The holy cardinal who died in a prostitute’s home

In a way, it was a form of posthumous martyrdom: the once distinguished Jesuit dying in humiliating circumstances, on an errand of mercy, his reputation in tatters and his Jesuit confrères unwilling to offer any defence of his actions.

Cardinal Jean Daniélou was a Prince of the Church who had spent the first part of his priestly life seeking to renew and restore an authentic understanding of the riches of the Church Fathers and the need for a return to these sources of theology.

He was part of the ressourcement group – with Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the young Joseph Ratzinger – who had a profound and valuable influence at the Second Vatican Council.

The older among them, including Daniélou, had suffered considerably in earlier years, as their exploration of the writings of the early Fathers challenged the standard Neo-Thomism of the day.

Absolutely orthodox in their beliefs, they were regarded by some as dangerous Modernists and by others simply as tiresome individuals whose call for a fresh sense of mission and evangelisation was surely unnecessary.

Publishing patristic texts in a series, Sources Chrétiennes, in the 1940s, Daniélou and de Lubac opened up the Church Fathers to a new generation, an approach to theology offering a rediscovery of treasures.

Joseph Ratzinger, a peritus (adviser) at Vatican II 20 years later, described the sense of vigour and hope that accompanied the debates in Rome: a recognition of the Church’s glorious truths for which the world was aching.

But then came the betrayal, of which Daniélou spoke in a Vatican Radio interview in 1972: “A false interpretation of Vatican II … secularisation, a false conception of freedom”, and a collapse of authentic religious life, with priests abandoning their vows, a whole vision of consecrated life at risk.

The Jesuits of his own community were caught up in this: his superior would in due course leave the priesthood and dedicate his life to legalising abortion in France. Continue reading

Joanna Bogle is a British Catholic journalist, writer and broadcaster.

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