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Leonardo Boff: 1938—: Theologian

Silenced By Church

Boff's writing began making the Catholic Church hierarchy uncomfortable. In 1981 he published a collection of essays which were translated as Church: Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church. In the original Portuguese, the work carried the subtitle Essays in Militant Ecclesiology. (Ecclesiology is the study of church doctrine.) Commenting in the Christian Century, theologian Robert McAfee Brown noted: "There is a message here for theologians who want to stay out of trouble: if you must write, don't write about ecclesiology; and if you must write about ecclesiology, don't write militantly. Boff did. And he got in trouble."

Franciscan Joseph Kloppenburg, Boff's former teacher, and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation, reviewed the work and made known their opposition. Both charged that the writings were heretical. Within the Vatican, Ratzinger, who was responsible at the Vatican for defending and protecting the doctrinal integrity of the Church, sent Boff a six-page letter that detailed the charges against him. At the basis of Ratzinger's concern was that Boff was intertwining theology so extensively with history, politics, sociology, and philosophy that Boff's ideology distorted doctrinal truths. Ratzinger was also displeased with Boff's disrespectful position on the institutional church.

Boff was summoned to Rome to account for himself and appeared before the Sacred Congregation in September of 1984. Accompanying him, in his defense, was the highly respected Cardinal Alois Lorscheider, the head of the Brazilian Catholic Church, which gave Boff significant credibility. After a closed-door four-hour meeting, Boff seemed satisfied that the talks, described as friendly, had concluded the matter. However, in March of 1985, Boff received an order that would silence him for one year, during which time he was not allowed to publish, lecture publicly, or travel without permission. He was also relieved of his position as editor of Revista Ecclesiastica Brasileira. Boff obediently accepted his censorship for what the Church called "doctrinal errors." Even after the ban was lifted 11 months later, he was assigned a personal censor whose task was to read and approve everything he wrote before it could be published.

As a result of his censorship, Boff became a hero among Brazil's poor and working classes, and he was given honorary citizenship in several Brazilian cities. The conflict with Rome also drew widespread attention around the world, which attracted even more interest in Boff's writings. For a brief period of time, Boff's relationship with the Church softened, when the lifting of his ban was accompanied by a new statement from the Vatican which seemed less harshly critical of liberation theology.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalLeonardo Boff: 1938—: Theologian Biography - Post-vatican Ii Theology, "christ As Liberator", Silenced By Church, Abandoned Priesthood