. It is at once divine and human. We are the Church, the depository of God’s blessings to the world in Jesus Christ, but we carry this treasure in earthen vessels.

Nor did I hold the simple — too simple — distinction made by some official teaching: the Church is all holy even though her members may be sinful. This distinction is an implausible way of escaping from reality. I had experienced that the Church itself is sinful, that some of its structures, including some of its central authority, are sinful. That is why, not only the members but also the Church itself, is semper reformanda. That faith made possible for me to remain deeply committed to the Church which I loved in spite of what I was suffering at its hands.

We need to be convinced that we share at once in the Church’s holiness and sinfulness, and that we are all responsible for improving through reform and renewal the witness which it bears to the world in its structures as well as through its members. Yet the sinfulness of some Church structures needs to be denounced and corrected for its message to be credible.

One is surprised at the assurance with which Cardinal Ratzinger defends the total fairness of these norms against every criticism from authorities in the philosophy of law. The norms are established by the CDF for its own convenience and protection, and are not likely to be repudiated without the Pope’s approval. Even more than the injustice of these norms I would mention their impersonal and inhuman, and therefore un-Christian, character.

I had lived in Rome for 15 years without any suspicion in a matter of doctrine when, out of the blue, it hit me that I had been under investigation for who knows how long and that a Contestation of my work had been launched by the CDF after a consultation with consultors chosen for the purpose, and all of this under top secrecy. I began to wonder for how long I had had a file at the CDF.

When I was informed about the case, I was not allowed to know who my detractors were, much less anything about what appeared like a parody of a defence, the consultor who would speak pro auctore — Karl Becker, it would seem — being chosen by the cardinal prefect of the CDF without any reference to the accused. The roles of prosecution, defence and the court that would pronounce judgment were all combined in the same hands.

The members of the CDF who decided on the Contestation of the book had already formally judged it to contain grievous errors, even before the case had been heard. And so on. All personal contact was excluded till such time as I was called for the tragic meeting of September 4, 2000, where my signature on a Notification against my book was to be extorted from me under duress.

It was dishonest to add restrictions and threats to the second version of the Notification, which I had signed under pressure, thus creating the myth that I had agreed to a drastic curtailing of my freedom in speech and writing. To call all the procedures a prolonged and friendly dialogue between the authorities of the CDF and the author under trial was as trivial as it was dishonest, and it was hard to believe that high officials at the Roman Curia — in particular Cardinal Ratzinger himself — could indulge in public lies to hide the meanness of the procedure they followed.

The CDF returned to the attack against Dupuis’ work in 2004. Too ill to face another inquisition, Dupuis died on 28 December 2004, a few days after celebrating 50 years of priesthood. -- Tablet (Used with permission)

Do Not Stifle the Spirit: Conversations with Jacques Dupuis SJ by Gerard O’Connell is published by Orbis Books.

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