As I put up some chapters of Jackass for the Hour, difficult but good memories of Ignace de la Potterie, S.J. flood into my heart and soul. Father Ignace was by far one of the most astute biblical scholars of this past century. As with all Jesuits, he struggled a bit with the Catholic faith, but then, with the friendship and encouragement of others, he converted to be a believing Catholic. I got to know him at the end of his life, when he was in reminiscence mode, when he was looking for a priest and biblical scholar who was also actually Catholic, and with whom he could share his frustrations and his desires for the good of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. There were many he met daily who instead spent their time attempting to destroy the Church in whatever way they could. He was trying to distract himself by writing frequently for the Catholic journal Famiglia Cristiana.
Although someone – I think an American – had already tried to assist him with one project, translating at least some of his work on Luke 1:28, he turned to me to do this again with a revision. As this comes to mind again, I have renewed purpose. That little opus has had a profound, very far reaching effect on my academic life, on my spiritual life.
Other than this, it was only after many discussions that he shared with me his real passion at the end of his life, namely, to bring some justice to the memory of don Dolindo Ruotolo aka “Dain Cohenel”. He knew and accepted the fact that Father Dolindo was an amateur in all things biblical, as we Pontifical Biblical Institute zombies like to say about everyone who does not sport a degree from this institution as we do. And yet, the bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit for more people than just a few snooty academics like us. There is room also room in the Church for those who want to pay attention to the faith and morality of the Church, who expect reverence and devotion from their pastors, who desire to lead others to Jesus and to heaven. Right? And if those souls are backed into a corner by those bullies who would shirk their duties of pastoral leadership in favor of being popular, well, there is also room in the field hospital of the Church for those who are hurting from bullies, from those who arrogantly flaunt their faithlessness, even if, mind you, even if those who have been bullied lash out a bit in their anguish. Those who are their pastors in whatever way are to have patience with them, and show them a bit of goodness and kindness and encouragement, changing their own ways to be more faithful if need be.
Father Dolindo’s treatment by the Holy Office is a source of wonder for those who know the story. It was the extreme nature of the bullying which grabbed the attention of Father Ignace. There must be more to the story, thought he. And, indeed, there is. Almost no one alive in the world today knows the story, though they think they do. But they do not. They cite all sorts of documents with furrowed brow so as to beat down anyone who would go near this diminutive priest. Father Ignace, at the time of his conversion, decided to do up a little investigation. He shared with me the results of his travels to Naples and his research on this diminutive priest. This sparked my own interest. This was yet another priest thrown out beyond the peripheries by the untouchable powers that be.
When I raised some questions about Father Dolindo to those untouchable powers, I was told about the filing cabinets in the Congregation for Bishops (of all places) dedicated to him, and that there were plenty of people still upset with him for a comment he had made about the fidelity of the Holy Office way back in the day. Although his cause has begun at the Congregation for Saints, it demonstrates the kind of politics involved that the Congregation of Bishops are surveiling just who it is among the episcopacy that support Father Dolindo (who died not quite 50 years ago). In fact, there were many who pulled me aside to tell me just how entrenched the emotions are still today. Those who were warning me to keep my distance included a range of simple priest-officials of various dicasteries to cardinals, from long time friends of Father Dolindo and Father Ignace to the most ferocious enemy of Father Dolindo. That latter fellow is still alive.
But more than this, Father Ignace provided me with a copy of the controversial document that Father Dolindo had written. Outside of now just a copy or two remaining in the world locked away in some archive in the Congregation for Bishops and the Holy Office and a few others, I’m guessing that I’m about the only other person in the world with Un gravissimo pericolo. Comparing that to what the Holy Office said, I am quite appalled by the treatment of this cast off priest by the powerful ecclesiastics of the day. I tend to go with the underdog. I should like to publish this document with that of the Holy Office with a running commentary.
I think I should do this both as a biblical scholar and as a Missionary of Mercy.
I can hear the objections pouring in already:
- “He was an obscurantist! An idiot! He didn’t understand!”
- “Have you seen how he unapologetically cites the Fathers of the Church?!”
- “He criticized the Holy Office!”
- “He’s a simpleton, a priest in a remote parish! Poor! Nobody!”
- “Who does he think he is?! He’s not like us! The nerve!”
- “He didn’t like us!”
No, really. I’ve heard all of these even from princes of the Church.
Other similar tantrums follow about me if it was suspected that I might try to do something with Father Dolindo, such as:
- “Just leave us alone!”
- “We’ll destroy you!”
- “We’ll make sure you won’t be able to publish!”
- “No promotions for you!”
Blah blah blah. What I like about Father Dolindo is that he wanted to bring people to Jesus. That’s a lot. That’s not to be discounted. Jesus is the One. The only One. Father Dolindo knew that. Not everyone knows that, especially those who should know better.
Just to say, there are two difficulties militating against Father Dolindo:
- He understood the kind of textual criticism of the bible that was sanctioned by the Council of Trent in its decrees of April 8, 1546, one of the few, the others being (finally) Saint Robert Bellarmine, Leo XIII, Saint Pius X. This is the one thing that would undo completely the false ecumenism of ignorance of truth that is so pervasive today. This is the real reason for the attacks on his person.
- Envy. Here’s the deal: Father Dolindo’s massive commentaries on Scripture utilizing the Fathers of the Church and which ran for many thousands of pages were being snatched up all around Italy and internationally. Bishops were buying entire sets of his works to give as gifts to all their priests as examples of how to preach. Father Dolindo touched the hearts of true pastors by touching the Sacred Heart of our Lord.
It’s all about Jesus. He’s the One. The only One.
It is not the persecutors of Father Dolindo, but rather Jesus, Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.
P.s. If you have any doubts about the purity of heart and agility of soul of Father Ignace, just read this fantastic work on priestly celibacy, which I used in teaching in seminaries on various continents: