CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
LETTER TO GYÖRGY BULÁNYI*
In June 1984, this Congregation examined, according to its practice, some booklets (typescripts) attributed to you and disseminated in certain areas of Hungary, among the so-called “grass root communities,” together with other documentation related to your doctrinal positions.
From this examination certain unsustainable doctrinal tendencies have emerged, which could lead to an opposition with revealed truth, authoritatively declared by the Ecclesiastical Magisterium. Expression of this doctrinal tendencies are found in some ambiguities observed regarding the nature of revelation, a certain relativism in the evaluation of the sacred books of the New Testament and some incorrect interpretation regarding the value of the Magisterium of the Church and of some dogmatic formulas, regarding the authority of the hierarchy of the Church in itself and the way it exercises its authority in pastoral areas.
To clarify the sense of these doctrinal ambiguities and to insure that these were actually attributable to you, this Congregation, taking into account your particular situation, wanted to give you the opportunity to offer clarifications through a Delegate of this Dicastery expressly nominated “ad hoc,” who was able to speak with you personally. The interview took place in Budapest between the end of June and the beginning of July, 1985. In view of this, this Dicastery prepared a list of 12 doctrinal theses, drawn from the texts of the Second Vatican Council and contents of the doctrine of the Magisterium of the Church on the fundamental aspects of the faith that appeared ambiguous or unclear in your thinking.
These texts of the Second Vatican Council were proposed and explained to you by the Delegate of this Congregation, who then handed them to you so that you could reflect on their content before giving a definitive answer in this matter.
On July 3, 1985, you recognized these magisterial texts, accepting their contents with the following solemn oath: “All these things I promise that I will faithfully, entirely, and sincerely protect and inviolably safeguard, never deviating from them whether in teaching or in speech or writing (cf. Denzinger-Schönmetzer 3550).” In the written records of this Process that contain your signed oath, you expressed your desire to offer some words of gratitude to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and to its Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for having given you the opportunity to speak personally with its Delegate.
Despite this sworn profession of faith signed by you, this Congregation must nevertheless declare that the doubts about your clear and complete adherence to the Magisterium of the Church have not been entirely dispelled. In fact, in the interview with the above mentioned Delegate, you asked that, in addition to the twelve propositions treated by the doctrine of the Magisterium of the Church exposed in some texts of the Second Vatican Council, a thirteenth proposition be added in the following text, elaborated using some passages of the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on religious liberty: “Man perceives ... the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of his conscience. ... A man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God ... Therefore he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience” (DH, n. 3) and “for that reason is bound to obey his conscience” (DH n. 11; cf. Also nn. 2 and 13).
In the context of your declaration, the meaning of these added words – though true in themselves – is not clear. Certainly no one wants to force you to act against your conscience. Nevertheless, the document you cited also teaches in another passage: “In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself” (DH, n. 14). Now, asking you to adhere to the conciliar texts, this Congregation wants to give you the opportunity to publicly manifest your acceptance of these doctrines which have been given once and for all to humanity, and which, in that they express certain aspects of the revealed mystery, cannot be changed by any future ecclesiastical regulation.
In this context, from your citation of excerpts of the declaration Dignitatis Humanae, it appears that you have inserted a subjective condition in your full and objective acceptance of the doctrine of the Church.
At the end of this first phase of the examination, some perplexities therefore still remain regarding your position in confronting the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church.
In the meantime, a new fact occurred that gave birth to a second and definitive phase. In fact, in the course of the interview with the Delegate of this Congregation (on July 2, 1985), you admitted to be the author of a booklet “Egyhazrend” (Ecclesiastical Order) and to have written – these are your words – “After 35 years of experience with small groups, I think the Church of the future could have another structure than it now has, and indeed will be based on the foundation of grass root communities.”
A detailed examination of this booklet has unfortunately uncovered erroneous, dangerous, and ambiguous affirmations regarding the doctrine proposed authoritatively by the Church concerning the meaning of revelation on questions of such importance as apostolic succession, the hierarchical structure of the Church, the ministry of Bishops, and the clear distinction between priests and laity.
Your opinions on the hierarchical structure of the Church and the transmission of priestly powers within ecclesial communities appeared particularly dangerous.
Therefore, this Dicastery, in its letter of last January 31, brought these reservations to your attention, to which you responded with a lengthy letter of last March 28.
This Congregation studied this letter of yours with careful attention, in which you explain, in the context of the “plagues” imposed on the Church in Hungary after the World War II, the history of your sufferings, of your pastoral experiences, and of your theological reflections. You then very severely criticized the historical and the present practices of this Dicastery. You considered the interpretation given of your booklet “Egyhazrend” to be without foundation (p. 40) and not scientifically serious (p. 47). You added that the contentious points could be considered as doctrine that has not yet been defined, that is of disputed questions, for which you should not be required to give a retraction (p. 52).
Regarding the doctrinal comments advanced in your debate, you affirm to have nothing against apostolic succession (p. 53); only you hold that you have not found a sufficiently convincing demonstration on the part of historians that in apostolic times one of the twelve was present at every ordination. On the other hand, you observe that this would not be the only form of apostolic succession: those who were elected heads of the community could in that time receive the inheritance of Jesus by the twelve in another way (p. 52).
You also write (p. 54) that your booklet does not contest the reality of the current present day distinction between priests and laity, according to which only priests can celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments, but not lay persons. And you add, “I do not erase this clear line of demarcation even in my dreams regarding ecclesiastical organization.” You then continue saying that you are convinced that the Church must have on one side disciples that already lead others, and on the other side disciples who, for the moment, are only led. This second category is called to evolve into the first and, therefore, to be presented to the bishops, so that they may impose hands on those who belong to it.
Further on, on page 55, you write again that “no one can celebrate Mass without having received the imposition of hands on the part of Bishops,” and therefore even the practice of your communities “follows this rule.”
Finally, at the end of your long writing, you express thus, “My final response to your question to retract my affirmations expressed in ‘Ecclesiastical Order’ can only be a “no” without equivocation” (p. 78).
Regarding your letter, the Congregation wishes to remind you first of all that its proper duty is not that of entering into a theological debate. In conformity with its proper mission of safeguarding and promoting the faith of the Church, it has examined your booklet from a strictly doctrinal point of view, limiting itself to indicating the points in which your thesis presents arguments incompatible with the authentic doctrine of the Church.
Consequently, even in this definitive response, one does not want to enter into theological disputes, such as for example in the discussion of your interpretation of canon 6 of the Council of Chalcedon, that furthermore appears to have no historical foundation; and not even in the debate about the many historical aspects of the development of apostolic succession.
Attending then to the purely doctrinal aspects, this Congregation, on one part takes note of the affirmations contained in your letter, even if your thought is presented in a complex form that is altogether unclear; on the other part it confirms its judgment that the booklet “Egyhazrend,” disseminated within the groups to which you make reference, contains in fact propositions that, just as they sound, are erroneous, dangerous, and ambiguous.
In fact, desiring to consider only the central theme of your booklet, it states that, if it is true that the Second Vatican Council “confirms the division of the people of God in two parts, a division that constitutes the foundation of the current ecclesiastical organization,” your text instead wants to prepare for tomorrow and therefore “wants to put in question the current ecclesiastical organization, and its principle foundation” (2-2).
In reality, even when you treat the distinction between priests and non-priests, you limit yourself to defining “a line of demarcation between those who have arrived at various degrees in the universal Christian vocation to the priesthood” (2-1-3). Exemplifying, you affirm that “he who leads a community is a priest,” while “he who is only a member of a community, but in his turn has not yet built a community, is not yet a priest.”
In this presentation of “priest” you do not make mention of any specific powers that priests receive in virtue of the imposition of hands on the part of the bishops, as successors of the apostles.
Contrary to the doctrine of the council, the difference between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood appears only as a difference of degree and not of essence.
As you have already been reminded in the letter of last January 31, the Magisterium of the Church has authoritatively spoken on these themes in the Council of Trent (cf. in particular DS 1710, 1771, 1773, 1776) and in the Second Vatican Council (cf. LG 10; 18-29; PO 2). This doctrine has been recently recalled by this Congregation with the letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, “Sacerdotium Ministeriale” of August 6, 1983 (cf. AAS 75  1001-1009).
Furthermore, it should be noticed that your proposal to admit even women to the Priesthood (cf. 2-2-1; 2-3) goes against the traditional doctrine of the Church, reaffirmed by this Congregation with the declaration “Inter Insigniores” of October 15, 1976 (cf. AAS 69  98-116).
Therefore, insofar as this deals with an authoritative pronouncement, it is no longer a question open to a free theological debate.
Therefore, in line with these affirmations of your letter, that seem not to want to innovate with respect to Catholic doctrine on the level of dogmatic principles already authoritatively established, this Dicastery asks you, for the good of the faithful and above all of those among whom your book has been disseminated, to manifest publicly your adherence to the doctrine of the Church, just as expressed in the above mentioned documents.
This Dicastery confirms on the other hand that the present letter will be in any case published, accompanied, if God wills, by your act of adherence.
If you will publicly manifest your adherence to the Magisterium of the Church on the above recalled points, as you have assured us, then your canonical position will also be reexamined.
In transmitting this present letter to you, whose content reflects the decisions adopted in an ordinary meeting and approved by the Holy Father, this Congregation does not ignore the sufferings endured by you with the intention of serving the Gospel of Christ and the brethren. For this reason, with confidence that, as a priest and a religious, you will adhere to the authentic truth of the faith of the Church, so that your apostolic loyalty will not be in vain (cf. Gal 2:2), this Dicastery awaits from you a response worthy of a servant of the Gospel and of a minister of the Catholic Church.
With sentiments of religious esteem,
+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
+ Alberto Bovone
* Magyar Kurir, June 11, 1987, 313-318 (Hungarian translation)