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Seven Prominent Catholics and Their Struggles with the Vatican

by Paul Collins

Pub Date: July 16th, 2002
ISBN: 1-58567-270-X
Publisher: Overlook

Is the pope infallible? Depending on your answer, this is either an instrument of needed clerical reform or an act of heresy.

Non-Catholics will find some of the doctrinal issues raised in Australian ex-priest Collins’s muckraking examination to be mysterious, and even liberal adherents may wonder at some of the viewpoints he and his fellow theologians advance. (For instance, “If you take the logic of the argument that says only a man can represent Jesus in the action of the mass, then you would only be able to have Jewish men ordained as priests, because there is a sort of absolutist, biological determinism embedded in that argument.”) Still, Collins’s chief point is solid enough: despite Vatican II and the supposed ecumenicalism of the modern church, the papacy is committed to a highly conservative platform reinforced by its Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, a “lineal descendant” of the Inquisition that has brought grief upon the heads of such would-be reformers as Ivan Illich and Bernard Häring (who has averred that his treatment at the hands of the CDF was “worse than that he had received from the Nazis”) while battling “the so-called heresy of ‘modernism’.” Collins profiles and interviews seven leading dissidents, among them the well-known German exponent of “Christology” Hans Küng, Sri Lankan liberation theologian Tissa Balasuriya, and Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Americans whose ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics led to official condemnation. Of them, Küng is perhaps best equipped to debate the finer points of doctrine, and he offers a spirited defense of the view that the Catholic church is “indefectible,” meaning that while the church can be in error, “the Holy Spirit would remain with the Christian community.”

Were the Index of Forbidden Books still in force (it was retired in 1966), this would likely be on it. Useful, if unsettling, reading for Catholic reformists.