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Monday, September 25, 2017
Date Posted:

Joseph Ratzinger

Cardinal Ratzinger The Chief Inquisitor – a man not quite what he seems

Putting the smackdown on heresy Part II:
Dr Clive Gillis

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 aquiline nose”.

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 consented.”

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 resisted”.

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.

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