Inside the Former Inquisition
Objective facts are always submerged, as it were, in the feelings of those who are living them out. What effect did the events of my judicial proceedings within the former Inquisition in Rome in 1984 have upon me?
In the first place I felt as if I had been truly kidnapped by someone from the “Red Brigades”. At 9 a.m. the Vatican officials came to fetch me and before I could say goodbye to my Superior they grabbed me and pushed me inside a car which sped to the nearby Vatican.
Swiss Guards escorted me from the car to the lift. On the floor above two other Guards were waiting for me together with the Cardinal Inquisitor, Joseph Ratzinger, attired in his formal cardinal’s robes. I was wearing my simple friar’s habit. To ease the tension I greeted him in his native Bavarian. But I was taken straight through a carpeted hall some 100 metres long which was lined with Renaissance paintings. At the very end was a tiny door, so small that I had difficulty going through it into the small room, full of books, with a small podium on which sit both the Inquisitor and the person who is the object of his inquisition. A notary by our side would be taking everything down. Proceedings began without further ado.I interrupted the Cardinal, however, and said to him,” My Lord Cardinal, in our country we are still Christians; before we start any serious business we ask for God’s protection”. Surprised by this, the Cardinal immediately started the ritual recitation of the Veni Sancte Spiritus. Within a juridical concept of the Church there is, really, no place for God. I started reading what I had prepared. The Cardinal only interrupted me twice. First he wanted to know what an Ecclesial Base Community was; he thought it was a communist cell where militants were trained, because in these communities we are always talking about struggle. The second interruption led to a debate which we have continued to the present day. He states, “The Church of Christ is only to be found within the [Roman] Catholic Church. There are only elements of Christ’s Church within other institutions: it is rather like having doors and walls, but not enough to make a complete house.These institutions are not churches and therefore cannot by rights be called churches”. This I consider to be offensive, arrogant and simply wrong if Tradition be taken into account.
There was a break for coffee in the large hall. Officials appeared from everywhere, each one with his copy of the condemned book Church: charism and power asking for autographs. This greatly irritated the Cardinal. I wrote the same thing in every copy, “Conserve Jesus’s inheritance, freedom won not with words but with his own blood”. Alone with the Cardinal we went on looking at the paintings until we stopped before a huge picture representing Saint Francis, in old torn clothes, but transfigured in the sky above. On the ground below was the kneeling Pope with his triple crown on his head. I said to the Cardinal, “here is the symbol of the Church we defend, the Church of the poor, represented by St Francis and the Pope kneeling at its service”. The Cardinal said,” you politicize everything. Here we simply see this as a work of art and not a theological statement”. I then drew his attention to the great squared iron windows, “you have no eyes for Liberation Theology because you see the world of the poor through those square windows and so everything appears square to you”.
We worked for another hour. At the end we had a meeting with the two Brazilian Cardinals Arns and Lorscheider who had come to Rome to support me. Cardinal Arns came straight to the point, “Eminence, we do not like the document on Liberation Theology which has just been published. We are asking for another document which will do justice to the churches which take the option for the poor and their liberation seriously. You have tried to build a bridge by using a grammarian and not an engineer .Allow our builders in and they will help you to construct a good Liberation Theology, which will be of service to the whole Church”.
Translated from the original Brazilian Portuguese