Timeline of principal doctrinal decisions, documents, 1981-2005
By Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a child as he leaves a prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
(CNS photo from Catholic Press Photo)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Here is a list of the principal public documents and decisions issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect of the office. He was elected Pope Benedict XVI April 19.
-- March 12, 1983: Notification reaffirming the excommunication of traditionalist Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc, formerly of Hue, Vietnam, and his accomplices for the illicit ordination of priests and bishops.
-- Oct. 4, 1983: Notification to Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle that an apostolic visitation of his archdiocese would be conducted, focused primarily on liturgy, the education of seminarians, clergy formation, the marriage tribunal and ministry to homosexuals. (The process ended with the appointment in 1985 of an auxiliary bishop who was given primary responsibility over many areas of archdiocesan governance.)
-- Nov. 26, 1983: "Declaration on Masonic Associations," saying Masonic principles and rituals "embody a naturalistic" religion incompatible with Christianity. Those who knowingly embrace the principles or attend the rituals are involved in serious sin and may not receive Communion.
-- Aug. 6, 1984: "Instruction on Certain Aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation,'" although applauding efforts to promote social justice, criticized theologians who borrow "uncritically" from Marxist ideology, reducing salvation to the liberation of the poor from worldly oppressors.
-- March 11, 1985: Notification on the book "Church: Charism and Power" by Brazilian Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, who argued that the Church's current hierarchical structure was not that intended by Christ and that authority can spring from the community of the faithful. The notification said the book was "dangerous" and asked Father Boff to refrain from publishing or speaking publicly for one year.
-- March 22, 1986: "Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation," a second document on liberation theology providing guidelines for the theology's development, insisting it have as its goal the liberation of people from sin, not simply from sinful social structures.
-- July 10, 1986: Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger head of a 12-member commission charged with drafting the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." The text was released in French in 1992 and in English in 1994.
-- July 25, 1986: Letter regarding the suspension of U.S. Father Charles E. Curran from teaching Catholic theology because of his dissenting views on several issues in sexual ethics. Father Curran was a professor of theology at The Catholic University of America, Washington.
-- Sept. 15, 1986: Notification on the book "The Church With a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry" by Dominican Father Edward Schillebeeckx, saying the book was "in disagreement with the teaching of the Church," particularly regarding ordination and the possibility of lay people presiding at the Eucharist. However, the doctrinal congregation did not apply any penalties to the Belgian-born priest, who already had retired from teaching.
-- Oct. 1, 1986: "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." The letter called for "special concern and pastoral attention" to homosexuals, but also for clarity that homosexual activity is immoral.
-- Feb. 22, 1987: "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation," clarifying the Church's position on assisted fertilization techniques and other biomedical issues, reaffirming teaching that an embryo is human from the moment of conception and that conception is moral only in the context of sexual intercourse within marriage.
-- June 29, 1988: Telegram warning traditionalist French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre he would be in schism if he ordained bishops without papal consent. The archbishop went ahead with the ordinations and died in schism.
-- Feb. 16, 1989: Note regarding the moral rule of "Humanae Vitae" and pastoral duty, saying couples who find it difficult to follow Church teaching about birth control "deserve great respect and love," but the Church is firm in teaching that contraception is an "intrinsically disordered act" that is prohibited without exception.
-- Oct. 15, 1989: "Letter on Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation," cautioning Catholics about using Buddhist, Hindu and other meditation techniques that place the focus of prayer on the self rather than on God.
-- May 24, 1990: "Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," underlining the important role theologians have in clarifying, explaining and exploring Church teaching, but also calling on theologians who disagree with Church teaching not to use the mass media to publicize their views or try to pressure for change in the Church.
-- Jan. 31, 1992: Note on the book "The Sexual Creators, an Ethical Proposal for Concerned Christians" by Canadian Oblate Father Andre Guindon. The Vatican said the book presented questionable views on premarital sex, homosexual relationships and contraception, particularly because Father Guindon seemed to reduce moral goodness to subjective human intentions.
-- March 30, 1992: "Instruction on Some Aspects of the Use of the Instruments of Social Communication in Promoting the Doctrine of the Faith," reaffirming Church law requiring prepublication theological review of manuscripts dealing with Church teaching.
-- May 28, 1992: "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion," emphasizing the essential bond between the local Church and universal Church, particularly through recognition of the authority of the pope.
-- July 23, 1992: "Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on Nondiscrimination of Homosexual Persons," saying, "It is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account" when making laws concerning "adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches and in military recruitment."
-- Sept. 14, 1994: "Letter to Bishops Regarding the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful," saying the Church cannot ignore Jesus' clear teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and reaffirming that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Communion.
-- Oct. 28, 1995: Response to questions about the doctrine contained in the apostolic letter, "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," saying the Church's teaching that women cannot be ordained priests belongs "to the deposit of faith" and has been taught "infallibly."
-- Jan. 2, 1997: Notification on the book "Mary and Human Liberation" by Sri Lankan Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, saying the book contained heretical statements regarding Mary, original sin, Christ's redemptive role and papal infallibility. The Oblate was excommunicated, but reconciled with the Church a year later.
-- May 30, 1997: Revised "Regulations for Doctrinal Examination" of theologians and their work, encouraging a more direct role for the theologian's bishop or religious superior, allowing the possibility of naming an advocate and an adviser for the theologian, and permitting face-to-face meetings between the theologian and congregation members.
-- Aug. 15, 1997: Publication of the final Latin "typical edition" of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," containing some corrections and additions to the 1992 text, including a stronger condemnation of the death penalty and an acknowledgment that science has not determined the cause of homosexuality.
-- June 24, 1998: Posthumous notification concerning the writings of Indian Jesuit Father Anthony De Mello, saying some of the priest's views "are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm." It particularly cited those views presenting God as an impersonal cosmic reality, organized religion as an obstacle to self-awareness and Jesus as one master among many.
-- Oct. 31, 1998: "Considerations on 'The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church,'" saying that, although Pope John Paul called for an ecumenical discussion of how primacy could be exercised in a united Church, "the full communion desired by Christ among those who confess to be his disciples requires the common recognition of a universal ecclesial ministry," and the Catholic faith holds that that ministry belongs to the pope.
-- May 31, 1999: Notification regarding School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent, barring the U.S. team from further pastoral ministry to homosexuals, saying they advanced "doctrinally unacceptable" positions "regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination."
-- June 26, 2000: Publication of a 43-page booklet containing the complete "Message of Fatima," including the so-called "third secret" given to three Portuguese children in 1917. In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger said the third part of the message is a symbolic prophecy of the Church's 20th-century struggles with evil political systems and of the Church's ultimate triumph.
-- Aug. 6, 2000: "Dominus Iesus," a declaration on the "exclusive, universal and absolute" value of Jesus Christ and his Church for salvation.
-- Sept. 14, 2000: "Instruction on Prayers for Healing," noting the importance of believing that God wants to free people from suffering, but encouraging local bishops to be vigilant that the services do not become occasions for hysteria or focus more on the so-called gift of healing possessed by certain individuals than on God.
-- Jan. 24, 2001: Notification on the book "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" by Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Dupuis, warning that although Father Dupuis' intentions were good his 1997 book contained ambiguous statements and insufficient explanations that could lead readers to "erroneous or harmful conclusions" about Christ's role as the unique and universal savior.
-- Feb. 22, 2001: Notification regarding certain writings of Redemptorist Father Marciano Vidal, a Spanish moral theologian. At the congregation's request, the priest agreed to revise several of his books to emphasize the Church's official position on contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion and other issues.
-- May 18, 2001: Letter to all bishops "regarding the more serious offenses, 'graviora delicta' reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." The letter said Pope John Paul had given the congregation juridical control over cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, classifying it as one of several "graver offenses" against Church law. The other offenses include acts committed by priests against the sanctity of the Eucharist and against the sacrament of penance.
-- July 1, 2001: Note on the doctrinal decrees concerning the thought and work of Father Antonio Rosmini, saying positions attributed to the Italian philosopher and condemned by the Vatican in 1887 did not accurately reflect Father Rosmini's thinking. The 2001 decision removed a major stumbling block to the 19th-century priest's beatification.
-- Aug. 5, 2002: Publication of the declaration of the excommunication of seven Catholic women from various countries who had attempted to be ordained Catholic priests. The congregation had sent them a warning July 10 asking them to indicate their "repentance for the most serious offense they had committed." The Vatican said the ordaining bishop, the leader of a breakaway Church, had already been excommunicated.
-- Jan. 16, 2003: Doctrinal note on the participation of Catholics in political life saying that while Catholics are free to choose among political parties and strategies for promoting the common good, they cannot claim that freedom allows them to support abortion, euthanasia or other attacks on human life.
-- Feb. 7-14, 2003: Revised norms issued for dealing with "serious offenses" against the sacraments; the new norms included an expedited process for laicizing priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.
-- July 31, 2003: "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," reaffirming Church teaching requiring compassion for homosexuals, but saying legal recognition of gay unions is contrary to human nature and ultimately harmful to society.
-- July 31, 2004: "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World," saying the subjugation of women is the result of original sin and not of God's original design for creation. Rather than ignore the God-given differences between men and women, the Church calls on them to collaborate for the good of the family, society and the Church.
-- Dec. 13, 2004: Notification regarding the book "Jesus Symbol of God" by U.S. Jesuit Father Roger Haight, which said the book contained "serious doctrinal errors against the Catholic and divine faith of the Church," particularly regarding the divinity of Jesus and the universality of salvation in him. The Jesuit was forbidden to teach as a Catholic theologian.

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