The Turning Point

How the upheavals of 1968 turned a Vatican II reformer into an ardent conservative

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    Just a few years later came the events of '68. Shortly after Ratzinger fled Tübingen, Pope Paul VI, impressed with Ratzinger's Vatican II work, made him an Archbishop and later a Cardinal. During that time Küng's book Infallible? An Inquiry and several other works prompted German bishops to investigate him for theological deviation. By then, Ratzinger had criticized Küng's theology as being essentially non-Catholic, more attuned to the "school certitude and party certitude" he had come to fear than to the ultimate truth. Now in the hierarchy, according to Allen, Ratzinger seems to have been involved in the Germans' discussions with Roman investigators that led to the removal of Küng's license to teach Catholic theology. A friendship evaporated: Küng would later compare talking to Ratzinger with chatting with the "head of the KGB."

    What had happened? Ratzinger's critics have suggested he was swept away by careerism, and the church was indeed moving rightward. As a Cardinal, Ratzinger aided the election of the anticommunist John Paul II by warning a preconclave sermon against "an opening to the left," and John Paul invited him to work in Rome. But given the integrity with which even enemies credit Ratzinger, Beinert's 1968 theory is more plausible: nurtured in the closed and pious Catholic worlds of Bavaria and the seminary, Ratzinger had felt secure enough to champion reform. But Tübingen convinced him that even fellow Catholics might abuse reform to rationalize worldly fads and pathologies. It was a slippery slope he would spend decades patrolling.

    In 1981 Ratzinger became head of the very Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he had earlier accused of being "too smoothly functioning." Its smooth functions since have been well chronicled, but it is worth noting an effort in which Ratzinger was out ahead of his Pope: the Cardinal's decade-long campaign against liberation theology. Liberation theologians, most of them Latin Americans, interpreted Gaudium et Spes' demand that the church be in solidarity with "the poor" as encouragement to engage in a kind of social gospel activism involving semiautonomous base communities and common rhetoric (and in some case co-operation) with Marxist activists against repressive local oligarchies. A few priests even took up guns. The Pope had a mixed response to the movement, usually condemning it but occasionally condoning it.

    Ratzinger, however, was dogged in his opposition. He claimed that liberation theology flirted with the idea that Christ's kingdom can be fully realized in this world through social action, which contradicted Christian belief and, he thought, could easily lead to sanction for non-Christian notions of political utopia. An example he gave was Nazi Germany. Ratzinger's censures, silencings and broadsides over the length of the 1980s effectively crippled the philosophy's influence and wounded the prestige of sympathizers like the Jesuits.

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