Monday, June 4, 2012

The "Banned By Benedict" list: Books the CDF doesn't want you to read

UPDATE 6/5/2012: As of 1 p.m. today, Sr. Margaret Farley's book, Just Love, is No. 16 on Amazon's best seller list. It broke onto the list yesterday at No. 21 and was at No. 19 by this morning. Thank you, CDF, for the publicity generated by your notification. I wonder if we can kick the book up to No.1...that would be awesome.

I owe the title and concept to Mike R., a reader who used it in a commentary on a posting on National Catholic Reporter's Facebook Page and, as a librarian who abhors censorship in all its forms, I decided to implement it. Here is a short list of titles -- and people -- who have received the (unwanted) attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and therefore deserve our attention:


1. I use the term "banned" advisedly. Obviously, the Vatican no longer actually bans books but the notifications have an adverse affect on freedom of theological expression and thought and they are intended, in part, to keep the works out of circulation in Catholic classrooms, bookstores, and libraries. The Vatican used to keep the Index Librorum Prohibitorum which was first promulgated by Paul IV in 1559 and underwent several revisions before it was formally abolished under Paul VI in 1966. Many of what we now regard as the classics of French literature such as Victor Hugo's Les misérables, Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir, and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary appeared on that list and Catholics were formally instructed not to read these prohibited books...which may explain why the Catholic Church no longer has much influence in France. Given a choice between faith and culture, the French chose their culture.

2. The above list refers only to cases where notifications or other advisory communications were issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It does not include cases where the notifications were issued by a national bishops' conference, which is why you don't see Sr. Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God or Fr. José Antonio Pagola's El camino abierto por Jesús. Marcos. It also only includes incidents in which a formal conclusion has been published, not when an investigation has been launched by the CDF, which is why you don't see Pagola's Jesus: An Historical Approximation, though this book is worthwhile and should be purchased pre-emptively in protest.

3. As we look at the list, the CDF is obviously targeting men and women religious in most cases. The main outlier, and the one that is a mystery to me as to why the CDF would have bothered to issue a notification about her, is Vassula Rydén. I would love to know the story behind that one. The most glaring omission from the list, in my view, is German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann whose two major works, Putting away childish things: the Virgin birth, the empty tomb, and other fairy tales you don't need to believe to have a living faith and Eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven: Women, sexuality, and the Catholic Church, are a far greater threat to the Magisterium than many of the works that do appear on this list. Maybe Benedict the theologian has a soft spot for his former classmate, or maybe the Church doesn't care since Dr. Ranke-Heinemann declared herself excommunicated and left her chair in Catholic theology at Essen after she wrote her books. Maybe the Vatican knows that by issuing notifications, they draw attention to works that otherwise would be of minimal interest to most lay Catholics...and that would make her case simply too hot to handle.


  1. Makes me want to read all of them, even though I have read half already.

  2. It is very interesting to know about Vassula Ryden!

    Mrs Ryden does not accept the truth of the two notifications of the CDF

    Notification of Cardinal Ratzinger in 1995

    Notification of cardinal Levada in 2007