by Viviane Hewitt in Rome POPE John Paul 11 has condemned the 63 Italian theologians who last week labelled pastoral trends in the Church "regressive". Addressing Italy's bishops this week, the Pope met head on the charges of a Europe-wide movement of dissenting theologians, and reasserted the duty of bishops as "the real teachers of faith".
Speaking to the Italian EpisCopal Conference this week the Pope said a closer, more faithful and more respectful collaboration with bishops was required of theologians. John Paul's condemnation of the 63 is considered significant in the light of his stern silence following the creation of a growing theological movement of dissent Europewide, sparked by the protests contained in the so-called Declaration of Cologne, published last January. Vatican sources said the Pope
personally advocated caution on
reaction to the Declaration of Cologne, originally signed by 163 mainly northen Europeans and to which 'Spanish, French and Be,lgian theologians later adhered.
But, as the Bishop of Rome, he could not ignore criticism of pastoral teaching on home ground, the source added. The Italian Episcopal Conference meeting thus presented an opportunity to extend a message to all dissidents without appearing to have over-reacted.
The 63 Italians published an open letter two weeks ago in the same magazine, II Regno. that first printed the Declaration of Cologne. The Italian theologians' protest focussed on four points of contention — the alleged "relegation" of Vatican Council II to a pastoral level; the wordly style of the Church; the lack of respect for variety within the Church, within episcopal conferences and in the nominations of bishops; and the right to freedom of research for theologians.
But the Pope replied in his address to Italy's bishops that it was the Council itself which highlighted that the mission of imparting the Gospel was the duty of bishops, successors of the Apostles. "Bishops are the real teachers of faith, united among themselves and with the Bishop of Rome. It is necessary that the entire ecclesiastical body develops a new consciousness of Christ's design for His Church."
Alternative, parallel teaching is therefore illegitimate because "there is only one truth that is Christ". Theologians have the specific function of probing this truth and inserting it in today's cultural context, John Paul added.
"The truth of Christian ethics is too often threatened and contended, not only at a behavioural level • but at a doctrinal level, prejudicing the Christian way of life", he said.
The Pope's call to order, however, has served only to intensify the debate. Just hours after his address to the Episcopal Conference, Ii Regno issued a statement defending the 63 theologians. "It is useless to interpret aggressively the declaration of the 63 Italian theologians, an inevitable follow up to the German, French and Spanish theologians pronouncements" it said.
"If the Church has made mistakes we should have the courage to say so", said the statement, which was transmitted to Italian agencies.
II Regno claimed the theologians' objections were shared extensively in ecclesiastical circles. "It is useless to pretend otherwise. Instead of being scandalised the issues should be faced calmly."