The Spirit of the Inquisition

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,870552-1,00.html

“Even today the spirit of the Inquisition and unfreedom has not died out,” said the Rev. Hans Küng, dean of the Roman Catholic theological faculty at Germany’s Tübingen University, in a lecture on “The Church and Freedom” that he delivered across the U.S. last spring. Such polemics, directed at conservative Italians in the Roman Curia, drew big, interested crowds—3,000 at Boston College, 5,000 in Chicago, 6,000 in San Francisco. The Jesuit-run St.Louis University gave Küng an honorary doctorate of laws, hailing himas “a man of vision.”

Many clerics firmly believe that youthful Theologian Küng’s criticisms denigrate some venerable, valuable institutions of the church, and for them that doctorate was the last straw. On May 25, while Pope John XXIII was dying, Rome’s Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities issued an instruction that would require Catholic universities to get clearance from Rome before awarding honorary degrees. The author of the decree is believed to be Archbishop Dino Staffa, who is the chief assistant to Giuseppe Cardinal Pizzardo, the congregation’s conservative prefect.

Speaking of Stupidities. Explaining the instruction last week, Staffa argued that Catholic universities have recently been giving out too many honorary degrees, often to men who are “not worthy of merit.” Asked if Küng, who is a peritus (theological expert) of the Vatican Council, fell into this category, the archbishop replied that “there are many periti of the council who speak stupidities.” As far as Küng is concerned, “if we give honorary doctorates to him, it would seem that we approve his ideas.” Staffa claimed that the instruction is still under study by the congregation, but many schools have received it (and a few have scornfully pigeonholed it).

Why Staffa has little liking for Küng’s ideas is easy to see. In his new collection of essays and papers called The Council in Action (Sheed & Ward; $4.50), Küng pleads for such reforms as internationalization of the Roman Curia, reduction of its power, greater authority for regional councils of bishops. He speaks of “reactionary doctrinaire tendencies” in certain council fathers, and dismisses the agenda items drawn up for the council by the Curia-dominated preparatory commission as “ill-prepared, partisan schemata.”

Not one of these views is heretical, although some Catholics feel that Küng shows excessive zeal in pointing out the defects of the church. Küng is still listed as one of the council’s theological experts, but there are rumors of an instruction pending in Rome that might restrict his freedom to publish or give public speeches. If so, Küng would join a long list of distinguished Catholic thinkers who have been silenced, at least temporarily, by Curia officials.

The great Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was forbidden to publish his nontechnical works during his lifetime. In recent years, three of France’s finest theologians—Jesuit Henri de Lubac and Dominicans Yves Congar and M. D. Chenu—have been temporarily relieved from teaching posts and forced to submit their writings to the Holy Office for special censorship. Last year Austrian Jesuit Karl Rahner was required to submit all future writings to his superior in Rome for clearance, a restriction since lifted; Father John Courtney Murray of the U.S. was advised not to write any more on his special field of study, church-state relations. “In the Catholic Church of the 20th century,” a U.S. priest dryly explains, “the grace of martyrdom has been given to the intellectual.”

At Odds with Renewal. Such direct measures may have been acceptable in other ages, but many Catholics believe they are out of keeping with the renewal of the church urged by Pope John. In the Jesuit weekly America, Father Robert Graham makes a strong case for a new “civil rights” policy that would include a drastic overhaul of Holy Office procedures. A number of bishops—reportedly including New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman—have protested the instruction by the Congregation of Seminaries, and Pizzardo has advised papal nuncios and apostolic delegates not to circulate the decree.

The existence of the order suggests that any considerable change in the methods of the Holy See will have to be carried out by the council. Like John XXIII before him, Paul VI seems to have discovered that elevation to the most powerful spiritual office on earth does not automatically give him control of Rome’s vast bureaucracy. “It has been written of my predecessor that he once said, ‘I’m in a bag here,’ ” the Pope told a friend recently. “Well, I’m not in a bag. I’m inside a crusher.”

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