by Viviane Hewitt in Rome FEARS that last month's Vatican Instruction document aimed at limiting theological dissent would serve only to aggravate the phenomenon materialised this week with counter declarations against Rome from Italy, Germany and Brazil.
The Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prohibits
theological opinions in contrast with Rome and their dissemination through the mass media. Theologians in difficulty are urged to "suffer" in silence.
The first protests at the Instruction reached Rome from Munich where 22 German theologians, including the controversial Hans Kung, published the new Declaration of Tubinga condemning the Vatican paper.
The declaration is the second in two years. The first, the Declaration of Cologne which 163 theologians signed, sparked a theology controversy by lamenting a new centralisation on Rome under John Paul II, arbitrary episcopal nomination procedures and intransigence on social issues, including contraception. Nearly 500 theologians and clergy Europewide later adhered to the Cologne document and further separate protest cieciarations followed it.
The new Declaration of Tubinga, dated July 12, rejects Vatican disciplinary measures against dissenting theologians and charges that the Instruction threatens theological liberty.
"Any type of inquisition, as subtle as it may be, damages not only sound theological development but also provokes unpredictable consequences for the whole church throughout the world".
The declaration advances new criticism of an envisaged encyclical on moral questions which, the 22 theologians predict, plans to consolidate papal infallibility on the issue of birth control.
It goes on to propose that the Vatican institute a commission to investigate the whole question of papal infallibility as regards birth control and requests that the October world synod of bishops in Rome deals "publicly" with contrasts on morality issues "especially sexuality and celibacy".
In Italy,the revered publication II Regno is preparing another broadside for the congregation of Cardinal Ratzinger in its forthoming edition. In an editorial signed simply "the editorial staff", the review's journalist-priests reject Cardinal Ratzinger's Instruction.
They contest the paper's ban on redress for theologians to the mass media and express concern for freedom of theological research.
As a result of the Instruction, the Catholic theologian emerges as "functional" to edifying the faith of the ecclesiastical community, but is isolated from society, according to II Regno.
"Whoever might have no knowledge of the Catholic church or of its enrichment in the past few decades and might seek to judge it on the basis of this Instruction would perceive an impoverished, limited image of it", the review adds.
The Vatican document, born of "pessimism", reduced theological conflict and criticism to a monolithic problem of dissent. II Regno finds none of the "hope or prospects" in the Instruction that the language of Vatican Council II had offered.
To reinforce its protest, II Regno carries a further criticism of Cardinal Ratzinger's congregation from the archbishop of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns.
The cardinal warns that the congregation is preparing new sanctions against one of Latin America's leading theologians, Franciscan Fr Leonardo Boff, for his 1985 backing for the theology of liberation, Fr Boff was sentenced to a year of silence by the Vatican.