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
F. and  C.A. Pimentel-Pinto
Hook, Hampshire, England