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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Vatican accused on modern 'inquisition'
Pope in St Peter's Square
Vatican rules: defending orthodoxy at all costs?
The Vatican department responsible for maintaining orthodoxy in the Catholic Church is coming under attack over its "inquisitional" methods.

The church should safeguard its faith, but not by means unworthy of that faith

In a strongly-worded editorial, a leading US Catholic magazine America says the methods used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are out of date and do not respect human rights.

The magazine notes that "a long list of eminent Catholic theologians" have been harrassed, including the Brazilian exponent of liberation theology, Leonardo Boff.

The magazine calls on the Vatican to "dismantle without delay" the procedures it uses to investigate theologians.


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was once known as the Holy Inquisition. It is headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of Pope John Paul II's closest advisers.

Cardinal Ratzinger
"The enforcer": Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
He is known as "the Pope's enforcer" because of his determination to uphold the traditional teachings of the church. In performing that role, he has been accused of trying to silence dissidents within the church.

"With such a track record, one would think the Congregation would learn some humility and be more reticent to repeat the mistakes of the past," says the editorial in America.

"The Congregation, however, has gone full speed ahead with its investigations of theologians around the world."


America acknowledges that the Congregation is entitled to examine the writings of any author whose doctrine appears "erroneous" or "dangerous" but argues that the terms are too broad and too vague for comfort.

"Only totalitarian states use such expressions," says the editorial.

The magazine says the first stage of any examination takes place in total secrecy, without giving the theologian an opportunity to defend himself.

If the Congregation finds a person's opinions to be in error, the writer is instructed to correct their views or to "clarify" their texts to the congregation's satisfaction.

Often they would be told to keep silence and not defend themselves publicly, even if the congregation's decision had become public knowledge.

Earlier attack

This attack comes just over a year after a British theologian, Dr Lavinia Byrne, accused the same Vatican department of trying to intimidate her over the publication of a book called "Woman at the Altar".

Lavinia Byrne
Lavinia Byrne: "bullied" by the Vatican
She was not allowed to defend herself, and decided "with great regret" to leave her religious order. The Vatican stood accused of treating her unjustly.

The editorial in America questions whether the church's methods accord with modern legal principles of due process.

"Giving the functions of investigator, prosecutor, grand jury, judge and jury to one office fails to provide the checks and balances modern society has learned to value," says the magazine.

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02 Sep 00 | Europe
12 Jan 00 | UK
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