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Today's sinners in eyes of the Vatican may very well be tomorrow's saints.

Being a creative thinker of innovator in the Catholic church has often been a dangerous career track. From the earliest days to the present, those who pose difficult questions or take issue with one dogmatic pronouncement or another often run up against those who insist that anything new is out of bounds.

The papacy of John Paul II has revived that tradition with a vengeance. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by the pope's point man, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has been a very busy place with a steady stream of pronouncements, secret interrogations and official disciplines.

Nuns, priests, bishops, theologians, activists all have felt the heavy hand of Vatican authority.

But those who have been hauled in by today's protectors of orthodoxy might be consoled by history. Some of the best minds and most illustrious lives in the history of the church have been condemned or otherwise sidelined for their questions or lack of orthodoxy only to make a recovery. Often the "rehabilitation" happens years after they have died and under another papal regime.

As NCR talked with scholars and searched through library stacks to learn about Catholics who were vilified, then vindicated, the list of names grew quickly.

Some are famous today, like Teresa of Avila, who was condemned by some of her own communities and seen by the Inquisition as suspect. A shroud of unknowing veils others, such as Theodore of Mopsuestia from Syria, even though today's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults draws much from his thought.

Some of those who ran into trouble, like the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart, who lived from 1250 to 1327, have yet to be rehabilitated, although Dominicans today are presenting his case in Rome in the hope of clearing the condemnation imposed after his death.

The cycle of condemn and rehabilitate dates to the earliest days of the church. Sometimes rehabilitation takes the better part of a millennium.

Hippolytus, for instance, a presbyter and martyr, lived from 170 to 236 and possibly was bishop of what some scholars describe as a schismatic community in Rome. According to Edward Sellner, who heads the master's program in theology at the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn., Hippolytus "was in disagreement with various bishops of Rome, yet his Apostolic Tradition is considered by contemporary theologians to be a major resource on early church ministries and rituals."

Sellner also mentioned Origen, who lived from 185 to 251. One of the most learned and prolific writers in the early church, Origen nevertheless suffered the wrath of the Second Council of Constantinople in 583, which condemned him because of the aberrations of his followers. Sellner said Origen influenced St. Jerome and others, and, except for St. Paul, probably had the greatest influence on developing Christian thought.

Theologians beware

Will the church sometime in the future look back with a kinder gaze on some of the Vatican suspects of recent decades?

The wrath of Catholic church authority has affected the lives of such theologians as Charles Curran, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx and Leonardo Boff. Edwina Gateley's lay ministry has suffered a setback. Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick's ministry to homosexuals has been formally investigated. From Fr. Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, who was scolded by the pope when he visited that country, to Seattle's Bishop Raymond Hunthausen, one of the orders of this papacy has been: No dissent!

The list in this article is hardly exhaustive.

Hunthausen, now retired archbishop of Seattle, began to attract international attention in the early 1980s when he spoke out against nuclear arms and engaged in tax resistance. In 1983, the Vatican began to investigate him.

Rome found him guilty of assorted offenses, among them permitting liturgical innovations, contraceptive sterilization in hospitals, and church involvement with homosexual advocacy groups. In 1985, Rome appointed Bishop Donald Wuerl as Hunthausen's auxiliary and stripped Hunthausen of most of his authority. In 1987, Hunthausen's powers were restored following strong protests by many American Catholics and their bishops. The auxiliary was traded for a coadjutor archbishop, Thomas J. Murphy, who now heads the Seattle archdiocese.

Probably more often than any other group, theologians have had their hands slapped by church authorities.

A French Dominican, Fr. Jacques Pohier, was the first theologian punished after John Paul II became pope in 1978. Because he raised questions about Christ's resurrection, Pohier lost his license to teach Catholic theology and was forbidden to give public lectures. In 1979, a more widely known theologian, Fr. Hans Kung, was stripped of his position as Catholic theologian at the University of Tubingen, Germany, because he questioned traditional claims of infallibility. The Swiss theologian remains at Tubingen as professor of ecumenical theology and director of the Institute of Ecumenical Research.

Fr. Charles Curran provoked a punishment akin to that given Kung and Pohier. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986 revoked his license to teach theology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, because of his views on sexual and medical ethics, including artificial birth control and sterilization. Curran now teaches at Southern Methodist University.

Other theologians have suffered lesser slaps. Belgian Dominican Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx became suspect for his supposed Protestant leanings, especially his notion that a Christian community that has no priest could choose its ministers. Schillebeeckx, who was theological adviser to progressive bishops in the Netherlands, was called on the carpet by Ratzinger during the 1960s, then criticized again in 1986 because he had continued to write books and had not recanted.

List of complaints

Peruvian Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, esteemed worldwide as the "father of liberation theology," repeatedly attracted Rome's attention. In 1983, Ratzinger sent a list of 10 complaints about Gutierrez's writings to the Peruvian bishops with the request that they condemn them. The bishops could not agree to do so. Nor was he condemned the next year when Ratzinger called Peruvian bishops to Rome for a fractious meeting.

Some theologians such as Brazil's Fr. Leonardo Boff and U.S. Dominican Fr. Matthew Fox bowed to restrictions for a while, then bolted.

Beginning in 1984, the Vatican singled out boff for censure, charging him with Marxist deviations in liberation theology. Among his alleged sins, Boff had criticized what he termed the church's elitist hierarchical structure. After conferences in Rome, the Vatican imposed penitential silence on him for "doctrinal errors." He was required to refrain from public speaking, conferences and publishing, although two cardinals from Brazil, fellow Franciscans, defended the theologian. Boff went along with the year of silence, but he eventually tired of continuous Vatican nipping at his theological heels. In 1992 he left the Franciscan order and the priesthood.

This year, Fox ended many years of contention between himself and his Dominican superiors by switching allegiance to the Episcopal church. In 1988 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sentenced him to a year of silence for his writings on creation spiritually. Last year he was dismissed from the Dominican order after a long tug of war with his superiors. Fox insisted the feud had its roots in Rome's actions against him.

Other theologians have been silenced or harassed, including Fr. Eugene Drewermann of Germany and six Claretian priests in Madrid, Spain.

Not only theologians draw adverse attention when their work involves sexuality. Agnes Mary Mansour had been a Sister of Mercy for 30 years when, with the permission of Detroit's Archbishop Edmund Szoka, she became director of the Michigan Department of Social Services in 1983. That department administers Medicaid funding for abortions. Although Mansour personally opposed abortion, she did not obstruct funding according to the law.

At a meeting with the archbishop and a papal delegate only four months after she began the job, Mansour was told to resign either the job or her vows. She left the Mercy Sisters. Two other Mercy Sisters, Elizabeth Morancy and Arlene Violet, soon followed suit in Rhode Island where Morancy served in the legislature and Violet was attorney general.

As in Mansour's case, the subject of abortion raised Vatican hackles when 24 nuns, four priests and 69 Catholic laity signed an October 1984 advertisement in The New York Times. It proclaimed "a diversity of opinion regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics." The Vatican told the priests and sisters to retract or face dismissal. Little by little each accepted some form of clarification or accommodation, all but two Sisters of Notre Dame, Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey. For years they talked and sometimes wrangled with others in their community in the United States and Rome and with representatives of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (now called the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life). They never compromised their position, yet by mid-1988 their congregation told them it would not dismiss them.

Only then did they withdraw from the congregation, citing the violence of the process used against them and their desire to stand beside other women as equals rather than to cling to differences and privileges that go with membership in a religious community.

Ranks of the harassed

The ranks of the harassed continue to expand. In 1993, lay minister Edwina Gateley wrote a stole during a eucharistic liturgy at the Call to Action conference in Chicago. As a result, this year several of her speaking invitations were withdrawn, denting her reputation and source of income.

For Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeanine Gramick, a School Sister of Notre Dame, accusations and investigations have dogged their ministry to homosexuals for decades.

In the early 1980s, the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes investigated their work and found it orthodox. In 1984 the Vatican ordered them out of New Ways Ministry, which they had founded in 1977 to minister to homosexuals.

Again in 1988 the Vatican initiated an investigation, but nothing more was heard until this year, when the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societes of Apostolic Life appointed a three-member U.S. commission to study whether Nugent and Gramick's work is in line with church teaching on homosexuality.

The commission recently announced it is "formulating its findings in writing," as Gramick and Nugent remain in the limbo of waiting for the outcome.

Many whose work has not yet attracted adverse attention have told NCR they live with the fear of a notice from Rome.
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Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 3, 1995
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