In a recent post here, 'The Brothers Karamazov' came up, and now, we've just stumbled onto yet another connection between Ivan Illich and that dark Russian novel. Time magazine has published online its 1969 story about Illich's having been confronted by Vatican officials and asked to defend himself against a series of charges. This was, of course, the confrontation that led to Illich's voluntarily withdrawing from the priesthood.
The story begins:
From the reception room of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a waiting monsignor led the visitor to a turn-of-the-century elevator. They rode down several floors, walked through rooms lined with musty, leather-bound volumes, entered yet another gloomy room. Across a heavy wooden table, decorated only with an austere black crucifix, sat a man in a black, violet-trimmed cassock. The visitor presented himself. "I am Illich."
"Monsignor, who are you?"
"I am your judge."
Thus began, last June, the Vatican examination of Monsignor Ivan Illich, 42, Vienna-born New York priest, linguist and controversial founder of one of Latin America's most promising experiments in social and cultural education, the Center for Intercultural Documentation in Cuernavaca, Mexico. What began as a quiet investigation has blown into a full-scale and still unresolved controversy in the past few weeks.
Some dismayed Catholics are hoping that the Vatican's order, not yet fully promulgated worldwide, might still be rescinded. That is doubtful, but there is at least a hint that the Illich affair was more than a little disturbing to Rome. Cardinal Seper's last words to him, Illich recalled with some amazement last week, were: "Get going, get going, and do not come back." They were, Illich noted, remarkably close to the last words spoken by the Grand Inquisitor to his prisoner, Jesus Christ, in the philosophical vignette from The Brothers Karamazov. In Dostoevsky's tale, Christ has returned to earth, and the Inquisitor decides to burn him because his ideas of freedom are too dangerous for the world. After receiving his sentence from the Inquisitor, Christ kisses him. The Grand Inquisitor, shaken, orders him out: "Go, and come no more—come not at all, never, never!"