After the Big Chill

Intellectual Freedom & Catholic Theologians

Suppose we indulge our fondest hopes. Let us imagine that Pope Benedict XVI turns out to be quite unlike what many expected, and that he embraces a spirit of theological openness and generosity. No longer would a respected and respectful editor of a Jesuit journal be removed for the sin of advocating fairness; no more would a leading theological ethicist be removed from a tenured position or a systematic theologian be quelled by the same threat.

In this new atmosphere, local pastors would no longer be summoned to account in Rome on the basis of parishioners’ calls to the bishop (as priest friends of mine have been). Scholars (like me) would not be disinvited to conferences on Aquinas because they criticized John Paul’s theology of the body, or be asked to sign a statement that they would not do anything to “embarrass the church” when lecturing at a university, or, on the basis of other anonymous calls, be warned by the vicar-general of an archbishop who is now a cardinal against being “soft on the bodily Resurrection” of Christ when teaching New Testament to adult Catholics. The “big chill” within contemporary Catholicism includes all those mechanisms, overt and covert, by which the Vatican has deliberately sought to suppress theological intelligence and imagination in the name of doctrinal and moral “Truth.”

Now suppose all these measures stopped because Benedict XVI turned out to be...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).