T HE public image of Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, is that of the Church's leading "NoMan", the arch-conservative and opponent of change, the juridical mind inconsistent with the pastoral needs of the modern world, the destroyer of personal reputations through one-sided inquisitorial processes.
No onc denies that he has one of the finest brains in the theological world, that this fierce and brilliant debater has devoted his private life to social and charitable work. What arc his own feelings about the attacks launched on him and his department from all sides during the Council?
A partial answer to these cinestions emerges from this interview, which he gave recently to La France Casholique.
QYour Eminence, the Holy NZ, Office and its director (yourself) do not enjoy a very good reputation in the world in general, and in the Council in particular. Why is this?
A. Because People judge us on what happened in the past. They judge us on what they know from history of the inquisition, as it existed several centuries ago.
But the modern Holy Office is quite a different matter, Its methods are all modern, with the exception of the secrecy which is often laid against us. My contention is, however. that this secrecy is necessary, both for the sake of the reputation of the priests who are brought before us, and of writers who are, moreover. answerable to the judgment of public opinion.
Their books speak out as it is, either for or against them.
Again, the Holy Office proceeds with prudence, thoroughness and justice, all of which give complete protection. It is quite untrue that we do not maintain liaison with the bishops. It is to them first of all that we go for information on the author, his previous publications, and any works which he has edited.
The bishop knows then that there are certain problems, from the point of view of the Holy Office, in the particular priest or layman's latest book.
We take these steps in secret because, if we made a public announcement, it would immediately damage the reputation of such a writer in the eyes of Catholics who are in good faith.
When once they know that a writer is under a cloud with the Holy Office, their respect for him begins to weaken, because of their loyalty to the Holy See and their love for the Faith, its purity and certainty.
Q. But when people talk about the Holy Office, they arc thinking N particular decisions, such as the condemnation of Galileo. or of sonse well-known French writers, such as Victor Hugo who, I believe, has been listed in the Index.
A. I admit that mistakes can be made. because no human being can say that he can avoid all mistakes. think that the condemnation of Galileo was a very regrettable mistake, but you will realise, I trust. that there were mitigating factors.
Think of the state of the world at that time, one of the men who were living then. For us, who are living now in a nuclear-age civilisation, these discoveries are things . . things which we cannot but admire. But in those days . . !
Q. In other words, you would not condemn Galileo today?
A. Certainly not. I can tell you that there was a recent session of the Holy Office during which a consultor 'said, "We must be careful. We don't want to make the Galileo mistake again."
You can sec, therefore, that we are thinking about this problem. Once you have made a mistake. you do your hest not to make the same mistake again. This is what you call learning by experience.
In any case, what human judge can say that he has nes er made a error? Who can say that he has always made his judgments in accordance with truth and divine justice?
Q. The Holy Office is only one department of what we call the Roman Curia. During the Council, the Curia has been attacked. sometimes with great bitterness, for having seized too much authority, and for having, for all practical purposes, made itself an intermediary between the Pope and the bishops.
Do you think that the Curia should continue to act in the way it is doing now?
A. There is nothing to stop the Holy Father asking thc bishops for their advice. I personally think it would be perfectly possible to restore "consistories" to their former function.
The Holy Father could then hold consistories more frequently, so that, instead of being purely formal occasions, they would be used to discuss urgent problems affecting the Church and the modern world.
Q. But don't you think it necessary for the Council to create some such thing?
A. That is another question. No one can force this advice on the Holy Father, even through a Council. He alone receives, in his personal capacity, Our Lord's cornmission to be the base and foundation-stone of the Church, and its universal pastors.
Even if the bishops are the successors of the Apostles, they do not succeed them as foundation-stones of the Church. as heads of the Church, or as universal pastors of the Church,
Those sheep that want to be the sheep of Christ must submit themselves to thc rule of Peter, for it was to Peter that the words -Feed my sheep" were said.
Q. Don't you really regret that this Council has taken place, and given an opportunity for some of the speeches we have heard?
A. 1 think it has been useful, and. in any case, the difficulties we have had to face are nothing compared with the difficulties of earlier Councils.
But even these difficulties have had their use, when you consider that the propagators of the new theology had already questioned, to some degree, the primacy of the Pope.
The debate on collegiality made it quite clear that there is only one head of the Universal Church, even though the bishops can co-operate for the good of the whole Church. and not merely concern themselves with the good of their dioceses.
Q. Thank you, Your Eminence. There is just one point, though. Everything that you have just told me, and everything that you stand ,for has quite often been the view of only a minority of the Council. Do you think. however. that there is much the Council can change, or do you hope that things will remain as they arc?
A. I don't quite get the drift of your question.
Q. What I mean is. many of the points which you defend, and the positions which you hold, have not been those of the majority of the Council. Do you ...
A. Are you referring to the vote taken on October 30?
Q. That is one example, yes.
A. You must remember that a number of statements have been made about that vote, which was not preceded by any discussion. The wording of the resolution was not even prepared by the Doctrinal Commission, even though it was a matter of doctrine, and even of dogma.
The whole question, therefore, was properly the affair of the Commission. which had the sole authority to direct the debate.
The terms proposed contain a number of phrases which are ambiguous, badly expressed and obscure. Several of the Council Fathers complained afterwards. "Why didn't we discuss the wording?", they said, Discussion is always a good thing you know.
What would you say if you were a member of parliament. presented with a Bill, and told, two days later, "Vote on this Bill', without any debate?
Discussion is a guarantee that there will be certainty. truth and justice in what is finally decided.
Q. You have good hopes, then, in spite of the Council?
A. Your phrase "in spite of the Council" is a curious one. Although the Council has been summoned for the good of the Universal Church, it will also bring advantages for civilized society. for the good of society is the natural outcome of the progress of Christian life,
As you know, we ended this session of the Council by discussing cc omen ism. Several Council Fathers have made the point. quite
legitimately, that ecumenism does not only mean the reunion with the Church of non-Catholic Christians.
Ecumenism, as the s.ery word shows, *concerns the whole world, pagans, other religions, in China, Africa. and so on.
True ecumenism means the Church's determination to bring Christian civilization even to those countries which have their own civilization, but which are not yet Christian.
Christian civilization cannot fail to help these peoples to develop their resources and advance towards progress.
Q. Aren't you downhearted. your Emipence, after hearing all those criticisms and attacks?
A. No. Criticism always produces some good, and it helps us reflect at times. I don't deny for a moment that there are things which need putting right, in the Holy Office. in the methods used by the Roman Curia, in our own human nature, and in our whole perspective, which needs to be sharper, deeper, and clearer.