Curran, Dissent, & Rome: A Symposium

Fading the material contained in Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication of September 25, 1985, bearing the protocol number 48/66 of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reminded me of a noble effort made by the late Cardinal Cooke to deal with dissent from Church teaching especially as this concerned the enterprise of religious education.

The occasion was the United States bishops’ process of amending the final draft of the National Catechetical Directory in November, 1977. The Cardinal of New York sought to gain the approval of his brother bishops for the following amendment: “The teaching of what is opposed to the faith of the Catholic church, its doctrinal and moral position, its laws, discipline and practice should in no way be allowed or countenanced in Catechetical programs on any level.”

The reaction by one bishop with a following in the bishops’ Conference was quick, to the point, and must have jarred the gentle Cardinal Cooke. “The amendment makes us appear like a bunch of cops,” the bishop observed. The Cooke amendment went down, but interestingly enough it was resurrected a day later by Bishop Nevin Hayes, O. Carm, Auxiliary of Chicago, and, as providence would have it, made its way into Article 47 of the National Catechetical Directory — the one normative and binding article in the entire document.

Cardinal Cooke’s victory in the long run proved to be a Pyrrhic one. The provisions of Article 47 have made little impact upon the catechetical and theological enterprise in this country, mainly because dissent has become institutionalized in so many educational and pastoral areas of the Church’s life.

The intervention of Cardinal Ratzinger may be capable of stemming the tide of this dissent once and for all. Yet his intervention would seem to be merely the first step in what may well be a very protracted series of moves and countermoves — involving a much larger cast of characters and players. I sincerely hope that Cardinal Ratzinger, his immediate aides, and other theological advisers have pondered long and carefully their chess-like strategies for dealing with what will probably be a number of highly organized reactions over the next six months or more. Unless the leading members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States seize the opportunity provided by Cardinal Ratzinger’s intervention, to exercise the type of vigilance which the late Cardinal was calling for, this long, tiring, and upsetting theological game of chess will continue to be a stalemate.

  • Rev. Michael J. Wrenn

    Rev. Michael J. Wrenn is the director of the Catechetical Institute of the New York Archdiocesan Department of Education, Yonkers.

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