Page 2, 7th September 1984

7th September 1984
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Page 2, 7th September 1984 — Boff's central pillar : a church by the poor
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Boff's central pillar : a church by the poor

Letter from Rome

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DESMOND O'GRAD1

IT IS SA1D Fr Leonardo Boff's book Church Charisma and Power which recently appeared in an Italian edition, was one of the reasons he has been summoned to Rome.

It argues that the Church is an event more than an institution and more play should be given to the variety of gifts (charisma) within the Church which are at present inhibited by its juridical and hierarchic structure.

Some swipes at the Hierarchy could raise Vatican hackies: "The faces of the hierarchy (bishops) are generally as sad as it' they were at their own funerals, as solemn as if they were solely responsible for the world's salvation. The Hierarchy impoverishes itself in its capitalistic desire to accumulate everything, all the Church, smothering possible charismas and forming a mass of mediocrities who are servile, waiting only for orders from their ecclesicastical boss". A brief response to this would be that if bishops look sad many theologians are not exactly bursting with mirth.

More significant is Boff's account of the evolution of the Church's self-understanding which has found various historical embodiments all, he claims, still evident in Latin America. One is the Church as the city of God, the perfect. selfsufficient society concerned with its internal cohesion and its members' perfection.

Another is the Church which conceives itself primarily as a hierarchy and reaches understandings with civil authorities to allow it to function. This Church must have its own institutions, it must make deals with the powerful to help the poor.

The third "historic" type of Church which sees itself as the sacrament of the world's salvation and collaborates with all men of goodwill for the reform of society. Boff says this reformist model of the Church has a greater following than any other in Latin America.

But, he claims, another type of Church is emerging: a church not merely in favour of the poor but shaped by them and their faith.

It sounds a little as if this will

be the anti-United States 01 America church rather than the Catholic church 'for Boff says the poor must realise that North America and its Latin American allies exercise economic, political and cultural oppression in order to wax rich.

Boff has two attitudes to the poor. He has an evangelical respect for the poor and disadvantaged because of their intrinsic dignity, a respect deriving from conviction that there is an order distinct from that of this world.

But tie also exalts the poor because he believes history is on their side, in other words he is betting on them in the future stakes.

Although the Church has tended to identify with one class or another, it must fight against this temptation rather than embrace it. If Boff's poor "made" it, the Church should then side with those on the outer—particularly if it is a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Boff creates the strong impression that the Church is irreversably middle class. That perhaps is too strong a mixture; Paul VI was the first "middleclass" Pope; generally they have tended to be aristrocrats or peasants.

As the Doctrinal Congregation was once the Inquisition, its trials tend to evoke thumbscrews. In the late 1960's, I interviewed the Belgian monk Henri Lemercier when he was brought from Mexico for questioning about his introduction of Freudian analysis in his monastery.

The analysis was carried out by women who eventually convinced the monks that they did not have religious vocations. Even the old monks married. Lemercier married his analyst and took in a papal audience on his honeymoon.

The Doctrinal Congregation put Lemercier up in the comfortable Bologna hotel. He ate at good restaurants each night and sent signed photographs of the occasion to his interrogator. No dungeon, no rack, no thumbscrews.

The Doctrinal Congregation's trial procedures were revised in 1971 but Ratzinger has recently admitted they should be further improved to give greater juridical guarantees to the person on trial, he also shrewdly redefined the Congregation's watchdog role as one of "criticism".

For years the Congregation has been corresponding with Boll about his alleged theological errors. "You cannot criticise these people", Rat zinger has allegedly said, "without them claiming you arc against the poor."

The danger to the Vatican in the Boff affair is a seeming lack of sympathy with some of the most generous elements in the Church.

The danger Boff runs is that the Vatican could revoke his licence to teach Catholic theology. The dangers could induce both parties to reach some form of agreement.

The full thrust of the Vatican's policy will probably be revealed only when the Pope and the head of the Jesuits visit the Dominican Republic in October.

But it already seems clear that it intends to discourage any superclericalism, a harnessing of the church to revolution and the Wessing of any .sodosnolitical system as a final solution.




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