Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Charles Curran and Cathleen Kaveny on Benedict XVI

Both of these pieces--the first by Charles Curran, the second by Cathleen Kaveny--are from the May 6th issue of  Commonweal.  I have provided a link to each piece below.

A Call for Dissent
My argument with Joseph Ratzinger            

Charles E. Curran    

Habemus papam. I heard these words in St. Peter’s Square as a young seminarian on October 28, 1958. My first impression of Pope John XXIII was disappointing. Pope Pius XII was an austere and ascetic figure, but John XXIII was a roly-poly Italian who was waving to the crowd even before he finished his first blessing.

Fast-forward to the present: The intervening years saw John XXIII’s and Vatican II’s call for renewal and reform; the unexpected condemnation of artificial contraception in Paul VI’s Humanae vitae (1968); the ups and downs in his Hamlet-like papacy; and then the long restorationist papacy of John Paul II.

I sat in a television studio on April 19, 2005, and once again heard the words habemus papam-Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. My disappointment was much greater than it was fifty years earlier. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Ratzinger concluded a seven-year investigation of my theological writings in 1986 with the judgment, approved by John Paul II, that “one who dissents from the magisterium as you do is not suitable nor eligible to teach Catholic theology.”

I maintained that my dissent was not from core tenets of Catholic faith, but from noninfallible church teachings. In fact, the U.S. bishops in their 1968 pastoral letter Human Life in Our Day recognized the legitimacy of such dissent if there are serious reasons for it, if the teaching authority of the church is not impugned, and if scandal is not given. My dissent satisfied those criteria. So I asked Cardinal Ratzinger, “Is theological dissent from noninfallible church teaching ever permitted; and, if so, under what conditions is it permitted?” He refused to answer.

[To read the whole piece, click here.]

My Meeting With Cardinal Ratzinger            

Cathleen Kaveny    

I have met Pope Benedict XVI only once. It was seventeen years ago, when I was a graduate student at Yale. Richard John Neuhaus had organized an invitation-only conference in New York on biblical interpretation. Among the invited guests were Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Raymond Brown, the widely respected biblical scholar, and the eminent Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck, my dissertation adviser, who had been a delegated observer at the Second Vatican Council. With the breezy temerity of youth, I wrote Neuhaus (then still Lutheran), and asked to be the “observer from the next generation” at the conference. Much to my amazement, he acceded to my request.

During the first break, Lindbeck introduced me to Cardinal Ratzinger. The conversation went something like this: Lindbeck said, “Your eminence, I would like to introduce to you Cathleen Kaveny, a Catholic studying moral theology at Yale.” I smiled and said hello. Ratzinger smiled at me and responded, “A Catholic studying moral theology at Yale? You’d better be careful or you’ll have the Congregation after you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, I had just heard, while wide awake, what Cardinal Ratzinger--the Grand Inquisitor--would say to me in a nightmare, which naturally would also include a stake, a match, a heap of kindling, and a long, flowing white dress (à la Cecil B. De Mille’s The Story of Joan of Arc). He was joking, of course, as I realized almost immediately. Nonetheless, my face must have turned as pale as Joan’s dress. The cardinal quickly understood the problem: “With whom are you studying?” he asked. And not quite able to speak again, I pointed mutely to Lindbeck. Ratzinger said, “Well, then, that’s all right...you’re in good hands.”

After the break, Neuhaus invited me to sit at the table for the remainder of the conference. But there was only one open seat, right next to Ratzinger himself. I took it with some trepidation. What sort of being was this man? Gradually, I relaxed, as I realized that by virtue of my undergraduate and graduate training, I was already quite familiar with the universal type, if not this particular German model. He was a real academic, delighting in the world illumined by his beloved texts, which conveyed a reality that seemed to be more vivid to him than the reality conveyed by his own senses. In his discussion with Lindbeck and Brown, I saw immense mutual respect, significant mutual challenge, and not a trace of condescension or rank-pulling on his part. I also got the distinct impression that Ratzinger was relishing the intellectual exchange, much as a professor swamped with departmental administrative responsibilities relishes the all-too-rare opportunity to participate in colloquium on a key topic in his or her own academic field. He also seemed quite shy, in the peculiar, nonretiring manner that many academics are shy: they fearlessly present the contents of their minds for public examination while closely guarding the paths of their hearts.

[To read the whole piece, click here.]

Michael P.


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