By Rafael Plaza Veiga (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 3, 2013
In reference to the scandals that have punctuated his pontificate, Benedict XVI has acknowledged that he has experienced "difficult times, where the waters were choppy, the winds against us, as in the whole history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping." Committed theologians provide clues about whether the God of the Roman Catholic Church was in fact "asleep", or definitely "dead".
The year 2006 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of a theologian who was, after Nietzsche did so in the late nineteenth century out of his radical atheism, the first who dared to speak out of his deep faith of the "death of God." At dawn on April 9, 1945, Protestant pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the son of Lutheran parents belonging to an upper middle class family who was born in Breslau in February 1906, was hanged in the concentration camp of Flossenburg. Bonhoeffer raised a disturbing question: "Do we need a Church?"
Nietzsche asked that question out of unbelief, Bonhoeffer, who knew very well that a "good Christian" is one who believes in a God who, precisely because of being one, "allows people to throw Him out of their lives", out of faith.
Christians today, "fatherless" orphans for a few days, are wondering again whether, thanks to the Church in which they believe, God is "sleeping", as Benedict XVI said just a few days before his retirement, or simply "dead". It may be that Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger and Bonhoeffer believed the same thing, deep in their hearts. That the death of the "Western God" was a good thing, even necessary. The so-called "radical theology of the death of God" had the honesty and courage to take seriously the "shadows" that Nietzsche's notion cast on "Christian" Europe.
The liberation theologians were fiercely condemned and humiliated by the last two popes. Many European and Latin American theologians did take it seriously over the last third of the 20th century. Bonhoeffer took the "death of God in modern times" quite seriously, not as an attitude of militant atheism, but as an experience of the Christian God who not only doesn't compete with man, but "lets us live in the world without this meaning that He is abandoning us." Hence the need, per Bonhoeffer, for a worldly, non-religious interpretation of Christianity. Only a faith that matches this deity, according to Bonhoeffer, "would be able to face with dignity and meet the challenge of modern atheism."
Many theologians have delved into this theory, until the "liberation theologians" emerged, who were fiercely condemned and humiliated by the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who, haunted perhaps by the contradictions he observed at the top of the Church that he had been ruling for the last eight years, saw the need to say, as he did on February 11, ending precisely on Thursday the 28th, "I can't take it anymore, and here I stop."
Frei Betto: "The Church is at risk of bicephalism"
Publico has dredged the thoughts of some current theologians to try to explain (before the machinery of the Conclave to elect a new Pope starts up) this shocking resignation by Benedict XVI a little more. Brazilian writer and Dominican friar Frei Betto (1944) -- the pseudonym of Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo -- along with a number of theologians, priests, bishops and representatives of liberation theology, suffered censorship and condemnation by Pope Wojtyla, and especially by Benedict XVI, both during his time as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Faith [sic] and during his pontificate. Unlike his former theological studies companion and even old friend, Hans Küng, Ratzinger has always been a staunch opponent of this movement, which emphasized the need to address social injustices from the Christian commitment to the "option for the poor." Hans Küng himself, the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff and many other supporters of liberation theology (Spaniards too), were strictly forbidden to teach theology at Catholic universities. The poor, much less "Christian critics", have not exactly been Benedict XVI's "preferential option".
"I'm very pessimistic about the new Pope changing the conservative course of the Catholic Church," Frei Betto, author of Fidel & Religion among many other books, just declared in Brazil. "Benedict XVI will have a key role in the election of the new Pope, so that the Church runs the risk of bicephalism, since the elected one will never do anything that displeases his predecessor." So, Betto added, "the new pontiff will keep the ban on issues like abortion, the end of celibacy for priests, the use of condoms, the use of stem cells, the right of women to the priesthood, homosexual unions,...being debated in the Church."
"We won't know what the new Pope thinks until after Ratzinger's death," the Brazilian theologian opined. For Frei Betto, Benedict XVI has been an epigone of Pope Wojtyla -- both refused to put into practice the decisions of Vatican II (1962-1965). Both opposed consecrating progressive bishops, both boosted the power in the Church of ultraconservative movements such as Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Neocatechumenal Communities of Kiko Argüello (the famous "kikos"), so powerful in Spain... Both dreamed of a "Christian Europe" like in the Middle Ages. Both have stabbed progressive theologians, bishops and cardinals who were in solidarity with social liberation movements. "The Catholic Church still drags along medieval vestiges in itself and barely dialogues with modernity," Betto concluded in an interview on February 14.
Hans Küng: "The Church is terminally ill"
Hans Küng (1928), the controversial Swiss theologian, is even more critical. He was the first Catholic theologian since Vatican I in 1870 to speak out against the dogma of papal infallibility. He also rejects the absolute authority of the Pope in the Church, celibacy for priests and the absence of women within the clergy. His books On Being A Christian (1974) and especially Infallible? (1971) cost him his job as professor of theology in Catholic universities. He met Pope Ratzinger again in 2005, but he hasn't renounced his principles: "There is now a schism in the Church between the hierarchical top and the grassroots," he proclaimed in July 2011. "The current papacy is an institution of domination in which the Pope is dividing the Church." His diagnosis is fatal: "The church is terminally ill." "The Pope and the Curia have betrayed Vatican II."
Küng notes among other evils, "censorship, absolutism and the authoritarian structures of the Church." And he offers a decalogue of changes: "We want to elect our bishops, we wants to see women in the various positions, we want to have men and women pastoral agents be ordained as priests. We want the Christian people to actively participate in the decisions of the Church"... He had suggested all this to his former friend Ratzinger, trying not to offend him in their 2005 dialogue... with no results. Women are still unable to access positions, progress on optional celibacy is being stymied, the divorced are still prohibited from participating in the Eucharist ...
Küng denounces "papism" introduced by Gregory VII, the "papal absolutism" in which one person in the Church has "the last word", a disease of the "Roman" system. According to the controversial Dutch theologian, this is what produced the rift with the Eastern Church centuries ago, and since that time the predominance of the clergy over the laity goes on. "We are suffering from priestly celibacy that was imposed in the 11th century. With Vatican II, they tried to fight against all this. But they weren't allowed to debate celibacy or discuss the papacy." "We must abolish the absolutism of the Pope. We need to have active resistance, otherwise the Church will go under."
According to Küng, the situation is "dire". The last two restorationist popes --Wojtyla and Ratzinger -- "have done everything possible for the Council and the Church to go back to a preconciliar phase. The Catholic Church wants to maintain a monopoly on the truth. Sexual morality maintains it unfortunate standards..." Küng misses a pope "like John XXIII" for a community of more than one billion Catholics. Ratzinger and Wojtyla "have done everything possible to return to a medieval paradigm of Christianity. A medieval structure reigns today that, in principle, is only found in the Arab countries ..." On celibacy, he is implacable: "When tens of thousands of priests have to repress their sexuality and, however very good pastors they may be, they can't have a wife or family, then we have a structural problem."
In May 2012, Hans Küng pointed out that "the Pope has lost control of the Church" and he dared to suggest the removal of Benedict XVI, in an interview published in the Frankfurter Rundnschau and on a German radio station. "First, he questioned the Protestants, then he described Muslims as "inhumane", and finally he offends the Jews by allowing the re-entry into the Church of a member of the schismatic church [of Bishop Lefebvre] who has denied the existence of the Holocaust." Meanwhile, Pope Ratzinger goes on condemning liberation theologians ...
Benjamín Forcano: "A more democratic Pope, and not for life"
Benjamín Forcano (1935), a Claretian priest, theologian and moralist, author of Nueva ética sexual ["New Sexual Ethics"], Con la libertad del Evangelio ["With the Freedom of the Gospel"] and Pedro Casaldáliga, former editor of Misión Abierta, a Christian journal from which he was dismissed in 1988 by Joseph Ratzinger himself, then Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, like other Spanish theologians such as José María Castillo and Juan Antonio Estrada -- and in recent years Juan José Tamayo and José Antonio Pagola, summarizes Benedict XVI's resignation with the words Saint Peter addressed to Cornelius, a soldier from Caesarea, when the latter received the first Pope of Christianity on his knees: "Get up. I myself am also a human being."
This call for "equality" in the Church is what is demanded by Forcano, who recalls a text of Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes, 29): "The basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition." It was during his eight years as Pope that Ratzinger saw the "rapid and traumatic" change in the world and the severity of the problems of the Church, the Claretian theologian says, "and around him, moreover, the dangerous web of his collaborators, some very powerful and savvy in the ambitions, intrigues and secrets of the Curia." In some cases that were difficult to resolve, "he met with opposing positions, before which he dared not proceed with courage," said Forcano, who views the Pope's resignation as "humility", but with the assurance of not wanting to appear to be manipulated "against his will" until his death.
"Not then, much less now, can it be argued that the ministry of the Pope should be lifelong," says Forcano. "The Pope himself said it when he wrote, in his time as a theologian:"For Catholic theology, it is impossible to consider the configuration of the primacy in the 19th and 20th centuries to be the only possible one, necessary for all Christians."
Forcano asserts that "the life tenure of the papacy is no dogma" and reaffirms "the democratic sovereignty of the people of God." He relies on texts by the Jesuit theologian José María Díez Alegría and his friend Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga (besides, of course, the conclusions of Vatican II) to support his statements about the urgent need for a "democratic and collegial" renewal of the Church. Quoting Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino too, he adds that "among those living in a world of misery and oppression, you can't focus the priesthood on worship or on mere liturgical celebrations, but on the real world."
"Perhaps what is most important and significant about the resignation of the Pope has yet to come," concludes Forcano. "His gesture should be an impulse to go back to taking the priesthood of Jesus seriously in the Church. And, citing two of the holy fathers, "let the one who presides over all be elected by all, because "the one who is known and approved is peacefully demanded, whereas the unknown one must be imposed by force and will always be a subject of argument."
Juan José Tamayo: "The last two popes have gone centuries backward"
Juanjo Tamayo (1946) is one of the most productive theologians and one of the most persecuted by the Vatican and Spanish hierarchies. The bishops stop him from giving lectures in Catholic church venues. For years, he has been secretary general of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII. From 1976 (Por una Iglesia del pueblo -- "For a People's Church") to 2012 (Otra teología es posible -- "A Different Theology is Possible", and Invitación a la utopía -- "Invitation to Utopia") he has published around 60 books. His most recent offering was, precisely, Juan Pablo II y Benedicto XVI. Del neoconservadurismo al integrismo ("John Paul II and Benedict XVI: From Neoconservatism to Fundamentalism") He is a professor at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, where he holds the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair of Theology and Religious Studies.
More critical than Forcano of the current hierarchy during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he is unequivocal in his postulations: "Women are the silent and silenced majority in the Church, and the last two popes have humiliated them by not recognizing them as subject to moral rights. Both popes have questioned the Church that emanated from Vatican II and have gone centuries backward; they've interrupted the dialogue with modernity, atheism, and other religions, both Christian and non-Christian."
Tamayo believes that Ratzinger's arrival in Rome as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Faith, together with the Polish pope who called him to his side, marked "the beginning of a long winter of agony, that both were to undertake to maintain, in full harmony" and to "pronounce sentences-- mostly condemnatory -- against their colleagues in Theology, Morals, History of the Church and University and in the conciliar classrooms themselves", on those they would accuse of "grave errors in their interpretation of the dogmas of Christianity." For a quarter of a century, he was settled in "the epicenter of the power of the Roman Curia" and "there was no matter that didn't pass through his hands, including, naturally, those related to the numerous allegations of sexual abuse by priests and religious in schools, residences and parishes and the accusations against the aberrations of the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel."
Ratzinger was always even "better informed" than the Polish pope. But he acted "with a double standard: intolerant and merciless with colleagues who dissented with his approach, while he kept the cases of sexual abuse at the bottom of the crate of the Congregation over which he presided and imposed silence on the victims to avoid scandal instead of bringing the culprits to justice and punishing them with the penalties provided for in the Code of Canon Law."
Moreover, Tamayo points out, Ratzinger applied a "double standard": rigidity and sanctions for the theologians accused of doctrinal errors...and lack of firmness on sexual offenses, financial irregularities, and other disloyalty. "I think that neither as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith nor as Pope has he been able to separate the wheat from the chaff...and in the Vatican there's more chaff than wheat."
Tamayo concludes that because of all this "Benedict XVI was obliged to resign, a decision to be praised...if only he would have cleaned up the Vatican first."