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Is the Pope catholic?

By David James - posted Wednesday, 28 September 2005

What is the nature of truth? Are there truths for the ages or only an age-old struggle to find the truth? Is truth a destination we may aspire to reach, or is the search for truth a journey we never complete? Are there at least some certain truths, or is the fact of uncertainty the only truth? Fundamentalism or relativity. Absolutism or post-modernism. Papal infallibility or personal conscience?

Time and again, Paul Collins in God’s New Man: The Election of Benedict XVI and the Legacy of John Paul II - a report on the state of the church at this turning point in its history - returns to this dichotomy, in its manifold guises.

In Collins’ view, no choice need be made, there is certainty and uncertainty, rather than certainty or uncertainty: papal teachings and personal conscience. But there is the matter of which side of these scales one places one’s thumb.


“Theology”, Collins explains, “is largely about what you focus on and accentuate, rather than being about radically opposed points of view. Contemporary divisions within Catholicism are about emphasis ...” Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, sit firmly on the side of certainty. And this, in Collins view, has had devastating consequences for the Roman Catholic Church, its theology and liturgy, its priests and bishops, its structures and institutional behaviour, its mission on earth.

The word “catholic” derives from the Greek katholikos, meaning “general, broad or universal”. Quoting Cardinal Avery, Collins extends this notion by identifying four characteristics of “Catholicity”. It:

  1. is open to truth and value wherever it exists;
  2. is inclusive and open to various cultures;
  3. bridges generations and historical periods; and
  4. recognises the Holy Spirit as creating the unity of the church.

“This”, Collins says, “is the kind of Catholicism that I, and many others, have embraced throughout our lives.” But, save for point (4), it is not the kind of Catholicism which either Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI - "God’s New Man" - embrace, as Collins amply evidences.

The Roman Inquisition burned heretics at the stake. Now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), it was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the 23 years prior to his becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

Question: As “Prefect” of the CDF, did Ratzinger demonstrate that he is “(1) open to truth and value wherever it exists”?


Collins speaks about the CDF from personal experience: he was “delated” (reported) to the CDF for his writings while still a priest. (Collins is sure his accuser was Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, though Pell has never confirmed this.) Collins tells us “… people are never informed who has accused them … there is no presumption of innocence … they [the accused] do not know who is judging the assessment … prosecutors act as judges … they do not know who is defending them. They are usually never given a chance to defend themselves verbally. … It is [a process] that is characterised, above all, by extraordinary discourtesy and rudeness.”

Collins goes so far as to say that one accused man, Jacques Dupuis, died “of an illness that was certainly exacerbated by the congregation’s examination”. And “Ratzinger presided over all of this … and did nothing about it.”

Ratzinger is intellectually gifted. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, who studied with Ratzinger and knew Wojtyla (John Paul II) well, tells us, “The enormous difference between John Paul II and Ratzinger is intelligence. Ratzinger is much, much more intelligent. Quite frankly, John Paul was tedious without end.”

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About the Author

David E. James is based in Brisbane, Australia and is currently writing I Just Want My Children to be Happy as a father of three young people. It is due for publication in 2006.

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