Convergence, Cardinal Ratzinger, and Catherine

Cardinal RatzigerAt the very time that a joint Anglican and Roman Catholic commission was announcing "convergence" of thought on the authority of the Bishop of Rome, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office, formerly the Roman Inquisition) was preparing yet another tyrannical abuse of that authority. On May 31, with the blessing of Bishop Wojtila, he ordered School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent to stop permanently their ministry to gay persons and their families and ruled them ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes. He cited their "ambiguity" on the immorality of homosexual activity and their unwillingness to stress the ghastly teaching of the so-called "ordinary magisterium" (read "Ratzinger's opinions") that homosexuality is itself "intrinsically evil". (The text of Ratizinger's edict is available on the Dignity website.)

Apart from the gross injustice done to two dedicated servants of God and even more so to the thousands of souls to whom they have ministered over the last 30 years, Ratzinger's imperious ways are not likely to assuage the fears of many Anglican Catholics that the above-mentioned "convergence" on authority may be wishful thinking on the part of well-meaning theologians and smoke and mirrors on the part of the hierarchy. We may be pardoned for asking how much has really changed since we Anglicans prayed in our litany: "From the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities, Good Lord deliver us." As long as Ratzinger and the spirit of the Inquisition remain the voice of the "sovereign pontiff", I for one will give thanks that "The Bishop of Rome hath no authority" over us. In the meantime I pray in loving unity with my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers that our common vision of a renewed, free, and truly collegial Church, teaching without ambiguity the whole Catholic Faith, including the intrinsic goodness of all God's creatures, will be realized.

Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have chosen to obey an unjust decree out of a reverence for what they see as a greater good. Their invaluable ministry has ceased, and they will remain silenced. It cannot have been anything but an extremely painful decision, and I respect it.

But I cannot help quoting to others who will surely follow, the advice of one of the wisest teachers and outspoken reformers the Church has ever had, Saint Catherine of Siena. The passage is from her letter to Sister Daniella of Orvieto, a nun who feels called to undertake a ministry of which her superiors disapprove:

Thou didst write me, and as I understood from thy letter it seems that thou art troubled in heart. And this is not a slight feeling; nay, it is mighty, stronger than any other, when on the one side thou dost feel thyself called by God in new ways, and His servants put themselves on the contrary side, saying that this is not well. I have a very great compassion for thee; for I know not what burden is like that, from the jealousy the soul has for itself; for it cannot offer resistance to God, and it would also fulfill the will of His servants, trusting more in their light and knowledge than in its own; and yet it does not seem able to. Now I reply to thee simply according to my low and poor sight. Do not make up thy mind obstinately, but as thou feelest thyself called without thine own doing, so respond. So, if thou dost see souls in danger, and thou canst help them, do not close thine eyes, but exert thyself with perfect zeal to help them, even to death. And never mind about thy past resolutions to silence or anything else -- lest it be said to thee later: "Cursed be thou, that thou wast silent!"

Our every principle and foundation is in the love of God and our neighbor alone; all our other activities are instruments and buildings placed on this foundation. Therefore thou shouldst not, for pleasure in the instrument or the building, desert the principal foundation in the honour of God and the love of our neighbor. Work, then, my daughter, in that field where thou seest that God calls thee to work; and do not get distressed or anxious in mind over what I have said to thee, but endure manfully. Fear and serve God, with no regard to thyself; and then do not care for what people may say, except to have compassion on them.

Holy Catherine, upbraider of popes and lover of justice, upon your shoulders descended the burden of an arrogant, divided, and loveless Church. Pray for us who today feel crushed by its weight.

-- Ted Mellor, July 24, 1999.

(See also Leonardo Boff responds to Dominus Iesus)

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