'A Humble Intellect'

Controversial German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann explains why she's glad that her former classmate has been made pope.

 

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How do Ratzinger's views on Mary differ from John Paul II's?

Let me put it this way. At Munich, Ratzinger did his doctorate with professor Söhngen, and I did mine with professor Schmaus. This was in 1954-at the time of Pius XII's dogma about Mary being received into heaven. Söhngen quoted Jerome who, around 400, said: "I woke up and sighed: the world was Arian." (Arius was the great heretic who denied the divinity of Jesus). And similarly, Söhngen said about Pius XII's dogma, "I woke up and sighed: the world was Marian." So, none of us, including Ratzinger, Söhngen's main doctoral student, were excessive Marians.

How Ratzinger's views on Mary developed later on with John Paul II, who spoke non-stop spoke about Mary-I cannot understand it, and I regret it. But my faithfulness to him and his to me has always endured.

Ratzinger was not among those who took away your teaching chair...

No! He would have never done such a thing! He was too intelligent. Cardinal Franz Hengsbach from Essen took my chair because I denied the virgin birth. Ratzinger would have insisted that it was my personal opinion that Mary can't be both a virgin and a mother at the same time-which was what I had taught my students for 17 years as professor of New Testament and old church history at the University of Essen. Ratzinger would have supported me. As it turned out, I was the first woman to receive a chair-and the first woman to lose a chair.

In fact, after I lost my chair and was excommunicated in 1987, Ratzinger was the only one, of all those bishops and cardinals, to write to me in a friendly way, offering support.

And you defended Ratzinger...

When I was in Italy to promote my book, "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven," I read an article about me in an Italian newspaper, and it stated that Ratzinger and I had been students together. But the article misquoted me as having said that he "always had the aura of a cardinal, and the highest intelligence, with a total absence of humanita"--humanity. But what I had actually said was he "always had the aura of a cardinal, and the highest intelligence, with a total absence of the erotic." So I wrote a letter to the paper correcting them, in defense of Ratzinger, because I can't stand to see someone done wrong.

Do you think the election of Ratzinger will affect the future of the church in any significant way?

I don't see any future for a church in which all shepherds are men, and all women are sheep. How could that be a universal church? It's a mutilated construct!

What will happen then under Ratzinger?

The church will continue as it always has. Ratzinger will not change 2,000 years of male domination. But perhaps he might make one tiny change for the better. He might permit the use of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa. Those women in Africa who are told by their priests that they will go to hell if they use condoms-well, those women are told they're the martyrs of this millennium.

I believe there's a chance Ratzinger will concede that and permit the use of condoms by those who are AIDS infected. I hope he does.

But there are many church teachings regarding sexuality he won't touch...

Right, and I think this is where the church is really wrong. I don't like the church's interference into things that are none of its business. Jesus did not police sexual intercourse, which is what the church does!

John Paul II added a new church law to the Corpus Iuris Canonici. And in it, you'll find a horrible canon, canon 1084, which discriminates against paraplegics. This canon forbids men who are in wheelchairs, who are unable to have erections, from marrying. According to this canon, a man cannot marry unless he can have an erection in the way the church wants him to have one. Even if he can generate semen, and thus produce children, he still cannot marry!

So no theological surprises from Ratzinger...

To me, Ratzinger is an enigma, because on the one hand he is so intelligent, and on the other, well, I can't understand how he can believe the assertions of Christianity that are such enemies to reason. God becoming man! I can only laugh at the arrogance of men-males-to shrink God into a creature so small. Think about it-three persons in God. Only arrogant Christians are able to count God-1,2,3-and to make this God in their own image and likeness as father and son. That doesn't seem ridiculous to them at all, but if you were to suggest that God could be a woman-well, they'd laugh in your face!

What do you make of his choice of name-Benedict XVI?

The name doesn't mean much to me. I do know that in 1336, Pope Benedict XII made hell longer than it already was! He said that hell, as an eternity of torment, begins immediately after death! No longer postponed at least until the Day of Judgment. But I don't think we should make much importance about the name he's chosen.

You used to call Pope John Paul II your "theological Mr. Sandman," because you'd listen to him on Radio Vatican to help you fall asleep. Will you still be able nod off to Radio Vatican now that Cardinal Ratzinger has the job?

[Laughs] Well, yes, that is a problem. I don't expect Ratzinger to become my new theological Mr. Sandman. But I'm a terrible sleeper anyway, and I will sleep badly no matter who is pope.

Have you come to terms with John Paul II now that he's gone?

It's interesting. I did reconcile myself with John Paul II after he died. But with Ratzinger, I am already reconciled with him in life. Why? I don't know. Perhaps because, like Socrates, the more I know, the less I understand.

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