The latest biography of
Cardinal Ratzinger, the Chief Inquisitor, by John Allen Jr., is entitled The
Vatican’s Enforcer of Faith Cardinal Ratzinger. The cover shows a man in his early seventies,
looking rather older than he does in many of the current media images.
The book’s copyright belongs
to Editzione San Paolo, the powerful publishing arm of the international
Society of St Paul whose founder is due for beatification this month. Allen’s publishers have chosen their picture
well. The lighting removes any blemishes
from the all knowing, all wise features, set off by gold framed half glasses
slipping slightly down the nose of this saintly looking man. Rome may be in
disarray but surely in Ratzinger she fields a solid conservative to steer St
Peter’s barque through rough waters.
However looks can be
deceptive. In Edward Stoughton’s
interview with Ratzinger, when the BBC got inside the Inquisition for the Absolute
Truth series, we could just glimpse a portrait of one of Cardinal
Ratzinger’s predecessors at the head of the Inquisition, Cardinal Bellarmine,
the scourge of Protestantism in the Counter Reformation.
An altered painting
John Allen tells us in his book that he
was fascinated, thinking to himself, “You are absolutely right Redondi!” Redondi had gained access to the Inquisition
in June 1982 to see a suppressed document concerning the Galileo trial in the
same room. Redondi reflected eerily that
the “master of the house had appeared to welcome me”.
Redondi later explained,
“There are many portraits of Bellarmino, and many that are well known”, but
“not … the portrait … before me”. His
sharp researcher’s mind spotted at once that the background of the portrait,
arrangement of books on the shelves, and the position of the crucifix were all
identical to a now lost but well documented portrait of the old inquisitor by
Pietro da Cortona who died in 1669.
Redondi remembered that
Cortona’s old portrait had appeared as recently as 1930 in an Italian household
encyclopaedia. The saintly old man
depicted complete with halo in the present portrait in the Inquisition would
appear to be a painted over version of the original. This softened image suddenly appeared at the
time of Bellarmine’s controversial beatification in 1923 when even within Rome
some still blushed at the Inquisition’s treatment of Galileo.
Redondi described the
original portrait of Bellarmine as “frightening”. The penetrating gaze which struck fear into
the hearts of Bellarmine’s victims and the cunning greedy expression, with the
hint of senility, which the artist, Cortona, must have been an eyewitness of as
a young man, are all gone. The
Inquisitors have censored a valuable 17th century portrait to
rehabilitate their Inquisitor. And the
public image of Ratzinger, their redoubtable “hammer of heresy”, the “lion of
conservatism”, is now being subjected to the same softening process.
A row in the Vatican Council
Ratzinger is in fact a
liberal veteran of Rome’s Second Vatican Council. Historian McAfee Brown recalls the events of
Friday November 8th 1963. The
drama had been such that McAfee, “was emotionally drained and sought refuge in
the coffee bar”. He was not alone for,
“So did practically everyone else, all of us assuming that the rest of the
morning could only be an anti-climax”.
What had happened that morning so to shake Mystery Babylon?
What had happened was that
the Chief Inquisitor, Cardinal Ottaviani, the Cardinal Ratzinger of the day,
had just snapped with fury. He had
suffered one too many attacks from the liberals. McAfee Brown recalls, “Ottaviani, the Head of
the Holy Office (Inquisition) came down to the other microphone and from the
moment he began to speak it was obvious he was very angry … he wanted to make
the highest possible protest against what had been said about the Holy Office …
(Ottaviani insisted that) the criticisms just made are misunderstandings … The
Holy Office always examines cases carefully … always calls in acknowledged
experts before it makes a judgement … Since the Holy Office is under the pope,
any criticism of the Holy Office is criticism of the pope himself,” – a play to
the floor if ever there was one. But his
speech fell completely flat. McAfee
Brown records that, “There was no applause at the conclusion of this speech”.
McAfee Brown said, “Mark
this down as a day to be long remembered.
During the course of the morning the dome of St Peters was blown sky high,
and in just what form it will come down and be reassembled nobody knows”. The liberal who dealt the blow was Cardinal
Frings of Cologne whose speech, unlike that of Ottaviani, evoked forbidden
cheering and applause. Ottaviani had
clearly squirmed as Frings pronounced in Latin, “The Holy Office does not fit
the needs of our time. It does great
harm to the faithful and is the cause of scandal throughout the world,” McAfee Brown recalled, “the council Fathers
broke into applause … that Frings was applauded is significant but what is even
more significant is that (he) was interrupted (italics his) by applause
… this is the first time this has happened”.
Young Ratzinger makes trouble
At that time Frings was
“elderly, frail and almost blind”. He
was incapable of having launched such an attack against the Inquisition on his
own. He had availed himself of expert
advice. All the senior delegates had
expert theological advisors or periti, and in most cases the periti
were front men for the theologians. The
peritus or chief theological advisor to Cardinal Frings in those days, who had
armed Frings with the message that the Inquisition is an international
“scandal” which the Council greeted with such spontaneous applause was none
other than Ratzinger himself.
Only in his thirties, an
academic theologian for a decade, Ratzinger took on Ottaviani, then every bit
as notorious an Inquisitor in his day as Ratzinger is today.
In 1963 Inquisitor Ottaviani
was also a media giant courted by the press and the new medium of
television. He was an “intimidated” man,
not unlike Bellarmine in the un-retouched portrait, “with enormous jowls and an
Ottaviani represented the
real essence of Romanism in all its persecuting strength. Yet the ambitious young Ratzinger took on
Ottaviani via Frings and won hands down.
Poacher turns gamekeeper
So how did this poacher turn
gamekeeper? Ratzinger naturally denies
he has “switched sides”. He told Time
magazine in 1993. “I see no change in my
theological positions over the years”.
Ratzinger is widely credited with destroying in a knife-in-the-back
manner Hans Kung, the high profile, Roman Catholic, liberal theologian. Kung in 1979 “once suggested Ratzinger had
sold his soul for power”. This was
before Ratzinger became an inquisitor.
Kung had been so impressed
by Ratzinger at Vatican II that he had personally got him his post at Germany’s
prestigious Tubingen University in 1966.
Allen says “when the chair in dogmatics came open, he took the unusual
step of not forming a terna, or list of three possibilities to fill the
position. He made Ratzinger his only suggestion, after phoning him in Munster
to be sure he would accept. The faculty
Kung did not make this
recommendation lightly. Ratzinger was less
well known than Kung and Jesuit Rahner and a few other key liberals of the day,
but Ratzinger had been immensely influential behind the scenes in the liberal
onslaught headed up by the Germans at Vatican II.
The liberal junta had swung
into action as soon as the council was announced. The Roman Curia sought to pre-empt the
liberal attack by deluging the delegates with prepared draughts of the course
they wanted the Council to take. The
Curia expected the draughts to be “rubber stamped by the council” who would
thereby elect tame council commissions packed with conservatives. All this was to be achieved in the chaos of
the opening day, 13th October 1962.
The Curia hoped that the bishops would be too overwhelmed by the
grandeur of the occasions, and insufficiently familiar with one another at this
stage, to mount any effective resistance so early in the proceedings.
The fatal delay
And it was Ratzinger behind
Frings who was instrumental in securing the fatal delay which gave the liberals
their chance to introduce the schism in Rome from which she still reels to this
day. Ratzinger held “the draughts were
incapable of speaking to the (Roman) church … There was a certain discomforting
feeling that the whole enterprise (Vatican II) might come to nothing more than
a mere rubber stamping of decisions already made thus impeding rather than
fostering the renewal needed in the catholic Church … The council would … have
paralysed health dynamism”. Yet in his
1997 autobiography, Milestones, Ratzinger says, “I found no grounds for
radical rejection of what was being proposed”!
In 1968 the key liberals of
the Roman Catholic Church issued a statement in Nijmegen in the Netherlands,
now known as the Nijmegen Statement, to which Ratzinger was a
signatory. “Any form of Inquisition
however subtle, not only harms the development of sound theology, it also
causes irreparable damage to the credibility of the (Roman) church … We expect
our freedom to be respected whenever we pronounce of publish”. The document then sets out a series of
liberalising propositions as to how the Inquisition should operate in a modern
world, in its “composition”, “decision making”, “consultors”, “authority”,
“proceedings”, and “concern with the tenets of the Christian charity”. Ratzinger can be shown to have behaved
contrary, either actually or in spirit, to every one of these during his reign
as Inquisitor as we shall see DV in the next article.
Ratzinger changes sides
So what triggered this change in
Ratzinger? How could the corrupting effect
of ambition and power at the centre of Rome harden him over the decades into
the tough “enforcer” and the scourge of liberal thinking that he has become
today? It is generally agreed that even
if at that time he was already beginning to harbour doubts about the liberals,
Ratzinger was profoundly affected by the Marxist inspired student uprisings in
Universities across Europe and the States in 1968, the very year of the Nijmegen
Statement. Both Roman Catholic and
Protestant theological faculties were equally swept up in the hysteria.
Tubingen was a hotspot. Marxism was poised to depose Christianity
amongst Ratzinger’s students who were chanting, “accursed be Jesus”.
Although Ratzinger says in Milestones,
“I never had difficulties with students,” the Allen biography makes it clear
that Ratzinger became the butt of their protests against the “petty
bourgeois”. He faced unpopularity,
sit-ins, his microphone snatched from him and much else glossed over in
Milestones but still extant in the German press archives.
Interestingly, to rescue his career, he
joined forces with two Protestant colleagues who were facing the same
difficulties in Tubingen. But when this
failed, “not able to bear it” any longer, he fled to reinvent himself as a
defender of the old order.
Ratzinger wrote, “All of this should not
be made to look harmless … it becomes clear to me the abuse of faith had to be
Ratzinger is now almost 76 but the
present pope will not let him go.
Ratzinger’s henchman, Archbishop
Tarcisio Bertone, so closely follows Ratzinger that the Inquisition is unlikely
to change in the near future.