Yesterday, I applauded an independent Catholic Cincinnati prep school for rescinding a speaking invitation it had issued to a pro-choice politician. I upheld its right to be consistent in the signals it sends about what it deems to be right and wrong.
But this morning's New York Times brings the story of a disturbing action by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The action was taken by that unit in March, when it was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
The Congregation forced the resignation of Thomas J. Reece, a Jesuit, from his position as editor of the Catholic news magazine, America. The charge: That the magazine had published articles critical of current Roman Catholic teachings or encouraged debate on them.
Reese has been a good soldier, utterly submissive to the Vatican orders, offering his resignation and saying that he is looking forward to his next orders as a Jesuit.
But when Church bodies are unable or unwilling to sustain debates on doctrine and teaching, that is an unhealthy sign.
I utterly agree with the current pope who, just before the most recent conclave of the College of Cardinals, delivered a homily in which he railed against the contemporary idol of choice, relativism. He suggested that there are non-negotiable truths about what is right and what is wrong.
The problem that I have with Pope Benedict XVI and also with his illustrious predecessor is that they seem to believe in a rather extensive list of non-negotiable truths. I think that the list is far smaller than they do and that much of what they deem foundational is nothing more than cultural accretions or personal preferences.
There are for example, sound Biblical reasons for the ordination of women, for the end of priestly celibacy, for a repudiation of the special status granted to "saints," particularly Mary, and for a different approach to church-state relations. The Roman Catholic Church could change its positions on these and other matters and do no violence to their proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord. The essential core of faith would remain, indicating that some of the things that have so riled the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger are what the theologians call non-salvific, having no bearing on one's standing with God or one's salvation.
Besides, debate often leads people back to the very truths they question while debating. If truths really are true, founded in Scripture, God's revelation of truth, then there is absolutely nothing to fear from debate conducted by people who share a common faith.
Reece is familiar to many Americans for his frequent appearances on TV during the recent transition between John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I wish him well.