Meeting of Doctrinal Commissions in San Francisco: February 9-12, 1999

Tuesday, February 16 1999

A delegation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was in San Francisco from February 9 to 12 for a meeting with the presidents of the doctrinal commissions of North America and Oceania.

Cardinal Ratzinger was joined by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary, and three congregation officials. The San Francisco meeting followed similar encounters in Bogota in 1984, Kinshasa 1987, Vienna 1989, Hong Kong 1993 and Guadalajara 1996.

Canada was represented by His Eminence Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto, and a member of the CCCB’s Episcopal Commission for Theology, and by Rev. Gilles Langevin, SJ, the director of the CCCB theology office.

Attached below is a press release issued by those attending the San Francisco meeting.


Press Release

From February 9 to 12, a meeting at Vallombrosa Center in Menlo Park, California brought a delegation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith together with the Chairmen and members of the Doctrinal Commissions and/or Conference Presidents or their representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, and the Pacific region.

The Doctrinal Commissions assist their Episcopal Conferences in promoting and defending Catholic doctrine within their local Churches and cultures. Discussions during the cordial and productive meeting centered on various doctrinal questions related to the proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ in the very diverse cultural circumstances represented by the participating Bishops.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened the four-day meeting with a presentation on the theme of “Subjectivity, Christology and the Church” in which he discussed the understanding of the person of Christ in the midst of a modern relativistic culture, as well as the notion of the uniqueness of the Church in the salvific plan of God. In referring to the question of the unity of Catholic teaching in the multiplicity of human cultures, the Cardinal stated that because the Word of God is “prior to human speech,” all cultures can receive the truth about the person of Christ and every human language “can become the bearer of God’s Word.”

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, developed a similar theme at the meeting, and stressed that obedience to the truth of Jesus Christ represents “not a suppression of the intellect” but “a progressive harmonization of one’s mind and heart with the mind and heart of God.”

A rich diversity of local Churches and cultures were represented at the meeting. Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco welcomed Bishops from all over the Pacific to the Archdiocesan retreat center in Menlo Park. Representing the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific were Archbishop Michel Marie Calvet of Nouméa (New Caledonia) and Bishop Soane Foliaki of Tonga. From Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands came Archbishop Adrian Smith of Honiara and Bishop Gérard-Joseph Deschamps of Daru-Kiunga. New Zealand was represented by Bishop Peter Cullinane of Palmerston North, and Australia by Archbishop Eric D’Arcy of Hobart, Bishop David Walker of Broken Bay, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Putney of Brisbane. Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto, represented the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, and Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati joined Archbishop Levada in representing the United States.

The Bishops were assisted by Congregation Officials Father Adriano Garuti, OFM, Head of the Doctrinal Section, Msgr. Josef Clemens and Father Charles Brown, as well as by Father Gilles Langevin, SJ, and Father Augustine Di Noia, OP, staff to the Canadian and U.S. Doctrinal Commissions respectively.

As an expression of Episcopal collegiality, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has sponsored a series of meetings between its officials and representatives of Doctrinal Commissions in regions across the globe. Similar gatherings have been held in Latin America (Bogotá, 1984 and Guadalajara,1996), Africa (Kinshasa,1987), Europe (Vienna, 1989) and Asia (Hong Kong, 1993).

As in previous joint meetings, the Vallombrosa meeting focused in part on the way in which doctrinal unity expresses and fosters ecclesial communion in both the local Church and the Universal Church, and at the same time contributes to a vigorous witness to the faith in diverse cultures. At Vallombrosa, the participating Bishops reported on the doctrinal situation in their particular regions as well as on the ways in which effective collaboration between Doctrinal Commissions and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might be enhanced.

Extended discussion centered on topics such as the authority of the Church’s Magisterium, the importance of the Profession of faith, the ecclesial role of the theologian, and dialogue between Bishops and theologians. Other issues receiving attention at the meeting were the implications of feminism for Catholic thought and the pastoral care of homosexual persons.

In his presentation on the role of the Catholic theologian in the light of the Profession of faith and the recent Apostolic Letter, Ad tuendam fidem, Archbishop Pilarczyk stressed that theology arises out of faith and responds to this divine gift by seeking to understand and interpret Catholic doctrine in communion with the Magisterium. He asserted that the “close affinity between theologians and the hierarchical Magisterium” is based on their common concern “with understanding divine truth in human language.”

Collaboration between the Congregation and the Doctrinal Commissions of Episcopal Conferences is in part directed towards fostering effective dialogue between Bishops and theologians in local Churches.

In addressing the implications of feminism for Catholic thought, Cardinal Ambrozic asserted that “women could not find an ally more clearly determined than the Church to recognize and defend their dignity.” The universal call to holiness is addressed to women and men equally, and has primacy “over every structure and every distinction in the Church of Christ.”

Archbishop D’Arcy, in his presentation on homosexuality, stressed the wholistic way in which the Church approaches the biblical teaching on human sexuality and on homosexuality. He distinguished this Catholic approach from “proof-texting” which seeks to ground Christian teaching on homosexuality on a few passages of Sacred Scripture. Echoing a theme sounded by Cardinal Ratzinger in his opening address, Archbishop D’Arcy reiterated the Catholic rejection of the moral relativism that denies the objectivity of moral truth and moral reality. On the basis of Scripture and sound moral reasoning, the Church teaches that homosexual acts cannot contribute to the authentic good of the human person, and consistently condemns any violence against homosexual persons.

The Vallombrosa meeting ended on Friday, February 12, at Noon. The Bishops agreed to a concluding statement containing a general description of the meeting, a summary of common concerns, and a series of concrete proposals for collaboration among the doctrinal commissions and with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Ratzinger will deliver a lecture on culture and truth in Pope John Paul II’s recent Encyclical Fides et ratio on Saturday at 4:00pm at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park.