Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Cardinal Takes On Fundamentalist Thinking

There's a fun fascinating story behind these baseballs.  Cardinal Ravasi signed the second from the left, and Cardinal Schonborn signed the one on the far right.  Hmmm, no Cardinal Dolan?

In John Allen's latest column in which he lays down the possible replacements for Benedict XVI, he has this to say about Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi , who along with Cardinal Tim Dolan,  Allen lists as a long shot:

1. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 69, Italy, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
The case for: Ravasi is undeniably brilliant, conversant not just in theology but across a staggering variety of disciplines, including world literature, art, science and philosophy. He’s pioneered the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” project, the Vatican’s most successful recent effort to engage secular non-belief. Ravasi typically comes off as funny, relaxed and affable, and is remarkably down to earth for a man of his erudition, having written not just learned tracts but also popular columns in Italian newspapers.
The case against: In the tribal world of Italian church politics, Ravasi has always been a tribe unto himself – which is part of his charm, but it also means he has no natural base of support. There are also questions about his ability to bend the Vatican to his will, as well as whether his classically European intellect is suited to the new global realities of Catholicism.

I found Allen's description of Ravasi very interesting and couldn't stop myself from comparing him to Cardinal Dolan.  Low and behold,  Catholic News Service ran the following article about Ravasi on the same day Allen posted his thoughts.  Again, I couldn't help but compare Cardinal Ravasi's attitude toward fundamentalist thinking with Cardinal Dolan and his right hand man Bill Donohue.  I think I know which one I would prefer to lead Roman Catholicism.

Well-formed faith makes dialogue with opponents easier, cardinal says
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The recent call for the resignation of top officials at the Pontifical Academy for Life stems from some members' concern that inviting speakers who oppose church teaching in their scientific practice confuses the faithful and compromises the academy's commitment to the truth.

Any kind of "neutral scientific description" of practices opposed to church teaching have "absolutely no place in our academy," wrote Joseph Seifert, an academy member and founding rector of the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein.

However, a Vatican cardinal who has been leading a global initiative engaging Catholics, atheists and agnostics in dialogue said
when Catholics are well-formed in their faith they have nothing to fear from listening to opposing views.

It's a shaky or fundamentalist grasp of faith
that sparks suspicion or fear of the other, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The cardinal spearheads and coordinates the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" project, which seeks to promote discussions between Christians and nonbelievers on themes as diverse as art, spirituality and bioethics.

"Oftentimes this
fear (of dialogue) stems from the fact that the person doesn't feel capable of defending or justifying his own reasons, hence he doesn't want to listen to the other," he told Catholic News Service May 10. (Sometimes this fear is so strong people literally don't hear the other because their mind is totally involved in developing rebuttals which often include points the other person hasn't even brought up.)

The culture council, too, faced negative reaction and controversy in November, he said, when it hosted an international conference on the latest research using adult stem cells.

Though the conference topic focused on adult stem cells, some of the speakers were also involved in research using embryonic stem cells, which the Catholic Church opposes because it involves the destruction of human life. However, the church supports research and therapies utilizing adult stem cells, which can develop into a variety of specialized cells, alleviating degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissues.

Cardinal Ravasi said the conference was a success because the key to successful dialogue in any field is not to pick just the best and the brightest,
but to choose the most qualified experts who also are open to a mutual exchange of ideas and criticism.

An obstinate fundamentalist attitude, open hostility or blatant indifference are recipes for failure no matter how famous or accomplished the expert,
he said.

A handful of members of the Pontifical Academy for Life had harshly criticized the academy's plans to host a conference in April on adult stem-cell research that would have featured some of the same speakers as the council for culture's event.

Academy organizers canceled the meeting a month before it was to be held
due to a lack of funding; members critical of the event praised its demise citing concern that scientists not in line with church teaching speaking at a Vatican-sponsored event would confuse the faithful. (Lack of funding? More likely a threat from well healed fundamentalists to remove all kinds of funding from other areas if this conference went forward.)

Another Vatican-related advisory group, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, had a working group meet to discuss developments in stem-cell research in mid-April. The meeting was held behind closed doors to avoid any media-stoked speculation or controversy.

The latest disagreement at the life academy comes from the reaction of a few members to a workshop held in February on the causes, prevention and treatment of infertility.

Seifert wrote a sharply critical six-page open letter to the life academy's president, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, and distributed to media outlets, saying the academy's directory board should resign.

He said the infertility workshop was "possibly the worst day in the history" of the academy because there was too much emphasis on "a neutral scientific discussion" of infertility treatments rather than scientific presentations that were "primarily from an ethical and magisterial viewpoint."

The Pontifical Academy for Life, established in 1994, "was explicitly founded to deal with (scientific) matters in the light of anthropological, theological and moral truth," Seifert wrote.

"Any 'purely scientific' treatment of (topics) falsifies them by failing to take into account the most important truths about the questions at hand," said his letter, dated May 4.

Father Scott Borgman, an academy official, told CNS that the academy was created for scientific research to further "the promotion and defense of human life from conception to natural death."

Firmly rooted in "the stability of knowing what the magisterium teaches," the academy also wants to be aware of advances in scientific research even if they do not conform to church teaching, he said.

"This doesn't mean that we uphold people's teachings that are against church teachings," he said. But there is research that does respect Christian morality being conducted by researchers whose scope also includes methods that do not conform to church teaching and "we want to be able to be open to dialogue" to find the latest therapies that the church can endorse.

Msgr. Michel Schooyans, an academy member and retired professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, told CNS that dialogue with people who don't agree with church teaching may be acceptable outside of the Vatican, but inviting such experts to a Vatican-sponsored event, he said, gives them an opportunity to "falsify the doctrine of the church in respect to human life."

"When you start compromising the Vatican you are starting a process that troubles public opinion" and confuses the faithful about what the church believes, he said.
(As far as the Vatican goes, how do you further compromise an institution that has amply demonstrated it's capacity to compromise itself?)

When asked whether he believed such a situation could damage the church or would confuse Catholics, Cardinal Ravasi said, "No, that's not true."

However, Catholics need to be well-formed first, he said, hence the importance of the Year of Faith to strengthen people's understanding of what their faith teaches.

"When you are well-formed, you can listen to other people's reasons," he said, so solid, serious catechesis goes hand-in-hand with respectful dialogue.

A solid Catholic identity -- whether as a layperson, a religious or as a Catholic institution -- provides the needed foundation for confronting differing opinions and also for critiquing views, since listening doesn't always mean agreeing, he said.

When asked specifically about the tensions at the life academy, he said, "this is why it's necessary to have a precise identity," which means "an identity that's serious and well-formed, not just fundamentalist."


One of the points in this article that struck me very forcefully is just how powerful the fundamentalist voices are in the Vatican.  Apparently it takes one letter from one man to cause enough of a scare for the Vatican to cancel a conference on stem cell research because a few of the presenters are not card carrying Catholics with the reactionary forces seal of approval. There is very little doubt left in my mind as to who is really running the Vatican, and it's not Benedict.  I should hardly be shocked to find that Joseph Seifert is a card carrying member of Opus Dei.

I take these observations from Cardinal Ravasi as a warning to the Vatican itself.  It can be read as a statement which says, "you are destroying your own credibility in the informed educated world by your constant caving to reactionary fundamentalist agitators."  And he would be right, because an informed Catholic identity is not synonymous with a fundamentalist approach which is too weak and terrified to tolerate any dialogue of any sort, much less any dissent. Cardinal Ravasi is defending the strength and intelligence of the Catholic faithful, while fundamentalists like Seifert demean the faith and intelligence of the Catholic faithful.  One is asking that Catholics be treated as thinking responsible adults, the other is asking Catholics be treated like lazy ill educated children in need of direction and protection.  Not surprising Cardinal Ravasi comes across as a man who has wrestled with his faith and is mature and comfortable with in it.  Seifert?, well, he seems to be projecting his own struggles onto the Vatican.

Roman Catholicism could use a Pope with the approach and qualities of Cardinal Ravasi.  If John Allen is right and this man is 'a tribe unto himself', he may indeed be just the man for the job.  As to controlling the Vatican curia, there's a simple solution for that, start over. 


  1. As much as it's pre-emptive to begin hypothesising the identity of the next pope, Ravasi does seem pretty good.

    And did you find that evidence yet, Colkoch?

    1. Here are the pertinent parts of crimens sollicitationis take directly from the Vatican's own website:

      11. Since, however, in dealing with these causes, more than usual care and concern must be shown that they be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and that, once decided and the decision executed, they are covered by permanent silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, 20 February 1867, No. 14), all those persons in any way associated with the tribunal, or knowledgeable of these matters by reason of their office, are bound to observe inviolably the strictest confidentiality, commonly known as the secret of the Holy Office, in all things and with all persons, under pain of incurring automatic excommunication, ipso facto and undeclared, reserved to the sole person of the Supreme Pontiff, excluding even the Sacred Penitentiary. Ordinaries are bound by this same law , that is, in virtue of their own office; other personnel are bound in virtue of the oath which they are always to swear before assuming their duties; and, finally, those delegated, questioned or informed [outside the tribunal], are bound in virtue of the precept to be imposed on them in the letters of delegation, inquiry or information, with express mention of the secret of the Holy Office and of the aforementioned censure.

      12. The oath mentioned above, whose formula is found in the Appendix of this Instruction (Form A), is to be taken – once for all by those who are appointed habitually, but each and every time by those who are deputed only for a single item of business or cause – in the presence of the Ordinary or his delegate, on the Holy Gospels of God (including priests) and not in any other way, together with an additional promise faithfully to carry out their duties; the aforementioned excommunication does not, however, extend to the latter. Care must be taken by those presiding over these causes that no one, including the tribunal personnel, come to knowledge of matters except to the extent that their role or task necessarily demands it.

      13. The oath to maintain confidentiality must always be taken in these causes, also by the accusers or complainants and the witnesses. These persons, however, are subject to no censure, unless they were expressly warned of this in the proceedings of accusation, deposition or questioning. The Defendant is to be most gravely admonished that he too must maintain confidentiality with respect to all persons, apart from his advocate, under the penalty of suspension a divinis, to be incurred ipso facto in the event of a violation.

      14. Finally, as to the drawing up of the acts , the language used, and their confirmation, safekeeping and possible nullity, the respective prescriptions of Canons 1642-43, 379-80-81-82 and 1680 are to be fully followed.

      So Invictus, CS which is derived from, and cites numerous Canons directly contradicts not just the laws of most western countries on reporting crimes against minors, it violates a number of passages in the New Testament.

    2. Seriously? Don't de-rail things here! Go and post your response under the relevant blog post, surely?

  3. This all brings home the point that the various vatican Academies of Science are not at all committed to the search for truth but to the authoritarian idea that truth is already known. There is no belief in the scientific method. All academic institutions and universities that would go along with Vatican authoritarian ideas and or instruction can no longer be seen as Universities but as institutes of catechesis not instructed in the search for truth but only interested in the obedience to an authoritarian mind set in the Vatican. This is one of the recipes for the current implosion in the Vatican as an institution that has no wish to serve truth. It is anti academic and any institution that wises to be a creditable source for God’s truth will not be able to associate with such a structure. It is indeed a sad day when catechesis means an indoctrination like that the Soviet Union was accused. This is an indoctrination of manipulation and an attempt at mind control having nothing to do with truthful interaction but everything to do with authoritarian power control and it has at its root the fear of loss of resources and position or should we say a leadership full of greed and envy.

    It is past time for those who would follow The Way of Christ to say no to this Opus Dei model of disaster and to those such as the Inviticus’ of this world who foster such fear, hate and nonsense.

    I have long ago seen conclusive evidence for the current Vatican implosion and this is more evidence. Of course the greater evidence is that the RCC can not keep securely in its ranks educated cradle catholics.

    The bishops that enabled rape and continue to show hate for women are indeed another fully imploding part created inside RCC hierarchy.

    It is the responsibility of that part of the People of God mostly the laity but also religious like the nuns in the US and educated (not indoctrinated) priests throughout the world to powerfully resist the fundamentalism and implosion of the leadership. What the Vatican has now become is noting other than a museum of non tolerance of valid new ideas. There is nothing holy or authoritative left.

    1. I foster "fear, hate and nonsense"?

      I don't know what planet you're living on...but I think it's safe to say, it's time you came back down to earth.

      What I say here (and what I do in the life I live) is much, much more ordinary than that.

  4. "However, a Vatican cardinal who has been leading a global initiative engaging Catholics, atheists and agnostics in dialogue said when Catholics are well-formed in their faith they have nothing to fear from listening to opposing views."

    ## This STM to be just right & very well said. There is - to say the least evidence for this approach in the past - see the Book of Acts. It is also evidence of the breadth of sympathies that is evidence of the Church's catholicity. The Church should not & need not be defensive.

  5. Just saw this today doing a search of Ravasi, now in the significant spotlight of preaching the Pope's Lenten retreat. Interesting! And then there's Cardinal Dom João Braz de Aviz, current Prefect for the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life (