Wednesday 10 April 2024

Lintner: I was not told the reason for the "Nihil obstat" turnaround

The South Tyrolean moral theologian Martin M. Lintner says he does not know why the Vatican granted him the necessary "nihil obstat" for his election as Dean of the Bressanone/Brixen School of Theology after all

"I was not informed of this," Lintner replied to a corresponding question in an interview with the "Zeit" supplement "Christ & Welt" on Wednesday. 

In his opinion, the decisive factor for Rome's change of heart was probably the support of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocesan bishop Ivo Muser. 

According to Lintner, he had firmly backed him and sought dialogue with the Vatican authorities.

"The fact that the denial was withdrawn and my case was re-examined was officially justified by the fact that questions concerning several dicasteries had to be clarified," the moral theologian continued. 

This suggests that not everyone in the Vatican was in agreement with the negative decision. 

Lintner also said that a well-informed source had told him that his case had been on Pope Francis' desk. 

However, he did not know whether the head of the church had seen it.

Lintner sees his own case as a "precedent"

In his own words, Lintner sees the fact that he was granted the necessary "nihil obstat" after all as a "precedent". 

He sees this "as a sign of a new style of the education dicastery to work objectively and in a solution-orientated manner". 

For him personally, it is also important that his moral theological publications are not or no longer objected to, but remain within the framework of the theological freedom of research also recognised by Rome.

For other theologians, the turnaround in his case was a "positive signal", the theologian explained. He hoped that it could help to dispel fears of jeopardising church careers from the outset through publications. 

After his rejection, he had noticed a "new insecurity" among young theologians. 

"For us as a church, young people who aspire to an academic career are incredibly important. Seeing them start to question whether they really want to work in academic theology, where they are dependent on such a non-transparent procedure as the nihil obstat, really made me feel sorry for them."

"The power of arguments counts in theology too"

When asked how he deals with the tension between fidelity to the magisterium and theological freedom of research, Lintner said: "Theological research must be well-founded and must not have an anti-church bias - I really can't be accused of that." 

Despite all the critical debate about church doctrine, he does not fundamentally and sweepingly question it, but tries to present it in a way that can be agreed with and then to make his own position recognisable as such and to motivate and justify his critical questions, but also approaches to solutions. 

"Even in theology, the power of arguments counts."

The Brixen University Board elected Lintner as Dean in November 2022; the two-year term of office was originally due to begin on 1 September 2023.  

Last summer, however, the university announced that the Vatican Dicastery for Education had not granted Lintner the "nihil obstat". 

Lintner's positions on sexual morality were cited as the reason for this. 

There were protests against the Vatican's decision and expressions of solidarity for Lintner from academic theology in German-speaking countries. 

Shortly afterwards, Bishop Muser reported on talks behind the scenes and held out the prospect of an agreement. 

At the beginning of April, it was then announced that the "nihil obstat" from Rome had been received by Muser after all. 

Lintner is now due to take up the post of dean on 1 September this year.