An Interview With Godfried Danneels

Cardinal Danneels, did you plan this intervention at the May consistory beforehand? No. At synods, I usually wait about a week before I speak. First I listen. I feel the temperature. I listen to what has been said, what has not been said, and what I think needs to be said at that point.

 

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Some bishops write their interventions at home, or have a theologian write them for them, even a month or so before a synod—and to be honest, some synodal interventions are not relevant.

For the consistory, I prepared my intervention the night before I spoke. As it happened, there were about 44 cardinals who wished to speak but could not because there was not enough time. I was one of the last to speak.

Could you offer some insight concerning the tension that exists between some theologians and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? The collaboration with the episcopacy that theologians enjoyed at the time of the Second Vatican Council no longer seems to be their experience.

Before Vatican II, in theology, as in other areas, the discipline was fixed. After the council there has been a revolution—a chaotic revolution—with free discussion on everything. There is now no common theology or philosophy as there was before. It was a period—and it still is going on—of trying new ideas. Our theology is still in a time of crisis, and I think this will last for some years more.

Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that Rome should sometimes intervene and say this or that is not in conformity with the Catholic faith. Theologians should understand that. Some theologians go too far, for example, reducing the Catholic faith to a universal philosophy.

The problem for Rome, then, is how and when the intervention should be done with a sense of the possibility of going too far in limiting the freedom of theologians. This is not an easy time—neither for Rome nor for the theologians.

What of the theologians who do not think they have gone too far and who are concerned with a procedure that is secretive and that places them and their work under a cloud of suspicion?

First, something that is not very good is that accusations are made directly to Rome about theologians from persons who are not theologians. Some of these accusations are anonymous. The local bishop should be the one to relate to theologians to determine orthodoxy.

Second, there is a very well-defined procedure, and generally the procedure is followed, that allows the Vatican to raise issues with a particular theologian about something that does not appear in conformity with the Catholic faith. It is not always easy to make this determination.

I always say to theologians who are experimenting with some new idea to put in the preface of their book a few lines that say, This is a hypothesis, my hypothesis. I submit it to the judgment of my peers—other theologians—so that it can be discussed, and also to the authority of the church. I ask theologians not to say, This is the last word and the complete truth on the matter. But most of the time they don’t follow my advice.

Were any of your remarks at the consistory misunderstood or in need of clarification?

At the consistory, with the intervention, no. But afterward there was misunderstanding among some concerning my motivation for making the intervention. Some said I did it to advance my candidature for the papacy. That is completely false. The intervention was made at the last minute because I thought these three points needed to be made. There was no plan on my part. I have no ambition to be pope. It is definitely not one of my desires.

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