CDF vs Theologian

I noticed a story from Poland picked up by CNS, but so far ignored by Zenit. It seems a Polish theologian, Father Waclaw Hryniewicz has angered the CDF by a critique of the congregation’s July 2007 document responding to “questions” on church teaching touching on Church and ecumenical issues. The theologian faces censure not only for disagreeing with the CDF, but for the tone of his September 2007 article. I cannot find the piece, so if anyone has a link, I’ll add it to this post.

One might think that devotion to the truth of theology is foremost in the minds of the CDF. Not according to their complaint. According to CNS:

The congregation “deplored above all” Father Hryniewicz’s “gratuitous judgment that the Roman Curia is going back to the old ecclesiology and ecumenical theology before Vatican II” and “wishing to have a monopoly of the truth.”

Obviously, there’s a struggle for the truth here. Is Father Hryniewicz correct in stating that non-Catholics have been “profoundly hurt” by the document, as he says? That was my experience in Kansas City last year. Catechumenate directors all over the city reported smaller-than-usual inquiry groups last Fall. Cynics might not think so, but non-Catholics do pay close attention to what Catholics do and say.

If a person claims problems with the CDF is that really a matter for the CDF itself or some other body of church governance? Father Hryniewicz’s own comments in the aftermath of the CDF demand he recant and his own refusal to do so:

I wrote my comments in consonance with my own conscience.

You may be sure in the future I will not comment on any documents of the CDF. I have been sufficiently discouraged by the present experience.

A few of my comments:

Does political criticism of a curial department fall under the management of “doctrine of faith?” It wouldn’t seem so to me.

The CDF seems to be going head-to-head in many areas with other curial departments, the CDWDS, ecumenism. One can see how different departments in any human organization can’t help but butt heads from time to time. When another theologian or department complains, should that conflict be resolved by the one of the butters, or is this an instance in which leadership outside the groups is needed?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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19 Responses to CDF vs Theologian

  1. Jimmy Mac says:

    Good for this priest! One of these days the Vatican will learn that you don’t lead by hitting people over the head-that’s assault, not leadership. And the rest of us have to remember the words of Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Or the words of that great contemporary philosopher, Kinky Friedman: “You don’t accomplish much by swimming with the mainstream. Hell, a dead fish can do that!”

  2. Brian says:

    In “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church,” William Cardinal Levada clarified authentic Church ecclesiology.

    Naturally, Protestants disagree with Catholic ecclesiology.

    In order to avoid offending Protestants, should Catholics avoid or conceal Catholic doctrine?

  3. Todd says:

    Brian, the question would seem to be this: is this CDF document actually a clarification? It claims to be responses to “some” questions of “certain” aspects. The very title suggests it is not exhaustive of the whole of Catholic theology on Church doctrine. That would seem to leave room for the more “positive” aspects of ecumenism.

    It would also seem this document in turn, “avoids” or “conceals” Catholic doctrine that would offend arch-traditionalists. Must expressions of doctrine, in turn, avoid offending certain Catholics.

  4. Brian says:

    This document did offend arch-traditionalists, but that is not the topic here.

    The problem here is that presenting the truth that the Catholic Church is the true Church angers some people; and did so in this case. Does that mean that Catholics should not state that truth?

  5. Todd says:

    Brian, you may have misunderstood me.

    It is said that outside of the Catholic Church there are significant elements of sanctification and truth. One favorite canard of arch-traditionalists is that the modern Roman Rite looks like “Protestant worship.” Where that assessment is trumpeted as proof of liturgical defect, in actuality shows little grasp of the important principle of what to look for in the full Church teaching.

    I repeat my assertion on the defects of this document, not necessarily by content, but by omission. That would be my sense of the criticism by Fr Hryniewicz.

    The CDF statement is incomplete. It conceals some aspects of Church teaching. Were it to include these teachings, it might well offend arch-traditionalists, so I repeat my questions:

    1. From where did these questions come?
    2. Why were some included and not others?
    3. If theologians object to this document, and have specific criticisms, has the word of a curial cardinal suddenly become infallible?
    4. The document itself, in its title, concedes it does not express the whole of church teaching on this matter. Why not make an effort to do so?

  6. Brian says:

    The CDF document states, “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.] Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe… in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.”

    What is it that you insist is omitted?
    What aspects of Church is this document concealing?

  7. Todd says:

    “What is it that you insist is omitted?”

    Quite simply, other questions the CDF did not include. Let me suggest a few: How do Catholics avoid the perception of triumphalism when presenting our understanding of “church” and “Church?” Is our approach of ecumenical friendship any different when dealing with separated Christians? Why are Roman Catholics largely uninformed of the difference between Orthodox and Reformation Christians? When we speak of the “domestic church,” how is that terminology affected, if at all, by the marriage of a Catholic and non-Catholic believer?

    “What aspects of Church is this document concealing?”

    Who asked these questions. Whether or not this document was a set of answers in search of questions, or authentic questions raised.

    I think the main criticism of this document as incomplete, as a provocation of misunderstanding and bitterness on a sensitive topic is a valid one. Raising the issue of poor judgment or a lack of prudence in connection with the CDF is not out of line.

    To offer an example, the sentence: Mary killed a human being. This CDF document is like that. We can imagine in our minds if the human being was an unborn infant or an armed intruder threatening her family, or an enemy combatant, or a pedestrian on the street.

    I think a document like this may be judged irresponsible or inaccurate or incomplete in light of the many, many other questions that deserve to be raised. The content as presented is wholly orthodox. But orthodoxy is not enough.

  8. Gavin says:

    The only protestant reactions I saw to this document were “Surprise: the Pope is Catholic.” It only need offend those protestants who are under some misconception as to what the Church believes or hold hopes it may change.

    That said, I too am dismayed by how the CDF is treating diverging theologians on this.

  9. Brian says:


    Certainly it is important to avoid triumphalism in working with other Christians.

    I agree that many Catholics are uninformed about the distinction between Orthodox and Reformation Christians. The document specifically addresses the difference.

    The issue of mixed marriages is an important one. Ecumenism within the family is often where the rubber meets the road.

    These are all important issues.

    Without addressing whether the CDF document should have spoken to these issues, this was not the focus of Fr. Hryniewicz’s criticism.

    Fr. Hryniewicz criticized the CDF document for “seeking to interpret the Second Vatican Council in the spirit of pre-conciliar teaching.”

    Here, Fr. Hryniewicz exemplifies a “hermeneutic of rupture” that directly contradicts Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity.” (See Address to the Roman Curia:

    Fr. Hryniewicz ‘s theology is unorthodox. He teaches “universal salvation.” He criticizes the CDF document for “wishing to have a monopoly of the truth.” He teaches relativism.

    According to the English abstract of his article, “The Savior uses many tunes,” Fr. Hryniewicz applies “a positive, inclusive understanding of the truth . . . to ecclesiology.” He “concludes by re-affirming the value of Christian ecclesiological (denominational) diversity, which can be compared to different ‘paths’ which have been leading Christians towards God through the centuries. Therefore, the theological quarrel about ‘the best way’ to God is pointless.”

    This may play well at ecumenical gatherings, but it distorts Catholic teaching. Do you disagree?

  10. Todd says:

    I disagree.

    I’m not sure that we’re talking about Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” so much as a curial “hermeneutic of obstruction.” The pope’s assessment of post-conciliar ideology is not quite as simple as two competing hermeneutics. Fr Hryniewicz criticizes the “spirit” of the teaching, you quote. I think the CDF statement is selective, and reveals too much of an emphasis on pre-conciliar language and approach to the exclusion of others.

    Taken alone, I would also say Fr Hryniewicz’s approach is incomplete.

  11. Brian says:

    It seems that you and Fr. Hryniewicz are both troubled by the “spirit” of the CDF document. You keep coming back your criticism that the CDF excluded issues that you believe they should have addressed and you criticize the document for being incomplete and lacking in sensitify.
    But, while you wrote that it was “wholly orthodox,” Fr. Hryniewicz specifically and pointedly rejected the doctrine.
    The CDF stated an ancient and fundamental Catholic truth:
    Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.”
    Fr. Hryniewicz’s criticism is not just that he document was too selective, he criticized the actual ecclesiology arguing:
    “A positive, inclusive understanding of the truth is applied to ecclesiology . . . re-affirming the value of Christian ecclesiological (denominational) diversity, which can be compared to different ‘paths’ which have been leading Christians towards God through the centuries. Therefore, the theological quarrel about ‘the best way’ to God is pointless . . . Christian theology should be aware that God’s abundance in grace cannot be comprehended by theological models or channelled by just one form of Christianity.”
    He directly contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching and proposes a relativistic model. For this, he was censured. I would ask you please to just stick to this specific theological disagreement.

    Do you agree with him?

  12. Todd says:

    It’s not a question of my agreement with him, but that I agree with the Church.

    The CDF didn’t think theology was the biggest problem. They criticized most of all his criticism of them. I searched and was unable to find the article in question, so I confined my commentary to what I was able to access.

    My separate criticism (I don’t need anyone else to speak for me) of the document was offered at the prompting of your first post. That reflection is wholly separate from anything Fr. Hryniewicz wrote or said.

    If you’re asking me to comment specifically on Fr. Hryniewicz’s article, send me a link by e-mail and I’ll look it over.

  13. Jim McK says:

    I can easily understand why FrH would think this document represents a revival of pre-conciliar thinking. Look at the fifth question that the CDF attempted to answer:

    “Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?”

    Compare that to the heading of Unitatis Redintegratio, chapter 3, section II:
    “II. Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West”

    This appears to be a conciliar text that contradicts the basis of Q5. Perhaps there is a technical basis for saying it does not mean the same thing as the English translation offered on the Vatican website. I have not looked at the history of the discussions of it at the Council either, so I may be completely off base. But to me, it appears the SCDF is over-ruling the Council, saying it does not say what most everyone thinks it says, in favor of a preconciliar understanding of ecumenism and Church, as FrH claims.

    I am making no claims about who is right, and who is wrong, the SCDF or FrH. I do believe the conciliar text is correct, and I have some ideas of what the SCDF might mean, though they are by no means obvious. But it seems completely reasonable that a theologian would question the SCDF’s interpretation as a part of his responsibility, as a theologian, to the teaching of the Council. He deserves praise for that, even if he is wrong.

  14. Neil says:

    May I recommend my earlier post on the 2007 CDF statement, which can be found here?

    The CNS article suggests that Fr Hryniewicz is partially in trouble for his “emotional language” and his criticisms of the CDF’s methodology. This strikes me as somewhat disconcerting because one can broadly agree with the CDF’s conclusions while still lamenting:

    1. Its terminology – Why couldn’t it use more sensitive language such as “churches of another type,” as the Protestant bishop Wolfgang Huber has suggested?

    2. Its refusal to provide any context for the statement. Why couldn’t it explain why it was releasing this statement at this time? Misinterpretation could have been avoided.

    3. Its lack of helpful nuance. Some readers of the fifth question might conclude that, in Catholic eyes, Protestant communities must suffer from a complete lack of ordained ministry rather than a deficient ordained ministry (“absence of sacramental priesthood”). Thus, the Church of Christ would be “present and operative” in ecclesial communities (“on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them”) that have no ordained ministry (!). Is this what the document wishes to say?

    4. Its lack of any mention of the woundedness of Catholic ministry in a state of Christian division.

    I think that it would be a very bad thing if one couldn’t agree with the CDF’s conclusions, but disagree – even quite strongly – with its way of proceeding.


  15. Brian says:

    I am not sure why you would rush to defend Fr. Hryniewicz from censure by the CDF when you don’t even know what he wrote.

    I don’t know your email address. You have mine. Email if you would like.

  16. Todd says:

    Brian, I don’t know if my original post was a defense of Fr. Hryniewicz as much as a criticism of the CDF. I think some people jump to conclusions about the enemy of my enemy and false logical principles like that.

    What we can say is that the theological problems with Fr. Hryniewicz’s writings were, by the CDF’s own admission, less serious than his criticism of them. That is a remarkable statement.

  17. Brian says:

    In reading your comment #12, I am not sure whether you are saying that I’ve taken up enough space here, but perhaps you would be interested in continuing via email, or whether you would like to let it drop, or whether you wanted to look the English abstract of Fr. Hryniewicz’s article over, then continue here.

    This, of course, is your blog.
    Naturally, it is your call.

  18. Todd says:

    Brian, my friend, feel free to comment whenever, wherever. My e-mail is in the sidebar, though a good bit down the page. I was serious about being interested in looking over the summary of Fr. Hryniewicz’s article. I’m not above leveling criticism wherever and whenever, even if it would seem inconvenient to my real or supposed ideology.

  19. Brian says:

    Thank you for your gracious response. There must be something wrong with my computer; I couldn’t find the email address. Anyway, here is the link:

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