A group of prominent Roman Catholic theologians Thursday accused Pope John Paul II of trying to overstep his powers and attacked his unwavering stance against artificial birth control.
“We are witnesses of a theologically very questionable attempt to overstep the papal jurisdictional and teaching competence and to make it unacceptably prevailing,” said a declaration signed by 170 university theology professors from four European countries.
At the Vatican, spokesman Joaquin Navarro said: “I think we are talking of a local matter. I can also say that some people who signed have withdrawn their support of the document.” He did not provide any names.
The signers of the seven-page “Cologne Declaration” are from West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.
The German-language statement focused on the Pope’s teachings, as well as disputes over permission to teach Catholic theology, recent nominations to fill bishops’ positions and the church’s opposition to artificial birth control.
It was prompted in part by the pontiff’s appointment last month of Cardinal Joachim Meisner as archbishop of Cologne, one of the most influential church posts in Europe. Some local church officials think Meisner too conservative.
The theologians also complained that John Paul has linked the church’s teachings on birth control too closely to fundamental articles of faith such as the holiness of God.