In 1983, Ernesto Cardenal became an international cause celebre when Pope John Paul II publicly admonished him during a visit to Managua. The photograph of the moment is unsettling. There is Cardenal, even then snowy-bearded, kneeling before the pope on the tarmac of the Managua airport. But rather than bestow blessings, the pope wags his finger at Cardenal, a rare gesture of condemnation.
Cardenal’s defiance prompted a Vatican ban on him administering the sacraments, which he has made no attempt to overturn. Cardenal’s appearances in the United States to promote his latest work were greeted with hostility among some conservative Catholics.
Thousands of protest letters spurred by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, known by the acronym TFP, were sent to officials at Xavier University in Ohio and Loyola. “Inviting Fr. Cardenal to speak at a Catholic university is like welcoming a wolf into a hen house,” John Ritchie, TFP’s student action director, wrote in an e-mail. “It’s a scandal that Xavier University and Loyola University (Maryland) hosted this man. His radical Marxist views are not only flawed, but also detrimental to the faith and incompatible with the teaching of the Church.”
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