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Even head Catholic theologian nods

Some day someone will write a book about the real Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, currently director of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Although ranked the world’s chief Catholic theologian, and the second most powerful Catholic on earth, he remains for now an enigma.

John Hick’s article on page 22 pinpoints some interesting if not troubling aspects of Ratzinger’s brand of thumb-in-the-dike theology -- if the thumb is too big for the hole in the dike, the truth gets wet and soggy.

Hick’s cautious critique of Ratzinger’s attack on relativism finds the cardinal using sloppy, inaccurate, unfair, poorly researched and ad hominem theology. Theology by fiat: I say it’s so, so it’s so. Such accusations against the church’s foremost defender of eternal verities, if shown to be true, ought to to be an embarrassment to official Catholic theology.

Yet, though the Ratzinger document has been out there for a year, there has been no great fuss until now. If the allegations prove to be true -- an easy enough matter to check on -- it seems odd that no voices were raised in dismay. After all, Ratzinger has made a career of sniping at others’ errors; this ought to have been payback time.

One answer is that Ratzinger and these theologians parted company long ago. For today’s creative theologians, Ratzinger is an irrelevance and scoring points on him is only a shallow indulgence. In short, they don’t read Ratzinger.

Then there are the conservative Christians. These do read Ratzinger. But since, for them, the German cardinal can write no wrong, they take every word, including such gaffes as Hick points out, as gospel.

This leaves Ratzinger wearing a rather thin theological suit -- making a difference only when he hauls in yet another “dissident” for interrogation or punishment.

Our cover story on Columbia may be too long for some, too tragic for others. It is not light reading. That’s one reason you won’t find many such articles in the U.S. media. People want instead to be entertained; to leave bad news, and the guilt that comes with it, at our national borders.

Yet, a remnant wants to know, prepared to look the evil in the eye. It’s a stout, undaunted remnant -- people of conscience. They are quintessential NCR people. It is one of our glories that these are the readers we attract. Time and again they tell us how, over the years, NCR covered the agony of Latin America when scarcely anyone else did.

There seems now to be a lull. Our politicians congratulate themselves on giving democracy to Latin America. The implication is that with democracy goes peace and plenty. This week’s article by Leslie Wirpsa makes clear that Latin America is still a story and still a sad one.

And it’s not just about faraway places. We of the USA are still, sadly, implicated in what is worse as well as what is better about Latin America. It’s our story.

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 1997