Friday, May 25, 2007

Pope Benedict Faces German Revolt As Anger Grows In Latin America

Pope Benedict was in trouble on two fronts Thursday, struggling to contain anger over remarks he made in Latin America and facing a revolt by former colleagues in Germany.

Following criticism of his views on the spread of Christianity in Latin America, the Pope acknowledged to pilgrims in Rome that "shadows" accompanied the conversion of indigenous groups.

He said it was impossible "to forget the suffering [and] injustices inflicted by the colonizers on the indigenous population".

His latest statement stopped well short of the apology demanded by, among others, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, and he repeated his claim that Catholicism had shaped South America's culture favorably.

On a tour of Brazil earlier this month, the Pope said indigenous populations had welcomed European priests, who arrived with the conquistadores, and claimed they had been "silently longing" for Christianity. The proclamation of the gospels, he said, "did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture".

Chavez, who has a fraught relationship with his country's Catholic hierarchy, went on television to protest at the Pope's remarks, saying: "There was a real genocide here and, if we were to deny it, we would be denying our very selves."

The episode was reminiscent of the row ignited last year by Pope Benedict's references to Islam.

And it appeared to indicate a surprising degree of insensitivity or indifference on the part of the Pope and his advisers to the views of others.

Latin America also lies at the root of the challenge facing Benedict in Europe.

According to the Catholic news agency Adista, more than 100 German theologians have signed an appeal for an overhaul of the Vatican department that oversees their work.

Adista said the signatories included several contemporaries of Pope Benedict, who himself taught theology in his native Germany.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was head of the department, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so the document represents a direct attack on the Pope's work.

It was originally written as an article by Peter Hunermann, a retired professor of the University of Tubingen, following a reprimand handed out by the Congregation this year to a Spanish Jesuit. Father Jon Sobrino, a liberation theologian who teaches at a university in El Salvador, was told his writings were "not in conformity with the doctrine of the church".

The Vatican's verdict has since been challenged by leading European theologians who said it betrayed a "disregard of the theological developments of the last 50 years".

Professor Hunermann said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was still organized in much the same way as when it was known as the Holy Inquisition, as a body for exercising censorship. He said there were "deficiencies" in the staff and that "intelligent restructuring" was needed.


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