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Italy: Controversy Surrounding a Theologian Deprived of a “Nihil obstat”

The news fell like a hammer on June 26, 2023: the Dicastery for Culture and Education decided to block the appointment of Fr. Martin Lintner, a member of the Servants of Mary, to the post of Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy-Theology of Brixen-Bressanone, located in the region of Trentino, Italy, “because of Prof. Lintner’s publication on questions of Catholic sexual morality.”

The superiors of this renowned Catholic university in the German-speaking world had proposed the name of Fr. Lintner to the Holy See under the Apostolic Constitution Veritas Gaudium promulgated in 2017 by the sovereign pontiff, a document which stipulates that candidates for the posts of rector, president, dean, or professor in the Ecclesiastical Faculties, must receive the nihil obstat – which amounts to an approval – from the Department for Culture and Education.

Visibly disappointed by the negative response from Rome, Msgr. Ivo Muser, Chancellor of the University, and Alexander Notdurfter, the current Dean, reacted in saying, “we note with incomprehension the refusal of the Roman Nihil obstat for the election of Martin Lintner to the Dean of the Philosophical-Theological College of Bressanone,” going so far as to question the Holy See for “the disciplinary intervention of the Dicastery for Culture and Education as professionally inappropriate and incomprehensible.”

Would the leaders of the University of Brixen find Fr. Lintner’s teaching more appropriate? If we had to deliver an anthology of the theological aberrations of the Servite of Mary, we could cite his chapter in the work, The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships, presenting “theological-ethical reflections on a blessing celebration for same-sex couples,” which speaks for itself. Or his remarks on katolisch.de, declaring: “The condemnation of a homosexual relationship as sinful without exception is obviously not the last word of the Church on this question.”

But this was not the strange theologian’s first attempt: already in 2012, he published a book titled “Detoxifying Eros: A plea for a viable sexual morality and relationship ethics” – a work that the publisher described at the time as “critically questioning Church positions.”

The decision of the Dicastery for Culture and Education led to an outcry in progressive university circles: the German Association of Catholic Theological Faculties (KThF) came to the defense of Fr. Lintner, considered as “a highly respected, esteemed, and renowned professional colleague,” and claiming that the religious “does not represent marginal positions, but those that may be considered a consensus within the discipline.”

Fr. Lintner was even able to find allies in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies, founded in 1981, and revamped, in a clearly progressive direction, by Pope Francis in 2017 and 2019, in the wake of Amoris Laetitia. Thus Marcello Neri – teacher at the Institute – denounced “a bad decision for theology and more broadly the Church in Italy”.

The Chancellor of the University of Brixen announced however that they will “not appeal the Roman decision which does not call into question Father Lintner’s ecclesiastical license to teach.”

Fr. Lintner will therefore be able to continue spreading his errors in complete peace of mind: Courteline was not wrong when he said that “one could not better compare the absurdity of half-measures than to that of absolute measures.”

“It is easier to destroy than to build” wrote Alphonse de Lamartine in 1847 in his Histoire des Girondins. It is enough for more than one official of the Roman Curia to contemplate, since the Vatican decided to block the appointment of a heterodox theologian to the post of dean of the University of Brixen, creating a storm of protest in German-speaking progressive circles.


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