The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In recent years the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the CDF) has been acting as a new Inquisition. It sees its task as reaffirming traditional doctrines and muzzling wayward theologians. However, its main task should be a postive one: to encourage the study of the advance of the sciences in our time (see note 1 below) and to actively promote the inculturaltion of our Christian faith in the greatly enriched base of knowledge and scientific discovery achieved in our modern world (see note 2 below). This was what the Second Vatican Council envisaged.In the complex academic situation of today, proper guidance can only be given by international commissions of experts. The Vatican Council explicitly demands real expertise – (see note 3 below). Experts should therefore be chosen independently, based on their professional credentials, and not – as is happening today – on the basis of their pre-established commitment to positions defended by the leaders of the CDF. In view of the Church’s situation in today’s world, at least three such independently elected commissions should guide the CDF:

* a Theological Commission

* a Biblical Commission that is not subject to the Theological Commission and

* a Scientific Commission for experts from sociology, psychology and other revelant sciences.

On 25 July 1968 Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ [Latin for Human Life] on “the Regulation of Birth”. The encyclical condemned the use of contraceptives in marriage under any circumstances as unnatural and sinful.The history of how the encyclical came about shows distrust of professional experts whether clerical or lay. Instead of it being a real consultation, a small group of Vatican traditionalists manipulated the process so that their own hard-line views came to be imposed on the faithful. 

At the initiative of the bishops’ synod in 1971, Paul VI in 1973 nominated a pontifical commission to study the Status of Women in Society and Church, with 25 members, among them 15 women. It is significant that only one of these women, a female medical doctor, had professional expertise in theology, natural or social sciences; such expert knowledge was reserved for the male members. The question of ordaining women was deliberately excluded from their mandate and left to the Papal Biblical Commission, which included male theologians only. According to a secret report from 1975, this commission unanimously considered that referring to New Testament texts only could not solve the question of ordaining women. In fact, the Church’s clerical hierarchy and monarchic episcopate were structured from the second/ third centuries onwards. Hence, a majority of 12 exegetes (against 5) found that the Church could ordain women without opposing Christ’s initial intention. Nevertheless Paul VI in 1977, overruling the majority of experts as he had done in 1968 (Humanae Vitae), sanctioned a doctrinal document against women’s ordination. Prof Kari Elisabeth Børresen – read her text here.


“A document, relevant to the issue of silencing, was produced by the Second General Assembly of the 1971 Synod of Bishops. Entitled Justice in the World . . .It says: “The Church recognizes everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought. This includes the right of everyone to be heard in a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity within the Church” (JW 44). The importance of this document exceeds the importance of any document produced by a Vatican dicastery because it bears the weight of the world’s bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. This fact should be noted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], which has silenced theologians and pastoral workers even after Vatican II. A higher authority than the CDF has validated free expression and public debate on controversial theological issues.” Sr Jeannine Gramick, SSND Read more here.

NOTE 1. “With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage . . .” (§ 44). “Today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else . . . Such unfortunate results, however, do not necessarily follow from the culture of today, nor should they lead us into the temptation of not acknowledging its positive values. Among these values are included: scientific study and fidelity toward truth in scientific inquiries, the necessity of working together with others in technical groups, a sense of international solidarity, a clearer awareness of the responsibility of experts to aid and even to protect human beings, the desire to make the conditions of life more favorable for all, especially for those who are poor in culture or who are deprived of the opportunity to exercise responsibility” Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes § 57.

NOTE 2. “The recent studies and findings of science, history and philosophy raise new questions which effect life and which demand new theological investigations. Furthermore, theologians, within the requirements and methods proper to theology, are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the men of their times; for the deposit of Faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another. In pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology, so that the faithful may be brought to a more adequate and mature life of faith. Literature and the arts are also, in their own way, of great importance to the life of the Church.” Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes § 62.

NOTE 3. For example, On Liturgy: “The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible; experts are to be employed on the task.”Sacrosanctum Concilium § 25, see also § 40 and 44on Scripture: “Catholic exegetes and other students of sacred theology, working diligently together and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the sacred teaching office of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings” Dei Verbum § 23.

NOTE 4. “Just as, in accordance with the Lord’s decree, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a unique apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s sucessor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united with each other. Indeed, the very ancient discipline . . . of the holding of councils in order to settle conjointly all questions of major importance, in a decision rendered balanced and equitable by the discernment of many, points clearly to the collegiate character and structure of the episcopal order. The holding of councils in the course of centuries bears this out unmistakably.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 22.