| 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:
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.
Edward Stourton BBC – see his TV report
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
ON SILENCING THEOLOGIANS
“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.”