Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Cardinal Wuerl, and Fr. Raymond Brown

You already know that the USCCB Committee on Doctrine condemned the widely-used book Quest for the Living God by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson. The board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of American strongly supported Sr. Johnson’s scholarship and raised serious questions about the fairness of the bishops’ condemnation. Then the board of directors of the College Theology Society followed suit.

Grant Gallicho at Commonweal wondered if the Committee on Doctrine even read the book it condemned. John F. Haught, also at Commonweal, argues not only that the bishops misread Johnson, but that their argumentation seems to presume a pre-evolutionary view of the world. (But see the rejoinder to that, also in Commonweal, by Brian Davies.)

Theologians vs. Bishops: this is depressing. It’s starting to look like a case of compelling arguments on one side, appeal to authority on the other. This is bad, very bad, for the future of theological inquiry in the Church, at the service of the faithful and their leaders. It certainly won’t help the Bishops’ credibility as authoritative teachers.

And now Cardinal Wuerl has written a 13-page letter to the US bishops, a “resource” titled “Bishops as Teachers.” The emphasis is on the apostolic authority of the bishops, as in this key passage:

The Church is called “apostolic” precisely because she alone can trace her origins to the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles, the Twelve chosen by Jesus and charged, together with their successors, with the responsibility of teaching the true faith, making sure that it is presented clearly, and applying it to the problems and needs of every age.

I hope the Cardinal doesn’t mean to say, “Since we don’t have the arguments, let’s insist on our authority,” but it sort of looks like it.

For now I’ll raise two questions in need of further exploration.

1. The unbroken chain of bishops as successors to apostles. “Bishops as Teachers” grounds the authority of bishops in their being part of an unbroken chain reaching back to the apostles, for example:

It is only through this uninterrupted tradition, stretching back to the time of the apostles and continued by their successors, the bishops, that we can be sure of the integrity and validity of the Christian faith.

Historical claims regarding an “uninterrupted tradition” must be subject, of course, to the scrutiny of rational historical inquiry. Fr. Raymond Brown spoke for what I think is a broad consensus when he wrote in 1970 in Priest and Bishop (which, btw, has an imprimatur),

If the Twelve as a group were not primarily missionaries, neither were they bishops… The fact that the Twelve apostles were not bishops or local church leaders and, in fact, coexisted in Jerusalem with James who was the local church leader, is one reason why exegetes have a difficulty about the bishops being successors to these apostles… [A]ccording to NT thought there can be no successors to the Twelve as such… [W]hen the individual members die, they are not replaced; rather, as the founders of the renewed Israel, they are immortalized.”  (Paulist Press, 1970, 52, 54, 55)

I am not denying Catholic teaching on apostolic sucession, any more than Fr. Brown does in his highly nuanced treatment of the historical data. How we understand apostolic succession, however, is another question, the answer to which cannot ignore historical data.

Christ’s institution of the Twelve, his intention that bishops be their successors, his intention to establish a ministerial priesthood with sacramental powers given by ordination in the unbroken apostolic chain: all these issues involve an interplay between received Church teaching and the data of historical inquiry.

Perhaps a comparison to the Galileo affair is helpful. The received teaching was that the sun revolves around the earth, that Scripture is historically and scientifically accurate, that Popes and Bishops and Fathers of the Church had rightly interpreted the Scriptures, and that a change in Scriptural interpretation would undermine the authority of the Church.

What happened, of course, after a crisis in the Church’s self-understanding, is that historical and scientific data led to a deepening in the Church’s understanding of the truth of the Scriptures. The scholarly data led to a paradigm shift. The Scriptures are still true, but not in the way we had thought. Our understanding of Church teaching underwent change, informed by the data of scientific and historical inquiry.

Similarly, serious engagement with historical data will necessitate a paradigm shift in our understanding of priesthood, episcopate, and magisterium. Catholic teaching on those issues will still be true, but not in the way we had thought. If no one individual was called “priest” in the Christian community for several decades after the Resurrection, if that usage didn’t set in here and there in until the second century or become common understanding until the third or fourth, then we will still believe Catholic teaching that “Christ instituted the priesthood,” but not in the way we had thought. If the Church didn’t understand Bishops to be successors to the apostles until the second or third century, we will still believe that the our Bishops are sucessors and that they have, by Christ’s intention, a unique role in defining Catholic doctrine, but not in the way we had thought.

There is nothing controversial in what I cited above from Ray Brown. All this is a commonplace in contemporary biblical and historical scholarship. But the inevitable paradigm shift in our understanding of Catholic doctrine has not yet happened, at least not in statements such as “Bishops as Teachers.” Cardinal Wuerl seems to write as if the scholarship of the last forty or fifty years has not happened. This does not help the Bishops’ credibility, nor bode well for the possibility of fruitful interaction between theologians and Bishops.

The Bishops teach that every use of artificial conception is morally wrong. But as we learned this week, some 98% of US Catholic women disagree. Is the Bishops’ long-range plan to keep asserting the teaching on contraception until the laity come around? “It’s not gonna happen,” I hear some of you saying. I hope, O how I hope, that we’re not heading into a situation where the Bishops condemn books representative of the work of about 98% of theologians, and keep doing so until the theologians come around.

We’re at an impasse. Frankly, I don’t see a way forward. What needs to happen to move us toward a better future, where our Bishops are our leaders and guides and even heroes? I certainly want that. I want our Bishops to teach authoritatively and credibly.

2. The purpose of undergraduate theology. “Bishops as Teachers” asserts that catechetics since the 1970s has failed to pass on the basics of the faith, and this demands a change in how theology is taught to uninformed Catholic undergraduates. Students don’t have sufficient background to negotiate the wide variety of opinions in the theological academy. Undergrad theology must become catechetical – that is, it must stick to teaching the basics of the faith to the uncatechized.

The Cardinal is raising a new topic here, and his proposal has huge implications for academic theology. Now the question isn’t Sr. Johnson’s orthodoxy, but the purpose of undergraduate theology. Would “remedial catechesis” be seen as a legitimate discipline in the wider academic community? Would the entire faculty approve of “catechetical courses” as general education requirements? What about the non-Catholic students in Catholic schools, sometimes 30% or 50% or more of the student body – would they be exempt from “Catholic catechesis as theology” courses? Would Catholic students who don’t want religious catechesis be able to opt out? Is it pedagogically effective with today’s college students to present only an official viewpoint in the theology classroom, at a timewhen this pedagogical approach is not used in other disciplines?

I see a need for serious discussion on what we think the purpose of undergrad theology is.

*          *          *          *          *

Finally, a question. “Bishops as Teachers” states,

Paul tells the Romans, “How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).

Why do you suppose the Cardinal uses the old RSV translation ? The Bishops’ own NAB translation of this passage, found at the USCCB website, is:

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?

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97 comments

  1. Theologians vs. Bishops: this is depressing. It’s starting to look like a case of compelling arguments on one side, appeal to authority on the other.

    The original document of the Bishop’s Committee on doctrine is an argument, not an appeal to authority.

    Contrawise, the CTSA reply focuses primarily on issues of authority and roles in the Church, rather than on theological argument.

    “Bishops as Teachers” asserts that catechetics since the 1970s has failed to pass on the basics of the faith, and this demands a change in how theology is taught to uninformed Catholic undergraduates. Students don’t have sufficient background to negotiate the wide variety of opinions in the theological academy. Undergrad theology must become catechetical – that is, it must stick to teaching the basics of the Faith to the uncatechized.

    That’s not how I read it at all. Wuerl’s discussion is primarily descriptive, not normative. He writes that “books used in religious studies/theology courses at Catholic colleges and universities must be seen as de facto catechetical and formational texts.”

    The Bishops teach that every use of artificial conception is morally wrong. But as we learned this week, some 98% of US Catholic women disagree.

    That’s a complete misreading of the statistic. That people do something doesn’t ipso facto mean that they think it’s morally right. I bet you could survey Catholics and find most of them have stolen something and used the Lord’s name in vain in their life. That wouldn’t mean they disgree with the second and seventh commandements.

    1. Yes. Depending on what we want to know we’d need to ask one of the following:

      1. “Do you disagree with Catholic teaching regarding contraception?”

      2. “Do you currently use contraceptives for purposes of birth control?”

      Based on conversations my wife and I have had with others in the NFP community, I’d estimate that more than 90% had previously used contraceptives. The survey mentioned above would count all of these women in their total.

      It is also worth mentioning that the survey was sponsored/conducted by the Guttmacher Institute.

      1. Were my wife and I surveyed we would have been with the 90% + of Catholics who use artificial contraception.

        Do we think it is morally right? Absolutely

        Do I lose sleep over what George Pell my local bishop or the Catholic hierarchy think? Not a wink

    2. “That’s a complete misreading of the statistic. That people do something doesn’t ipso facto mean that they think it’s morally right.” S.J.H.

      That people refrain from doing something does not mean tht they think it’s morally wrong.

      The other side of that argument is illustrated by the expression ‘voting with one’s feet.’ It is the notion that a person’s mind may be known from what they say, but that their real mind may be known from what they do.

  2. Maybe to correct these “catechetical deficiencies” (p. 11)we should look at our faith formation programs/process. I know in my limited experience, catechists are wonderful people who volunteer their time, but many also need more training and guidance. If they are not well-formed how can we expect them to help form our young people, our inquireres in the RCIA, etc?

    I firmly believe the RCIA model, when implemented well, can be a model for all faith formation and parish renewal.

    My three years teaching high school opened my eyes to many “deficiencies” that our young people have to endure in religious ed. As a church, I know we can do better in helping young and old alike grow in faith.

  3. Does Sensus Fidelium still exist in the Church today? Is so, does it have any role in the teaching authority of the Church? I wonder if we have become too obsessed with faith as content. It is just a concern. If we ask our college students to leave their intellectual bearings at the door when entering a theology class, we in essense remove academic from that classroom. Do we want them to simply memorize doctrine? I am concerned that the Church has lost its bearing in its “Lex Vivendi”. That we seem not to offer our lives as exemplary models of the apostolic deposit of faith but are more like regurgitators of information. Just my own thoughts!

    1. I just discovered that at Maynooth College seminarians may not study theology with lay persons in the classroom! They might be contaminated by the sensus fidelium, you see.

    1. Fritz, I read Davies, and I drew a slightly different conclusion.

      Davies didn’t do that much more than state the classical (pre-evolutionary) view that God is impassible, rather like Fr. Weinandy did in First Things some years ago. Davies talks a lot about hypostatic union and Chalcedon, which is interesting enough. But as I understand Haught, the issue is larger and more pervasive than the special case of the Word Incarnate: namely, our view of how God relates to the world in general, not just in the person of his Son, and how that view might be in need of development and alteration by evolutionary thought. He didn’t mention Whitehead, as I recall, and I suppose I shouldn’t either, since there are plenty of problems with Whitehead, and the mention of his name could distract us. But I thought of Whitehead as an example of an evolutionary “theology,” in distinction here to Christological issues.

      Then, at the end of the article, unless I misread it, Davies seems to say that maybe God does suffer after all – this wouldn’t be any more paradoxical than his being united to human nature in the Incarnation.

      Please correct and enlarge my understanding if I’ve missed something.

      awr

      1. Thanks, Fr. Ruff – that is also how I understood what Davies said – specifically his last point about God might suffer after all. As I said on dotCommonweal and above, a loving relationship implies suffering – it is part of human nature.

        If I remember my Rahner, he posited that the loving relationship of Father and Son is the Spirit. The Son was not just divine. Incarnation means that the Trinity is in human history and human history includes suffering – thus, what is Davies saying?

      2. Anthony,

        I don’t think any Christian who was not a docetist would deny that
        God suffers — after all, if it wasn’t God suffering no the Cross then who was it?

        But I think Davies point at the end of his article is not that divine suffering is no more paradoxical than incarnation, but rather that the incarnation is the occasion of God’s suffering. If this is not too gnomic a way to put the matter: the cross is not an instance of “divine suffering” (which I believe is formulation that makes about as much sense as “a square circle”) but rather of the human suffering of God.

        So, yes, God suffers, but not with some sort of divine pathos that is akin to human suffering, but with human suffering itself, the human suffering of the incarnate Word.

      3. Allow me to link to Kenneth Overberg’s developments (creation for incarnation) based on Rahnerian theology:

        http://www.embracingourdying.com/articles/suffering.php

        Highlights:

        “Jesus is not Plan B

        There is an alternative interpretation of the life and death of Jesus, also expressed in the Scriptures and throughout the tradition. This view, perhaps only on the margins of many people’s religious understanding and devotion, is completely orthodox and is solidly rooted in the Christian tradition. Indeed, it offers perspectives much closer to Jesus’ own experience and vision.

        What, briefly, is the heart of this alternative interpretation? It holds that the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God’s sharing of life and love in a unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for Original Sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God’s first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus’ life is the fulfillment of the whole creative process, of God’s eternal longing to become human. Theologians call this the “primacy of the Incarnation.”

        For many of us who have lived a lifetime with the atonement view, it may be hard at first to hear this alternative, “incarnational” view. Yet it may offer some wonderful surprises for our relationship with God. God is not an angry or vindictive God, demanding the suffering and death of Jesus as payment for past sin. God is, instead, a gracious God, sharing divine life and love in creation and in the Incarnation. Such a view can dramatically change our image of God, our approach to suffering, our day-to-day prayer. This approach finds its strongest scriptural expression in John’s Gospel and in the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.

        Throughout the centuries great Christian theologians have contributed to this positive perspective on God and Jesus. From the groundbreaking Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century (St Basil to Rahner).

    2. I also believe in the metaphysics of divine impassibility, but note that it is in tension with the language of Scripture. To negotiate this tension Origen and others used a paradoxical language: the passion of the impassible. A locus classicus is Origen, In Ezek., 6.

      1. Origen wrote, “And the Father himself… is it not true that he suffered in some manner?… God takes on himself our modes of being as the Son takes on our passions (citing Ps 102.8). The Father himself is not impassible. If he is supplicated, has nercy and pities he suffers a passion of charity and puts himself in a condition incompatible with his greatness and for us bears human passions. Igitur mores nostras supportat Deus, sicut portat passiones nostras Filius Dei. Ipse Pater non est impassibilis. Si rogetur, miseretur et condolet, patitur aliquid caritatis, et fit in iis in quibus iuxta magnitudinem naturae suae non potest esse, et propter nos humanas sustinet passiones.

      2. Cont…..from above

        Link to another Overberg article:

        http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac1202.asp-

        Another theologian’s approach:

        “In the late 20th century, theologian Catherine LaCugna pulled together many of these themes in her book God For Us. She uses and expands the Cappadocians’ wonderful image of the Trinity as divine dance to include all persons. Borrowing themes of intimacy and communion from John’s Gospel and Ephesians, she affirms that humanity has been made a partner in the divine dance not through our own merit but through God’s election from all eternity. She writes: “The God who does not need nor care for the creature, or who is immune to our suffering, does not exist… The God who keeps a ledger of our sins and failings, the divine policeman, does not exist. These are all false gods… What we believe about God must match what is revealed of God in Scripture: God watches over the widow and the poor, God makes the rains fall on just and unjust alike, God welcomes the stranger and embraces the enemy.”

    3. Fr Bauerschmidt, note that Origen does not confine divine suffering to that of the Word incarnate but talks of the impassible Father as suffering. You may say Origen is an iffy theologian, but usual his alleged errors go in the direction of Platonism. Here is a very anti-Platonic idea, which came to him from Scripture.

  4. Thanks, Fritz. How did I miss that? I look forward to studying it. And I’ll add it to the original post also, so others don’t miss it.
    awr

  5. ‘The Church is called “apostolic” precisely because she alone can trace her origins to the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles, the Twelve chosen by Jesus’ D. Wuerl

    In the first instance, the terms ‘apostles’ and ‘the Twelve’ need to be differentiated. We know that there were not just 12 apostles. We have names for at least 15, including Paul. From Luke 10.1 we know that the Lord sent out 72 others. By definition, these were apostles – those who had been sent by Jesus. In that sense, the expression ‘the twleve apostles’ is a misnomer. The attempt to identify Matthew with Levi and Bartholomew with Nathaniel stems from the idea that there were only twleve, excluding Paul.

    Secondly, ‘the Twelve’ was a symbolic assertion that the Jesus movement was in direct continuity not only with the institution of Israel, but, crucially, with the God of Israel.

    In the final third of the second century, Christians in Rome were growing in number, making fresh demands on organisatio and orthodoxy. A centralising office, similar to that of the emperor in civil society, seemed good to them. Irenaeus of Lyons’ creative response to this situation was to compose a list of monarchical successors of Peter. He fabricated a list which we know today as Linus, Cletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus etc. This gave status to the new dispensation. The device of retrojecting a contemporary structure into a historical period in the past, in order to give it crediblity, is not new.

    Where it has occurred, it needs to be recognised.

  6. It does seem that there should be a tension between theologians and the bishops and that the theologians should be helping the bishops to articulate and teach the faith and morals of the Church. If they (the theologians) sidetrack the bishops in their primary responsibility, then I think the response that was given to Sister Johnson is appropriate. Her book is still out there for inquiring minds. Also, when controversy erupts in the Church, this helps bishops and others to clarify what is believed either by endorsing it, calling for further study or challenging it altogether. Fr. Philip Keane had the imprimatur on one of his books on sexuality removed due do some questions bishops had about it.
    In terms of any dysfunction of the role of bishops and theologians together, I suspect one could fault either group (bishops or theologians) for being excessive or reactionary in criticism as though they are not working for the same goals, helping the faith to be understood better. And perhaps that will be the lesson with this episode, clarification by both parties of what we Catholics actually profess to be the truth.

    1. Her book is still out there for inquiring minds. Also, when controversy erupts in the Church, this helps bishops and others to clarify what is believed either by endorsing it, calling for further study or challenging it altogether.

      A good point. It doesn’t seem that the Bishops are somehow calling for the suppression of this book from all public view. It would seem that their point is that it is an error to suggest that this book represents a “Catholic” (with a capital C) viewpoint. Such as with the issue of contraception… it is a legitimate point of view to advocate for the use of birth control. However, to suggest, as a representative of the faith, that this is a legitimate “Catholic” viewpoint is clearly wrong.

      There have been many noble Catholic dissenters throughout history. The most noble, even though just plain wrong, at least made it clear that they were dissenters.

      1. Jeffrey Herbert — allow me to query your understanding of Catholic life and faith. You scoff at the numerous people who were imprisoned for putting in question the justice of the Inquisition (which was upheld by the moral and dogmatic theology of the centuries of its exercise, and was intimately part of canon law, papal policy, and the spirituality of humility and obedience). Since they were dissenters, you say, they must have been wrong! This is not the logic of Jesus Christ and his Church, but of Stalin.

  7. Whenever Jesus is addressed as “teacher” in the Gospels, it is noted that the title/role is insufficient and is typically used by his opponents. That being said, the best instructor Christians have always had has been the Holy Spirit. When we encounter the Church, we are being prepared to take that leap of faith in believing that Christ is indeed the Son of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to make that leap.

    For those of us who already have taken that leap, the question becomes, “How can we take up the call to preach once more in a way that would address both the need for basic catechism (which, as a GenXer, I had had little in the way of instruction) and the need for an academic/scholarly approach that can offer the student substantive as well as standard information?”

    The “Catholic Culture” of yesterday is not as readily available to younger adults. We no longer learn by osmosis, so to speak, of Catholic schools, nearby Churches, etc. Today’s young adults need to first encounter practicing Christians who pray and follow the will of God before simply being taught the basics of our faith as well as the findings of scholarly research on God and the Church.

    We may want to consider teaching students to pray and develop their relationship with God. I find that our role as preachers of the Word is to first evangelize to those who have yet to hear the Good News. (Do we even remember why it is Good News?) With prayer, they, too, can learn from the Holy Spirit, as we have. The Holy Spirit has always been the best teacher, and, in these confusing, post-modernistic times, they and we need the Advocate to guide them and us through the debates and arguments surrounding religion today.

    We’ll likely find that, as is usually the case in Catholicism, “both/and” is probably the way to the Truth — in Jesus Christ.

  8. Please don’t confuse the issue by talking about contraception. We could argue that all day, but it would be a huge distraction from the topic at hand. Whatever issue we’re talking about, the fact that 98 percent of people think otherwise means nothing, unless we’re talking about an institution which is supposed follow the will of the people–which the Church is not. In a democracy, yes. In pursuit of Godly living, it’s more important to talk about what God thinks, what God has put into place, what God reveals through the nature of His creation. When we are talking about an under-catechized Church, opinion polls hardly make a strong case.

    I know nothing about the sister in question, her work or its validity. I only comment to say: let’s not confuse the issue.

    1. I think I see your point.

      Note that I wasn’t arguing for or against the teaching on artificial contraception. I was simply mentioning that we have an impasse there too. In both cases, the bishops are in a different place than a large group, whether of the faithful or theologians.

      I think your use of “democracy” is tendentious. Surely there are other choices available to us than either “top-down monarchy which alone speaks for God, no matter how isolated it is from the faithful and theologians” or “democratic vote of everyone, however unchurched or uncatechized, on church teaching.” No one I know is suggesting the latter, which you set up as a straw man.

      Personally I think that, in the discernment of God’s will, especially when the matter is rather unclear and confusing, there is a role for the Bishops and Pope as well as the input of thoughtful, believing, actively Catholic theologians, and practicing Catholic lay faithful as well. Note that the last two groups are not necessarily uncatechized!

      awr

    2. I think that to dismiss the fact of 98% disagreement with a teaching is to put one’s head in the sand. When we dismiss the views of so many, it is more likely that we are the ones who have refused to hear what God thinks because we believe we already have all the answers.

      Are so many women, along with their thoughts and experiences, not part of God’s creation? Why is it that women’s views (or at least 98% of them) are considered a mere distraction, but the views of bishops are pure reflections of what God thinks?

      No, this business of an “under-catechized Church” is ideological cover for a failure of leaders to discharge their responsibility to pastor, not merely to dictate to, the followers of Christ.

      1. Rita;

        It’s very likely that more than 98% would disagree with such a position, however many of them are not Catholic. It may surprise some individuals here to discover that many non-Catholics disagree with Catholic teachings. I would even be so bold as to suggest that that very disagreement may in fact be why they aren’t Catholic.

        Also, are you suggesting that it is just the views of women that are disregarded? Last time I checked, the Church doesn’t determine it’s teachings by the majority views of either men or women. It would be fascinating to see what such a “populist” faith might look like. I would point to the Universalist Unitarians as a likely outcome…

      2. Straw man alert. See awr @ 1:06 for the apt reply — it’s not an either / or situation.

        Jeffrey, see the original post. “98% of US Catholic women.” You say they are not Catholic. Have you excommunicated them?

      3. Contraception is such a marginal issue theologically that it can only confuse the present debate if we singly it out as paradigmatic. The bishops admit that their catechesis of the faithful has failed and they want theologians to stop doing creative, questioning theology and to make up for the failed catecheesis at university level instead. But what they fail to see is that the best way to reiginite interest in faith among university students is to introduce them to exciting debates. The bishops themselves seem to have no taste for such debates, and their own teaching authority is suffering anemia as a result.

    3. with respect your argument about “under-catechised” Church is an insult.

      No, thinking Catholics have read Humanae Vitae, have reflected on their life situation and have decided to expel the hierarchical church’s teaching out of the marital bedroom

      This is a well though out decision. No further slurs please about being “under-catechised”

      1. I could count on my fingers and toes the number of
        Catholics I met who have read Humanae Vitae. If you exclude the professional theologians, I could do it without the toes.

  9. The issue of “what is” undergraduate theology, is also present at Catholic High Schools, where I visit often. More and more, Catholic High Schools are told they are not there to teach “theology” but rather, “religion.” I know of some places where schools and “religion/theology” department have been directly told by their bishop, that their job is not to teach “theology” or help students do critical thinking around religious questions. Rather, they are being told in many places, that their job as high school “religion” teachers, is to give students “the answers,” even if they are not asking the questions. In other words, apologetics.

    1. They’ve got to be taught the advanced basics (too advanced for elementary school/junior high students and not college level theology, either) at some point, Catholic high schools are the place to do that. Critical thinking can’t entirely replace content, just like it can’t entirely replace content in history, math, science, etc.

      1. As a teacher of literature, I assure you that students cannot properly appropriate the content of literary texts unless they simultaneously use critical thinking in respect of it. The distinction between theology and catechesis works up to the age of 12, not beyond. The best religious formation I received at the North Monastery School, Cork, was at the evening discussions on controversial theological topics arranged by a progressive teacher, Br. Gavin — he got me to write a long essay on the forthcoming Council when I was 13. The bishops are betraying their teaching office by refusing to teach adults as adults and by stopping others from doing so.

    2. I agree with Sam about a both/and approach. One asks different questions at the level of high school, and this needs to be addressed by a more sophisticated presentation and a more mature set of pedagogical strategies than can be employed in jr high or elementary school. Yet there is still content to be learned. Religious illiteracy is actually the enemy of theology and critical thinking — one can hardly approach a topic creatively while laboring under the assumption that it is dull and useless, which is the state of mind that illiteracy induces.

  10. There is nothing controversial in what I cited above from Ray Brown. All this is a commonplace in contemporary biblical and historical scholarship. But the inevitable paradigm shift in our understanding of Catholic doctrine has not yet happened, at least not in statements such as “Bishops as Teachers.” Cardinal Wuerl seems to write as if the scholarship of the last forty or fifty years has not happened. This does not help the Bishops’ credibility, nor bode well for the possibility of fruitful interaction between theologians and Bishops.

    Why do you suppose the Cardinal uses the old RSV translation?

    Unfortunately, I think these two observations bring up the same endemic problem in US RC clergy. Most of them, once they finish seminary and get ordained, think they know all the theology which they will ever need to know and never study again. They are caught up in career management, institutional administration, fund raising.

    What theology professors and current theology students see as continuity, most clergy see as momentary glimpses of sharp contrast.

    Note too, that many of the clergy over age 65 were still educated in the Thomistic manual seminary system. They may expect to see one right answer to be given on theology exams as the objective in theological studies.

    One of the startling things in the seminaries in the late 1960s was how shocked the faculty was at the volume of new ways of looking at things coming out of the council. The seminarians were reading periodicals which dealt with these things which the faculty was often unable or unwilling to teach in the classrooms.

    I wonder if Cardinal Wuerl is having a similar problem?

    I repeat my frequent plaint that many fail to grasp the distinction made by Aquinas between the authority of jurisdiction and the authority of expertise and the need of those with jurisdiction to avail themselves of the expertise. Of course, the bishop of Paris burned the works of Aquinas, so this sort of lack of hierarchical humility has been around a long time.

  11. David – that tension is alive and well in Dallas. Most high school theology teachers come out of the University of Dallas which has an undergraduate theology degree and a school of ministry that certifies teachers. For a number of years there has been back and forth between the undergraduate theology and the school of ministry. The undergraduate have a very orthodox approach in line with “catechism”….the school of ministry works with a very diversified and older group of students and is more theological and life experience approach. These graduates wind up teaching in our catholic high schools and our children may get a catechism only approach one year and then a more dynamic, experiential year. If you have any illusions abou the catechism approach, visit a catholic high school. For those of us who deeply support PRO-LIFE in all of its manifestations coupled with peace and justice, the catechical approach can be very discouraging as it misses significant parts of our tradition, history, and sensus fidelium.

    (Sorry, Fr. Anthony, for this side issue)

  12. Fr. Anthony – thanks for an excellent post and well analyzed point of view. For those who actually visited dotCommonweal, you can see my posts there.

    There are a number of issues and statements that could result in confusion – original book; initial committee statement, CTSA and other group statements, Wuerl’s reply, articles in Commonweal.

    Completely agree that Wuerl has raised a “new” point – and a related topic of quality of teaching/education. He does not deliberately go into detail – so, we are left to imagine.

    Commonweal articles – Haught focues almost exclusively on Weindaty’s approach. Davies responds. To be honest, it all but falls into the realm of “how many angels are on a head of a pin”……not sure I agree with Haught’s evolutionary dramatics but also not sure that Davies is persuasive in his elaborate drill down. To love is to suffer at least in a moral, ethical, and corporeal sense. We express our faith about God/Jesus by naming this relationship using our own corporeal experience. Weindaty went too far in his condemnation. Resolution – it is both/and.

    Apostolic succession – again, agree with Fr. Anthony that Wuerl’s second reply leaves him open to sounding like he appeals to authority only and we do not need that approach at this time. Thanks to comments above that expand on Raymond Brown – it is a complex reality and it is an understanding, not a black and white fact.

    Thought that Fr. Anthony’s description of how the church’s understanding evolves is excellent – it does make you pause before you state something with certitude or, at least, it frames that process well.

    (Fr. Allan – well said)

  13. We need to keep in mind a distinction between speaking “from authority” and speaking “with authority”. The first says, “I am in a position of authority; therefore, in this matter, you must accept what I say.” The second says, “Listen to what I’m saying, and ask yourself whether it reflects the truth, whether I really know what I’m talking about.” When people recognised that Jesus spoke “with authority” (Matthew 7:29 etc.), whether they accepted him or not, they could see the power of truth in what he said. A person in a position of authority (service!) who speaks only “from authority” is weak. A person in a position of authority who speaks “with authority” does not need to “lord it over them”.
    Pádraig McC

    1. Absolutely. It is the same with biblical inerrancy. When you quote some biblical impossibility and appeal to inerrancy you fall flat. The Bible is inerrant only when heard as a living word by the praying community. Bishps who treat their authority as some kind of blank check are undercutting it.

  14. Fr. Thomas Reese tells us in an NCR article that those Catholics who leave the Catholic Church to join a Protestant communion, 2/3rds of them are joining more conservative evangelical communions rather than the liberal mainline ones. He goes on to write: “Forty-six percent of these new evangelicals felt the Catholic church did not view the Bible literally enough. Thus, for those leaving to become evangelicals, spiritual sustenance, worship services and the Bible were key. Only 11 percent were unhappy with the church’s teachings on poverty, war, and the death penalty, the same percentage as said they were unhappy with the church’s treatment of women. Contrary to what conservatives say, ex-Catholics are not flocking to the evangelicals because they think the Catholic church is politically too liberal. They are leaving to get spiritual nourishment from worship services and the Bible.”
    It seems to me that the controversies between theologians and bishops of an academic nature contribute to these Catholics who feel they are not be fed by the Church or nourished spiritually. When we make our teachings overly academic and dissect it as though we are in a biology class, this turns a rather significant number of our Catholics wanting nourishment away from the Catholic Church and they find it in a less complicated evangelical communions that take belief at face value and apply it to everyday life. While I appreciate much of the critical/historical method of Scripture study, I have seen many people lose their faith, even seminarians, when this approach becomes so critical as to deconstruct the Catholic faith and make it appear that much of the Bible and our faith is myth or made up. I don’t think that is the intent of this critical method, but it happens. Thus people find Blessed Assurance elsewhere than in the Catholic Church unless they lose their faith altogether and become “nones.”

    1. Theological honesty is indeed not risk-free, but I would not think it is a major factor in Catholics losing their faith. 81% leave the Church in search of a better liturgy.

  15. Interesting, Fr. Allan – here is a series of articles and study about the apostolic succession tradition:

    http://www.catholica.com.au/ianstake1/065_it_171107.php

    Points:

    “Reading through these early battles I can’t help but think how much Peter sounds a lot like most bishops today, caught between warring factions who each want to claim allegiance to “tradition” via the magisterium represented by the “apostle”. It is astonishing how little has changed in 2000 years. Every time I read Galatians, 1 Corinthians and Romans, I think of the many good bishops, priests and the Pope who must always try to walk the razor’s edge without getting shredded. In this sense, Peter is the model of the episcopate and the papacy.”

  16. I believe that Bishop Wuerl has been associated with the dismal project of the US bishops which has produced guidelines for religion curriculum in high schools. These guidelines are aimed at creating a more catechetical curriculum. The problem is, they are terrible guidelines. They are heavy on manual theology and light on virtually everything else.

    Consider this fact alone: according to these guidelines the teaching of Sacred Scripture is now an optional course. So is the Social Teaching of the Church. There you have it all. Some Catholic high schools will take the option, of course, but the fact that it has been made optional says volumes.

    1. I agree, Rita, that Catholic high school religion curricula often present an uneven exegetical, sacramental, and theological education. At my Catholic high school, an excellent two-year bible studies curriculum was followed by a year discussing religion in the social sciences. While the socio-anthropological approach was interesting, I would have preferred a year of dogmatics and doctrine. Instead, senior year closed with a course on practical ethics and morality (trans. “Don’t do that!”).

      Perhaps a better approach might be the dispersion of religious studies through other courses usually categorized as “secular”. I opted to study Latin in high school rather than a modern foreign language. The priest who taught me Latin often incorporated theological text translation and discussion into grammatical instruction. Why not have a discussion about Catholic bioethics in conjunction with a high school biology course, for example? A compartmentalized approach to catechesis, more advanced topics in religion, and “secular subjects” ignores cross-disciplinary opportunities.

      The expansion of “high school catechism class” into an interdisciplinary approach opens the possibility, but not inevitability, of “heterodoxy”. I suspect that this fear undergirds the American bishop’s secondary religious education curricula recommendations.

      1. I suspect that this fear undergirds the American bishop’s secondary religious education curricula recommendations.

        Which one?

    2. So university teachers are supposed to make good the mess the bishops have made of it, just as celebrants are supposed to make good the mess of the new translation.

  17. When thinking about dismissing the 98% of Catholic women who’ve used artificial contraception, shouldn’t we even consider that most of those at Vatican II and the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control (not to mention hundreds of theologians) were also for changing the church’s stance?

    About the taching of theology in Catholic colleges: what’s the purpose of a Catholc education – to turn out ideologically domesticated Catholics, or to teach people how to think critically, how to discern?

    1. Crystal, thanks for this comment. Your expression “ideologically domesticated Catholics” brings to mind a point too seldom referenced. Many people are quick to jump on the bandwagon in decrying the catechetical methods of the post-conciliar period, but one thing that was emphasized catechetically at that time, and named later as valuable by those who received it, was an emphasis on social justice. This is the generation — the one whose catechesis emphasized justice — that broke the abuse scandals. “How to think critically, how to discern” is surely important. It has also been very troubling to those in authority in the Church, because of the abuse scandals.

  18. Splendid post, Anthony–many thanks. Two thoughts:

    1. Even if some version of ‘bishops as successors of the apostles’ is defensible, there’s still a question about how they should relate to academic theologians who are in one sense more qualified than they are. I would be disinclined to apply for an imprimatur, precisely because I would not at this juncture trust bishops to play their part in the process sensibly.

    2. I read about half of Beth Johnson’s book a year or so back when it came for review. I thought it rather poor, and that it attacked a trivial version of metaphysical thinking. It does not seem to me, however, the role of a bishops committee to make such a judgment.

    1. Thanks Fr.Endean for bringing up the topic of criticism of theologians by fellow theologians.

      What I suggest is that theologians do for each other and for the general public on the internet what Ben Witherington does on his blog for not only for some well know authors like B16 but lesser know ones who have interesting or controversial things to say.

      http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/

      Often chapter by chapter Witherington will engage the author’s thought pointing out areas of agreement and disagreement. Having read several of Ben’s books, I understand where he is coming from, so it is an immerse help to me to know his opinions of what others are saying and doing.

      Theologians as well as bishops have to be accountable to one another publicly in the eyes of all the people of the Church, not just the their colleagues and/or bishops. Until theologians are willing to provide me on the internet with the alternative information that I need to think about their books, I am not willing to criticize the bishops for their poor attempt at feedback and informing the Church.

      Theologians need to get their own house in order first.

      1. Are theologians uncritical of one another? I have not found it so. But I do find that theologians are not very keen to read one another’s books, in whcih regard they resemble literary critics. Both disciplines are in a rather poor state just now, and one reaches back to the classics of 50 years back to find ripe and mature thought.

  19. I would like to focus on the main point of this post – that the bishops seem to be calling upon their magisterial authority as justification for their statement on Dr. Johnson’s book. I think Fr. Anthony hits the nail on the head when he says it seems that the bishops are appealing to authority because they don’t seem to have read Johnson’s book. This move seems a very shameful abuse of power – they clearly misread Johnson’s book (I encourage everyone to read it for themselves and see). So, now that they’ve realized the error, Wuerl has issued a 13 page document basically defending what he did. Fellow Catholics, shouldn’t we be outraged?! Our magisterium wrongfully accused a theologian of teaching heterodoxy, and then proceeded to defend themselves by issuing a statement claiming their right to do so! Wuerl is covering his you-know-what because he’s realized his egregious error! I am shocked and dismayed at the irresponsibility of the USCCB in exercising the power of their office. Even the most traditional among us should be up in arms that the episcopate has so misused its office in this case.

    1. Bringing out the big guns of an appeal to one’s divinely conferred authority is always a mistake, especially when dealing with very minor issues, such as a single theological book. Paul VI spent a lot of Humanae Vitae defending his right to teach on the issue, and this might also be seen as a sign of weakness. The only two doctrines for which papal infallibility is claimed are very iffy ones. The Council that most stressed its guaranteed infallible status also produced iffy doctrines (I refer to Vatican I), Episcopal authority is self-justifying when exercised properly. When exercised badly, the appeal to epistemological guarantees is useless because the reception on the part of the faithful will not be forthcoming anyway. It is not use saying the authorititative statements are infallible ex sese non ex consensu ecclesiae, because if the consensue ecclesiae is not forthcomiing it can be discerned that the statements were not infallible to begin with (though it they had been infallible it would have been ex sese) — infallibility is a Cheshire cat doctrine; try to pin it down too tightly and it vanishes!

    2. I would like to focus on the main point of this post – that the bishops seem to be calling upon their magisterial authority as justification for their statement on Dr. Johnson’s book.

      There are two things that need to be distinguished. The justification for their making a statement and the justification of their condemning her views.

      The justification for their making a statement draws (rightfully in my view) on their authority. Their justification in condemning her views draws on theological arguments laid out in the statement of the Bishops Committee On Doctrine. It doesn’t just say “You’re wrong,” it says, “You’re wrong because…”

      Our magisterium wrongfully accused a theologian of teaching heterodoxy, and then proceeded to defend themselves by issuing a statement claiming their right to do so!

      This isn’t entirely the fault of the bishops. The CTSA focused the discussion on that point. Two of their three objections to the statement of the Committee on Doctrine were process objections. Wuerl’s letter rightfully replies to those objections (you’d rather he ignored them.) I imagine on the misreading allegation, they think the original statement stands sufficiently on its own.

  20. I wonder if the Catholics who leave because they feel “under nourished” and the Catholics who are “under catechized” are not both suffering from priests who can not preach.

    I seem to hear an awful lot of homilies which
    -are poorly organized
    -poorly delivered

    The content of these homilies often deal in
    – glittering generalities about the nature of God or the splendor of a doctrine or the value of the RCC
    – re-telling of the readings without explaining anything or applying them to life in the home, office, shop, parking lot, highway, or store.

    The preachers seem reluctant to lead, even to lead into raising awareness of issues without reaching conclusions.

    When priests and bishops do say something specific and relevant, it seems like it seldom leads anywhere except to condemn someone with whom they are displeased.

    Padraig said, ‘ “We need to keep in mind a distinction between speaking “from authority” and speaking “with authority”. The first says, “I am in a position of authority; therefore, in this matter, you must accept what I say.” ‘

    This is what I have called jurisdictional authority. It is what Wuerl and CDWDS use and abuse.

    ‘The second says, “Listen to what I’m saying, and ask yourself whether it reflects the truth, whether I really know what I’m talking about.” ‘

    This is what I call expert authority. I hear this from Trautman and Gumbleton. I heard this in the US bishops’ letters on the economy and war in the past. It seems to me that preparing those letters was a very consultative process.

    1. I do think that our “inspiration” is lacking in many places which includes homilies and catechetical style. Do we inspire people to be grateful for God’s personal love for them and His grace that allows them to have an intimate life-changing relationship with God? Mass can be very inspirational and not include the homily. But one has to understand what God is doing in the Mass and the grace that has brought them to it. Do Catholics see other Catholics outside of Church (work place, home, play) living their Catholic faith joyfully? Do the laity, in other words, preach to the laity by the manner of their lives apart from Sunday worship? This is not a clerical issue, but a lay person’s issue and there should be some accountability in the world as to how we live our faith apart from the one hour or so of Mass on Sunday. Church, Scripture and Tradition are not just academic pursuits, its is personal and should be life changing and faith, hope and love sustaining.

      1. Nice try, Fr. Allan – you tried to change both the topic and the “target”…..but, reality is that 80% or more of all clerics haven’t a clue about how to preach – look at any theologate and note that homelitics are one course and a practicum? Very little linkage to liturgy and scripture – very rare to find courses in which you would have two or more expert teachers in their fields critique and work with ordinands or transitional deacons.

        If you really want to know the quality of preaching, attend services in a major seminary or theologate and let me know what you find out.

  21. Seminarians in Maynooth are now kept from studying theology in the same class as lay people. What kind of theology do the bishops want them to learn? Could it be that they want priests to have just a higher catechesis, a sort of brainwashing, insulated from the questioning of the modern world?

    Episcopal authority is real only in its proper exercise. In a dysfunctional church gestures of asserting divinely-guaranteed authority are only a sing of weakness and disaggregation.

    The bishops need to admit that they are “in crisis” (pace Abp Dolan), and seek to restore the fabric of a Church that is functioning properly on the social, liturgical, theological, and spiritual fronts. They cannot do this except in open discussion with all other members of the community.

  22. Sorry, George…time to do some studying. When the last of the HV committee is dead, will bet that documents about that committee process will eventually be published. Some of the committee members are in failing health and have begun to make statements.

    Here is one link: http://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/new-birth-control-commission-papers-reveal-vaticans-hand

    Highlight: “What is most significant in Grisez’s recent notes on Ford, perhaps an unattended admission, is not proof of any real manipulation by the chairperson, de Riedmatten, but rather clear evidence of the secret machinations Ottaviani and Paul VI employed in an effort to undercut a decision, carefully arrived at over four years by the papally appointed commission.

    Grisez’ biographical note includes Ford’s own words stating that Paul VI privately told Ford as early as 1966 (two years before the issuance of the encyclical) in very clear terms that Paul VI was not going to change Casti Connubii, published in 1930, to permit birth control.

    Grisez also describes in detail how Ottaviani, most likely with Paul VI’s blessing, met with Ford and Grisez within just a half hour of de Riedmatten’s hand delivering to the pope the commission’s final report favoring birth control.

    Most significantly, Grisez in this recent biographical note indicated that Ottaviani, at a private meeting just after the last meeting of the commission, asked Ford and him to stay another week or so in Rome to write, in effect, a report (now the so called “minority report”) for Pope Paul VI to counter the report de Riedmatten’s had just delivered (now the so called “majority report”).:

    One Jesuit who emphatically supported Paul VI’s decision, clearly states that this decision had little to do with the merits of what the committee developed. Rather, HV was a decision to maintain the status quo because the alternative was unthinkable. Not unlike the same appeal that Wuerl is defending now in terms of his response.

    The famous story that a Jesuit on the committee said – what would happen if we changed the law and all those catholics who have sinned, what would God do?
    To which Patti Cody replied – Father, do you think God does everything you decide?

    Wonder if eventually this same pattern emerges with many of today’s episcopal pronouncements – example: Wuerl and Weinandy.

  23. I have the impression that, surprisingly (or maybe not) the Pope was quite torn about the moral teaching, and just didn’t know whether artificial contraception was morally wrong – hence the delay of so many years for him to make a decision. What clinched his decision, as far as I know, is not that he become convinced of the moral teaching, but that he became convinced that the authority of the magisterium was at stake. A change in teaching would undermine the teaching authority of the Church, he feared.

    awr

  24. Even if all the objections you state here (and those of Samuel earlier) are well-founded, I’m not sure it accomplishes much to soften the weight of the claim that many, many women disagree with the official church teaching on contraception.

    Suppose the figure from other surveys (from neutral agencies) are less – how much would it be? Every poll I’ve seen shows overwhelming objection. Whether it is 98% or 95% matters some, but not that much.

    Suppose some of the women using artificial contraception do so in bad conscience because they actually accept the Church’s teachings. Any evidence for how many women this is? Does anyone have a well-founded suspicion that it is more than a tiny number?

    I readily concede that we ‘learned’ merely what Guttmacher found. If you have other data, please share it. I doubt that it would show anything but widespread rejection of official teaching – whatever the margin. In that sense, I think my original point stands.

    awr

    1. In fairness, Father, were it a question of surveys or observed behavior, the entire sixth commandment and its derivatives would have been repealed long ago. The third would be rather quickly on its way out. And with the exception perhaps of the fifth and seventh all be doomed within a generation or so.

      We cannot pretend this is a mere difference between God-made and man-made rules. Catholics and Christians in general have long since abandoned many of the traditional Jewish laws which are found in the same book as The Big Ten.

      If we can by simple majority rule re-interpret these last few to fit our personal wants, we can achieve a status of true spirituality and godliness without all of the impediments of, you know, God.

      1. On the straw man of “awful democracy,” see my response at 1:06 yesterday.

        Even if I disagree with the dissenters from HV, those cardinals and bishops and priests and married people who advised Paul VI for a development in the Catholic teaching, I certainly wouldn’t slander them by saying they’re a bunch of lazy slackers who want to vote out God’s law based on their whims and selfish needs. That you suggest this is, I think, outrageous. It’s fine if you disagree with them, but I’d ask you to at least try to be fair to what their position really is, and respect that they came to it through prayerful study and discernment.

        awr

      2. Even if I disagree with the dissenters from HV, those cardinals and bishops and priests and married people who advised Paul VI for a development in the Catholic teaching, I certainly wouldn’t slander them by saying they’re a bunch of lazy slackers who want to vote out God’s law based on their whims and selfish needs. That you suggest this is, I think, outrageous.

        Is this a response to John Kelleher? He doesn’t actually write anyting about the commission, so he can hardly be said to be slandering them.

      3. SJH – correct, he’s slandering the 90% of Catholics in the poll, not the commission members.
        awr

      4. To be falsely accused of a crime, in a public place, twice in as many hours – by a priest no less – seems inappropriate.

        I believe that I am entitled to a retraction and apology.

      5. John, if you trace back this discussion, you will see that all of Fr. Anthony’s comments are not directed only to what you said, but also to a variety of commenters who have used a broad brush to impugn the motives and/or the integrity of those who dissent from the magisterium on the issue of artificial birth control — both the commission members who argued in favor of its permission, whose report Pope Paul VI disregarded, and the very many Catholics since that time who have weighed the issue in conscience and decided they could not in good conscience conform their behavior to the teaching.

        You have not been accused of a crime, much less falsely accused of one. There are laws of slander, but they are circumscribed. I would ask you to bear this in mind.

        If you feel that your view has been misrepresented, I would encourage you to restate it and clarify what it is that you actually do think. If Fr. Anthony has correctly presented what you think, you can’t claim a “false accusation.”

      6. Ms Ferrone –

        I appreciate your attempt at intervention, but I must disagree.

        Fr. Ruff’s initial response to my comment was, at best, an incautious rant, but I ignored it as possibly being a case of one’s finger’s getting ahead of his thought process, something of which we are all potentially guilty.

        However, a third party picked up on the tone and questioned if that was indeed his intent. The priest not only confirmed his intent but expanded on the accusation:

        “SJH – correct, he’s slandering the 90% of Catholics in the poll, not the commission members.
        awr”

        Aside from the slight technical error – ‘slander’ is for speech and ‘libel’ for the written word – Fr. Ruff continues his affront.

      7. respect that they came to it through prayerful study and discernment.

        This I find very difficult to believe.

      8. RBR – you find it difficult to believe that others, after prayerful study and discernment, disagree with you and the magisterium ? Wow. Seriously, this explains a lot about the tone of your comments. It seems that you honestly don’t respect those who think differently, and you find it difficult to believe that they’re prayerful and discerning. Again: Wow.

        awr

      9. you find it difficult to believe that others, after prayerful study and discernment,…

        Um, no. I thought I had made myself clear — quite clear — that I find i difficult to believe that all this prayerful study and discernment had taken place at all.

        Frankly Father, I doubt whether most Americans of either sex, systematically reared in a culture of self-absorption and sentimentality, are capable of unpacking HV on their own, any more than they’re capable of being their own doctors and lawyers. Nor should they have to. Pastors of souls are trained to instruct and counsel the faithful: when the latter are left to figure it out on their own, the message received is that the pastors have nothing to say on the matter and moreover lack the competence to do so.

        I regret that your indignation has been wasted on a misinterpretation.

        disagree with you and the magisterium ?

        Me? In what sense is this about what I think? Why are you trying to make this about me? It’s just the magisterium, father — OK?

        you honestly don’t respect those who think differently

        Unintentional irony alert.

      10. “We cannot pretend this is a mere difference between God-made and man-made rules.” J.K.

        Can you point out one rule which is not the product of human thinking?

  25. Here is a a Harris poll from 2005 that says 90% of Catholics approve of contraception use.

    In John O’Malley’s “What Happened at Vatican II”, there’s a fair amount of information about the discussion on contraception and the majority’s belief couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about it. Hope it’s ok to quote this paragraph …

    “It was Suenens’ [Leo Jozef Suenens, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel] speech, however, that caused a sensation …. First he more than intimated that a change might be in order. We have learned a few things, he said, since Aristotle and Augustine. He invoked development of doctrine and called attention to the population explosion. He injected a dramatic note into his presentation with the statement, “I plead with you, brothers. We must avoid another ‘Galileo case’. One is enough for the church.” Second, at the very end he called on Paul VI to make public the names of the members of the Papal Commission [Pontifical Commission on Birth Control]. That way, he said, the members will receive the most copious information on the subject, and the whole people of God will be represented … When he finished, applause broke out ….. ” (pp. 236-38)

  26. I would like to add a few thoughts to the debate from the perspective of having spent thirty years teaching religion in a Catholic school in England between 1970 and 2000. It is interesting that, in general, priests in parishes are required to preach for a relatively short time at Sunday Mass(es) to a self-selected audience, who have no immediate chance to reply. Contrast this with the situation of the average seconday level RE teacher who is required to teach at least 6 lessons (40-45 mins each) per day to various classes of young people, who are for the most part a captive audience. These groups may number as many as 32 and groups could be from 11 to 18 years old. Typically, one lesson may be on the parables of Jesus with the 11 year olds, followed immediately by a session on the bearing of theories of Wittengenstein on understanding religious language with the Religious Studies Advanced level (pre-University) students. I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that we teachers do not always succeed, nor are we always on good form, despite our best intentions. No doubt some of our pupils would be judged non-catechized (horses to water …..) So much depends on family background, parish situation, developmental stages, previous experience of religious education and so on. It is very hard and challenging work, but often very rewarding to engage with young people in this way. One thing I can say with certainty is that whilst, of course, the task of the Catholic teacher in a Catholic school is to take seriously his/her part in passing on the Faith, this cannot be done successfully solely by “telling”. Many more approaches need to be taken, not least taking seriously the young people’s questions, doubts, insights and experiences. It is hard to hear our leaders and others issue what seem to be blanket condemnations of the work done in schools. Just a few weeks actually working in a school might make many think again.

  27. “Poorly catechized” does not mean “a year discussing religion in the social sciences” instead of “a year of dogmatics and doctrine” or only one “session on the bearing of theories of Wittengenstein on understanding religious language.”

    “Poorly catechized” refers to Catholics who were never taught that dogmas and religious language exist. A majority of Catholic children in the US do not attend Catholic schools. Most do not get much religious education, even fewer get any past the age of confirmation.

    The solution is not going to be found in curricula for Catholic schools. Those affect the minority who attend Catholic schools. And curricula for parish religious education classes will mostly be implemented by people who don’t know what to do with a curriculum.

  28. HV was nothing more than a holding operation, restating the status quo because the authority did not feel the time was ripe to change it. The same is true of Vatican II’s statements on scriptural inerrancy. The fanaticism of John Paul II made this holding statement into a litmus test of orthodoxy, with catastrophic consequences on many fronts. Paul VI made a huge mistake. Again, recall St Paul: Whatever does not proceed from conviction is sin.

  29. No, I think your clarification confirms my interpretation.

    Your default assumption is that those who disagree with the magisterium are not prayerful or discerning, that our culture is one of self-absorption and sentimentality, and that others are not capable of unpacking or understanding Church documents such as Human vitae.

    Respectfully, I think this is too black-and-white. It implies that agreement with the magisterium is always virtuous and disagreement with it is always in bad faith.

    I think human realities are much more complicated than that. I try to be formed by the spirit of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel. Our Lord had harsh words for self-assured Pharisees who followed rigorously the teachings of God’s religion, and he oftentimes found praiseworthy faith elsewhere – in Samaritans, the pagans of Tyre and Sidon, and so forth.

    I see so much moral virtue in our allegedly secular modern world, oftentimes in ways that would challenge our own tradition and our way of being Christ’s Church. I think of the new-found concern for women’s equality, the concern for justice for people of color and of homosexual orientation, the new-found respect for abused children (who until recently had no voice and no rights), and so forth. And of course plenty of self-absorption and sentimentality. But this I find within the Church also, including in priests and religious both conservative and liberal. And in myself, despite four liturgies a day!

    I see plenty of hedonism and rejection of holy asceticism in today’s world. I wonder how much of this is a reaction to the Church’s great failure to affirm human sexuality over the centuries, so I’m hesitant simply to blame the “modern world.”

    As for those dissenting from HV, of course they could be selfish and closed off to God. Or they could be prayerful, discerning, intelligent and theologically well-read, and concerned for the quality of the love in the sacrament of their marriage. I don’t presume to judge what the proportions are of the former and the latter.

    awr

    1. Your default assumption is that those who disagree with the magisterium are not prayerful or discerning, that our culture is one of self-absorption and sentimentality, and that others are not capable of unpacking or understanding Church documents such as Human vitae.

      I don’t think it’s his default assumption, I think it’s his considered opinion. Or can you dismiss his views the same way you accuse him of dismissing those of the birth control commission?

      Of course the third part, “that others are not capable of unpacking or understanding Church documents such as Human vitae,” is mostly a strawman. His position seems to be that most of those who dissent have not unpacked and understood Humanae vitae, not that they cannot. Lets all try to write accurately and with interpretive charity about the views of those with whom we disagree.

      Our Lord had harsh words for self-assured Pharisees who followed rigorously the teachings of God’s religion, and he oftentimes found praiseworthy faith elsewhere – in Samaritans, the pagans of Tyre and Sidon, and so forth.

      This is a mushy reading to make a point against Robert. He had harsh words for the Pharisees who followed rigorously the teachings of God’s religion because they followed only some of those teachings and lacked other important virtues. There is nothing in this that condemns rigorism per se. If they had followed the teachings rigorously and completely, he would not have had harsh words for them.

  30. Dear Fr. Anthony,

    I can see how the idea of bishops vs theologians would be depressing when one feels in the mainstream of the Church.

    But you see for me, a woman, the bishops and Rome have lost credibility a long time ago, pretty much since Humanae Vitae. Today it seems that every intelligent Catholic theologian or thinker is being silenced by Rome. The mere fact that one ‘thinks’ (differently from the orthodox Roman view) means that one is marginalized when not excommunicated.

    I admit that leaving the mainstream is a scary time. But then, when one feels the Spirit outside of the mainstream, the scariness is replaced by a sort of peace and renewed energy.

    Praying for the whole Body of Christ — insiders, outsiders, marginalized, silenced, expelled…

    Blessings (and thank you so much for your honesty).

  31. Slander is verbal and libel is written. But with that said, it may be true that Catholics of the 1950’s and 60’s accustomed to a hierarchy telling them what they could do and couldn’t do and expecting dispensations for just about anything, expected this type of response in 1968, a dispensation to remove any sense of guilt they might have if they did use artificial birth control. But that is 43 years ago. Today’s Catholics don’t seek dispensations from anything and don’t know that they can for the most part. They really don’t consider artificial birth control as much of an issue as did my generation and slightly older. I doubt that they have too many scruples about it or most things sexual. Guilt is not a tremendous force in their moral lives with regard to sex. They are formed by the dominant media culture in this and that’s not libel, that’s fact.
    I do have some young couples who try valiantly to practice natural family planning and teach it to other couples. I find that when I explain it to the 20 somethings they are intrigued by the Church’s teaching on this, but if they don’t follow the teaching, there isn’t as much guilt as those of my generation and older who really wanted the Church to give them permission to do what they pleased in areas of sex and birth control. In some ways, I think the younger generation may be more mature about this and don’t have the same authority hang-ups that so many older people (my generation and older) have.

  32. Do we need Catholics who have been catechized, or Catholics who are familiar enough with the Gospels to be able to answer the question, what would Jesus do? That’s a cliche, I know, but if we are not Christ’s hands in this world, what are we?

    It has bothered me in recent years that while I can recite the 10 Commandments, I can not list the Beatitudes. I present this as suggestion that what catechesis we have is perhaps misguided.

  33. Since this discussion, which is about the use or misue of authority, has been sidetracked onto HV, let me just say that, at the time, everyone knew what the Commission’s recommendation was going to be (a change in the Church’s teaching) and, more importantly, why. The discussions had been widely leaked, books had been written about them. Everyone knew a change was coming, and they had already changed their practice in anticipation of that.

    When Paul VI effectively did the most public U-turn in history (people realized that he would never have set up the Commission if he did not think that a re-examination of the question was needed, and by implication that a change was required), people just wrote him off.

    The irony is that in attempting to defend the magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority, he so effectively undermined it that it has never recovered and probably never will. The increasing phenomenon of laying down the law that we see today is a desperate measure that is increasingly counterproductive in proportion to the amount that it is used.

    For me, the whole thing revolves around communications. We have to realize that no one can blow their nose any longer without the whole world knowing about it, instantly. This is something that the Church, and particularly the Vatican, has had a hard time catching up with, and in fact they have still not acknowledged it.

    HV was the first instance of the effect of ignoring instantaneous communications. I am quite sure that Paul VI had no idea that everyone knew what was coming, was eagerly awaiting it, and that doing something different would be a masssive faux pas witnessed by the entire world and discussed and dissected everywhere. The latest statement from the US Bishops feels like a kind of lashing out, displaying anger that, once again, everything is under the public microscope. (ctd)

    1. (ctd) A more mature response would have been a meeting between bishops’ committee and theologians to thrash out the issues, with the debates being made public.

  34. Once again the blog’s technology has blipped. My two posts just submitted have been sandwiched further up the thread in between two that were posted yesterday, and before a number of other subsequent posts. Perhaps the same thing will happen to this one.

    [After posting: yes, it has. What gives?]

  35. claire bangasser :

    But you see for me, a woman, the bishops and Rome have lost credibility a long time ago, pretty much since Humanae Vitae. Today it seems that every intelligent Catholic theologian or thinker is being silenced by Rome.

    So any theologian or thinker who does not agree with you is not intelligent? How condescending!

    Yet I don’t see Fr Anthony chiding you for your insulting statement like he did for another person’s comment when he said: “It seems that you honestly don’t respect those who think differently…”

    1. MB, she didn’t say that. I see her stating honest disagreement, but I honestly don’t see insult or condescension in her comment.
      awr

      1. She said: “Today it seems that every intelligent Catholic theologian or thinker is being silenced by Rome”.

        Her statement is manifestly false and implies, however unintentionally, that those who are not being silenced are not intelligent. Perhaps it was just a poor choice of words and she would be willing to revise and clarify her remarks.

  36. I’d like to alert our readers to a computer glitch that has resulted in some comments being placed out of order on this thread.

    We are not sure what has caused this problem, and we will be unable to have it seen to by our tech support people until after Easter, so in the meantime, please bear with us. The date / time stamp is still correct, so if you read a comment that seems like a non-sequitur, please do check to see when it was posted.

    For example, Paul Inwood’s three comments above (now #81, 82, 83) ought to have appeared after John Kelleher (@ 12:48) at the end of this thread.

    Thank you for your patience.

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