Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Fire Hose, a Wish, and Duty
Folha de S. Paulo, December 10, 1984 (*)
DIVERSE circumstances have thus far prevented me from writing about the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation," by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I am therefore taking advantage of the first opportunity to do so. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I fulfill a special duty that falls to me as a result of something that must be remembered here.
Ten years ago, in 1974, the TFPs then in existence published a declaration on the Vatican's "Ostpolitik" and Paul VI 's policy toward communism, so different from that of his predecessor Pius XII. This declaration carefully analyzed the subject and was significantly titled "The Vatican Policy of Détente Toward the Communist Governments—The Question for the TFP: To Take No Stand? Or to Resist?" It filled three quarters of a page in the Folha de S. Paulo (4/10/74). Its tone was respectful yet, at the same time, very frank. Its culminating point, which summarized the spirit in which it was written, said: "In this filial act, we say to the Shepherd of shepherds: Our soul is thine, our life is thine. Order us to do whatever you will. Only do not order us to fold our arms in face of the assailing Red wolf. To this, our conscience is opposed." The document was published in 73 newspapers and magazines in 11 countries, and no one, to my knowledge, has raised the slightest objection as to its orthodoxy or canonical integrity.
From that time until now, there has been, to my knowledge, not one single Vatican pronouncement on communism that has really compensated for what could at least be called the one-sidedness of the Vatican's "Ostpolitik." I just said, "to my knowledge." The reader should note that I am not saying such a document does not exist. Postconciliar documents are so abundant that I strongly doubt that there is anyone—save within strictly specialized circles—who is so familiar with them all as to say that in this or that section of this or that document, some pronouncement clearly condemnatory of communism cannot be found. However, this is so improbable that if someone were to point out that passage to me, it would give me satisfaction as well as much surprise.
With the instruction of Cardinal Ratzinger, it could be said that something changed in this desolate panorama for the document alerts Catholics to the doctrinal deviations of Marxist inspiration that are widely ravaging the vastness of Brazil and all South America. And as I see it, those deviations are largely responsible for the veritable leprosy of social agitation that has been spreading throughout Brazil with its obvious tendency of growing more radical and becoming an immense guerrilla movement.
For those troubled by this tragic spectacle that could soon become apocalyptic, to see an organization like the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirm in black and white the incompatibility of Catholic doctrine with Marxism is comparable to someone in a fire suddenly feeling the spray of cool and saving water from a fireman's hose.
Thus, to me, who as president of the National Council of the Brazilian TFP was the first signer of the already mentioned declaration of resistance to the Vatican's "Ostpolitik," falls the duty of manifesting here the joy, gratitude and, above all, the hope that I feel with the arrival of this relief amidst the fire.
I know that brothers in the Faith outside the sphere of the TFP, especially outside Brazil, abstain from manifesting similar sentiments because they feel that just one hose is insufficient to put out the whole fire.
I also feel that just one hose will not put out the fire. But this does not prevent us from hailing that hose as a benefit, especially since we have no proof that it will be the only one. Wasn't Cardinal Ratzinger's instruction unexpected? Doesn't one unexpected step lead us to hope for others, also more or less unexpected, along the same line?
Upon writing these reflections, my eyes naturally rest upon what could be called the aftermath of the hullabaloo made by the international press over what it called the "Ratzinger-Boff" controversy. The whole world, from the communist to the most anticommunist media, was watching it – from "extremism to extremism," someone might say.
At the very moment this is being written, I have in my hands a cane and I ask myself if it is possible to have canes without extremes. Someone could tell me, "Yes. All you do is cut off the two ends." But as soon as the ends are cut, he would see that the cane still had two extremes, which before being trimmed perhaps could have been called center-right and center-left.
Yet our poor man desperately continues to cut off the new tips. On and on he goes—until he runs out of cane. The relativistic battle to destroy extremes just because they are extremes would put an end to public opinion just as it would to the cane. Having thus chided the "enragés" (*) of centrism, I return to my topic.
Public opinion is so weary of all kinds of manipulations that, as a result, it seems to be suffering from atony. Friar Boff no sooner arrived in Brazil than the cameras stopped flashing, the loudspeakers became mute and the newspapers silent. To a large extent, the people avoided the suspense of this controversy in order to still cling to the carefree trifles of daily life.
But the Vatican, always exemplarily informed, knows that this is no reason for "liberation theology" to cease smoldering here in South America, especially since its errors, to some of which the instruction made timely reference, are resuming their dynamism in the same measure that the curtain of forgetfulness falls on the instruction. All this fills us with a foreboding of what must surely happen: According to the logic of the instruction itself, clearly it must be feared that these errors will spread if they do not run into doctrinal and practical obstacles. It is our duty to hope that these obstacles will appear.
(*) A radical faction of revolutionaries during the French Revolution. Literal translation of the term: rabid.—TRANs.