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Poem of the Man-God

Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

In 1959 when the "Poem" was put on the Index of Forbidden Books, it was described as "a badly fictionalized life of Christ" (L'Osservatore Romano, quoted by Cardinal Ratzinger in a letter to Cardinal Siri, 31 January 1985). Catholics were warned that it was not to be considered as revealed by God, and in fact, under the rules of the Index, no one, not even a priest, could read the volumes without a serious reason (e.g. to refute its errors) and the permission of the bishop or religious superior. Despite Roman judgements against the work its promoters have continued on their merry way, publishing and promoting it without interruption.

In 1966 when the Index was abolished many thought this meant the works listed on it could be read. Cardinal Ratzinger addressed this issue with respect to the "Poem of the Man-God," in the aforementioned Letter saying,

"After the dissolution of the Index, when some people thought the printing and distribution of the work was permitted, people were reminded again in 'LOsservatore Romano' (June 15, 1966) that, as was published in the 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis' (1966), the Index retains its moral force despite its dissolution. A decision against distributing and recommending a work, which has not beeen condemned lightly, may be reversed, but only after profound changes that neutralize the harm which such a publication could bring forth among the ordinary faithful."

In 1993 Bishop Boland of Birmingham, AL wrote the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about "Poem" on behalf of an inquirer. Cardinal Ratzinger responded by letter, which the bishop then quoted in his response to the person, who shared it with us. The response noted that because of continuing interest in the books the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had requested the Italian Bishops Conference to ask the publisher (who as I noted never in the past has complied with Roman decisions) to have a disclaimer printed in the volumes that "clearly indicated from the very first page that the 'visions' and 'dictations' referred to in it are simply the literary forms used by the author to narrate in her own way the life of Jesus. They cannot be considered supernatural in origin." Whether this has been done I don't know.

So, quite apart from any supposed value that these writings have for helping the faith of Catholics is the promotion of the tendency to self-judgement in areas already judged by the hierarchical authority of the Church. Since the duty of submission to the Magisterium is part of the divine constitution of the Church and necessary for salvation, whereas, private revelations (even authentic ones, which this is not) cannot oblige in faith, it should be an easy call what the loyal Catholic should do. Is it forbidden? In the strict canonical sense (legal prohibition and sanctions for violating), no. Is it grossly imprudent to read things which the Church has discouraged in the strongest terms? Yes. Is it a bad use of time when there are writings of the Magisterium, of the saints and the Catechism that are not being read? Absolutely.

But people claim that never have they understood Scripture as when they have read "Poem." Understood in a certain way, as explained by Maria Valtorta! But this way the Church has said is not according to its mind. Catholics do well to follow the Holy See in this.

 

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