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Silenced for saying things Rome didn’t like to have said


What I am blamed for is usually very little. Most of the time, whatever problem is raised about an idea in my work is explained in the preceding line in that same work. What has put me in the wrong (in their eyes) is not having said false things, but having said things that they do not like to have said. I have touched on problems without always aligning myself to the one point of view which [Rome] wants to impose on the comportment of the whole of the Christian world and which is: to think nothing, to say nothing, except what they propose.

There is one pope who thinks everything, who says everything, and the whole quality of being Catholic consists in obeying him. They want to be absolutely the only ones to think or say anything, except on a small area of inconsequential topics. It is absolutely required to repeat and orchestrate their oracles, declaiming, “Ah, isn’t this wonderful!” [Rome] has attributed to me an audience and an influence that I know very well I have never had. But they will listen to nothing about that.

The present pope [Pius XII] has (especially since 1950) developed almost to the point of obsession a paternalistic regime consisting in this: that he and he alone should say to the world what it has to think and what it must do. He wishes to reduce theologians to commenting on his statements and not to dare to think something or undertake something beyond mere commentary; except, I repeat, in a very small and safeguarded area of inconsequential problems.

The French Dominicans have been persecuted and reduced to silence because they have been the only ones who have had a certain freedom of thought, initiative and expression. In all cases this has been a matter of a freedom within orthodoxy, but an orthodoxy whose sources are the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, etc. The first warning I was given, perhaps the only clear one, came in 1938 or ’39; Père Gillet [the Dominican master general] said to me: “They complain about you for calling for a return to the sources of theology.” And of course there are others who have also lived and worked in this same direction. Indeed, there are many, perhaps more and more. But we know that it is in large part thanks to us (the role of Editions du Cerf [the Dominican press in Paris], etc.) that we are so visible. And above all, we are the only group as a group to be free in the service of truth, the only ones to put truth above everything else.

It is clear to me that Rome has never looked for and even now does not look for anything but the affirmation of its own authority. Everything else interests it only as matter for the exercise of this authority. Except for a certain number of cases dealing with people of holiness and creativity, the whole history of Rome is about insisting on its own authority and the destruction of everything that cannot be reduced to submission. If Rome, 90 years late regarding the initiatives of the liturgical movement, now takes an interest in this movement, for example, it is so that the movement won’t exist without and won’t be able to escape its control. And on and on.

Practically speaking, they have destroyed me as far as it was possible for them. Everything I believed and had worked on has been taken away: ecumenism, teaching, conferences, working with priests, writing for Témoignage Chrétien, involvement in conventions, etc.

They have not, of course, hurt my body; nor have they touched my soul or forced me to do anything. But a person is not limited to his skin and his soul. Above all when someone is a doctrinal apostle, he is his action, he is his friendships, he is his relationships, he is his social outreach; they have taken all that away from me. All that is now at a standstill, and in that way I have been profoundly wounded. They have reduced me to nothing and so they have for all practical purposes destroyed me. When, at certain times, I look back on everything I had hoped to be and to do, on what I had begun to do, I am overtaken by an immense heartsickness.

The full text of Congar’s letter appears in the March 2000 issue of La Vie Spirituelle. This excerpt was translated by an American Dominican.

National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2000