In previous posts (here, here, and here, I wrote about the resistance of Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, to Pope John Paul II's movement toward recognizing something closer to historic Protestant views on justification. I have to take that back. Ratzinger did not oppose John Paul II's movements in that direction. What had led me to say that was a document hastily prepared by some cardinals under Ratzinger's direction, and he apparently opposed them in this because he didn't think they understood the issues properly. The rest of this post is an email I received from someone who knows much more directly what went on with these events. [The JDDJ is the Joint Declaration between Lutherans and Catholics that I've referred to in other posts.]
Dear Jeremy -
I was a consultant to the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue during the time the JDDJ was being approved, and my present Dean, Michael Root, was one of its drafters. What I was told by immediate participants was something like this: the drafters had responded to multiple detailed critiques by theological experts of the Congregation, and had satisfied them. The Response however was drafted in another corner of the Congregation, over which Ratzinger by no means had total control. Some of the cardinals in the Congregation had little or no personal experience of Lutherans and no real knowledge of the history of the dialogues; their picture of Lutheranism was based on dimly remembered antitheses in pre-Vatican II textbooks. From the standpoint of someone who knew the dialogue history, the Response was a tad embarrassing, because it raises issues that had been discussed to death even in the 16th century as though no one had ever thought of them before. Remember that the JDDJ explicitly presupposes the preceding 50-year history of dialogue and attempts only to summarize, not to rehash the arguments, which could not have been done in a brief declaration.
Notice that the Response, though it bears this rather grand title, "The Response of the Roman Catholic Church," is also self-described as a "Note," which is quite low on the totem-pole of Vatican documentary status (cf. "Clarifications" #3). It is also a very confused document, which doubtless bears witness to internal struggles in the Congregation. All the negative stuff is presented as matters of "Clarification" which follow a section called "Declaration" which acknowledges that "a high degree of agreement has been reached, as regards both the approach to the question and the judgement it merits. It is rightly stated that there is 'a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification'." On the other hand, the negative stuff is so negative, and as you say, seems to deny that the Lutheran teaching presented in the JDDJ is compatible with Trent.
The different attitudes of Catholics and Lutherans to the Response were fascinating. Most Catholics I knew took the attitude: "A lot of paper comes out of Rome, the main thing is whether or not Rome goes ahead and signs the JDDJ." For them, the corporate action was the decisive thing, and trumped the paper. But Lutherans, of course, think in terms of paper: where you stand is determined by your documents. And the Response did leave Lutherans with an intolerable uncertainty with regard to paragraph 41, even if Rome did sign. Given the Report, would the Romans really be agreeing that "the teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration" does not fall under the condemnations of the Council of Trent"? So there was a real crisis, and for a time it did not seem clear that the signing could take place.
This is the point at which Ratzinger re-enters the story. According to my information, Ratzinger was disturbed precisely because the Congregation had had multiple opportunities to register concerns beforehand, and these concerns had been taken into account in the drafting process. In short, he felt that his word of honor had been compromised at least by the way in which the Report created confusion. I am told that he therefore unofficially made a major, perhaps decisive, contribution to working out the main lines of what became the "Official Common Statement" and the "Annex to the Official Common Statement," which clarify the situation with respect to paragraph 41 and address some of the concerns of the Response. [An "annex" is actually a diplomatic category, an explanatory note added to a treaty by mutual consent without the need for re-negotiation. The idea was to clarify the JDDJ without having to resubmit a new version to all the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation.]
My guess is that your original informant knew that the problem came from the Congregation, and therefore assumed that it came from Ratzinger personally. The internal complexity of these Rpman bureaucracies is hard to get one's head around, but it isn't often that one official has entire control over anything.
I think this episode brings out two important things about Ratzinger/Benedict. One of course is the sense of honor and responsibility that animated his actions. The other is his essentially committed attitude to ecumenism. His job as Prefect was to make ecumenical agreement hard, and as a theologian, he has been brutally honest about the difficulties in moving towards Christian unity. But he is ecumenically sophisticated: his deep orthodoxy is not of the "paint-by-numbers" variety; he is capable of making sense of the notion of a "differentiated consensus" that doesn't treat all differences as disagreements, nor all disagreements as church-dividing. And he really does want the churches to move towards unity, though he wants it to be real, and therefore expects that the movement will be made up of a lot of small hard-won steps. So I am not at all inclined to think that his description of Christian unity as his "primary responsibility" is mere window-dressing. Indeed, I think it's possible that he may be able to provide crucial leads for the strategic rethinking of the whole ecumenical enterprise that I think is so profoundly needed right now.
Thanks for your blog,
David S. Yeago
Michael C. Peeler Professor of Systematic Theology
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
Columbia, South Carolina