Yesterday Fr. Richard P. McBrien, for decades one of the most influential American Catholic theologians, died in Connecticut at the age of seventy-eight. He served as chair of the University of Notre Dame Theology Department for over a decade, and was a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, as well as a recipient of the group's John Courtney Murray Award for distinguished work in theology. From the National Catholic Reporter's obituary:
It would be difficult to find a figure comparable in making understandable to a broad public the basic beliefs and traditions of the Roman Catholic church.
For more than three decades, he was the star of the theology faculty at the University of Notre Dame and the go-to voice on all matters Catholic in the popular press. His books, particularly Catholicism, Lives of the Popes and Lives of the Saints, were staples of libraries, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s, it is arguable that McBrien had a higher media profile than anyone in the Catholic church other than Pope John Paul II. He was the ideal interview: knowledgeable, able to express complex ideas in digestible sound bites, and utterly unafraid of controversy.
In a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe, McBrien was asked whether he had become more liberal or outspoken over the years.
No, I don't think so. I don't think of myself in those terms, although it's a relative term. I mean obviously I'm liberal if you define liberal stands as being open to the ordination of women, feeling that abortion shouldn't be a litmus test defining whether one is a good Catholic or not. I'm very much against the policy of a certain handful of bishops to threaten to deny Communion to Catholic Democrats -- and they're always Democrats.... I regard myself as a broad centrist. But to an extreme right-wing person, especially in religion, and within the Catholic Church, a centrist or a center/left person is automatically perceived as an extreme left-wing person, bordering on, if not actually in, heresy.
So why didn't he leave the church?
Because it's my church. It's my home. And I was born in it. I've been a Catholic all my life. And I have affirmation from so many good people. I feel that I have a responsibility to them to continue working at it and doing the best I can.
Richard P. McBrien, R.I.P.
McBrien wrote for Commonweal from the 1960s through the 2000s. His first article was about the radical theology movement, and his last was a review of Cardinal Avery Dulles's Church and Society. In between he wrote about homosexuality in the priesthood, the trouble with contemporary theology, the difference between faith, theology, and belief, the agenda for the pope who was elected in 1978, how the church should admit error, and an assessment of the pope who was elected in 1978. Do read Robert J. Egan's review of McBrien's last book, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism.
A few days before Christmas, I interviewed Blase Cupich, who was recently installed as Chicago's ninth archbishop. We spoke about the Synod on the Family, immigration, the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops conference, and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
GG: As you mentioned, the pope speaks often about the need to foster a culture of encounter and accompaniment. This seems key to his idea of church—a church that goes out of itself and should not fear the discomfort that entails. How is that approach changing the temperament of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?
BC: Institutions are constitutionally prone to protecting themselves, and being conservative in that sense. There are any number of forces in our society today that erode institutional life. We can’t be naïve about that. There are those who would like to truncate the freedom of religion—especially of the Catholic Church, given its footprint in society. At the same time, we can’t let that drive our agenda. That’s what the business of “Be not afraid,” which John Paul II said, is about. We have to be mission-oriented.
In the readings for the Feast of the Assumption, Mary goes off to the hill country to visit Elizabeth, and the image that one comes away with is that this dragon—mentioned in the first reading from Revelation—is chasing Mary. But Mary is not directed by the dragon’s pursuit. In the Gospel we hear that she is directed by her desire to help Elizabeth. The church has to use that image of itself. The trajectory of our pilgrimage is not going to be determined by an escape from forces that are out to harm us. It has to be a trajectory that is determined by helping people. That’s why the pope said we can’t be a self-referential church.
GG: The ethic of accompaniment seems to have guided the pope’s design of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Some bishops expressed some confusion about that meeting—whether it was over the media’s coverage of the synod, or what actually took place.
BC: The media is not to blame at all. I think the media reported what actually took place. What really took place at the synod was that a majority of the bishops voted for all the proposals that were there in the final summary document. And I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that at the November bishops meeting. It’s true that three of the paragraphs [about divorce and gay people] did not get two-thirds majority support, but they got more than a majority. That’s what’s new. That’s the story. Those hot-button topics had been highlighted, and the majority of synod bishops voted for proposals that said we need to consider aspects of these issues.
The pope has a firm belief that the spirit of the risen Lord is working in our midst and is alive in the hearts of people—and we cannot squelch that voice. We have to look for ways to listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of people. That’s why the pope said to the synod fathers, “Don’t come to the synod and say ‘You can’t say that’”—because it may be the spirit of Christ who is calling us to say these things. And we have to listen to that.
Read the rest right here.
Does anyone remember the phenomenon of “Our Lady of Bayside”? Beginning in 1975, there was a series of supposed apparitions of the Blessed Mother (deemed inauthentic by church authorities) in Bayside, Queens. The visionary there, a Queens housewife, claimed she received some 290 messages from Mary, and many other saints as well. The devotees of these apparitions gathered in the former (1964) World’s Fair grounds, at the site that once was the Vatican pavilion. The alleged messages from Mary were many. Many! And they just kept coming. They included tirades against removing altar rails and warnings against playing guitars in church, and numerous other things.
I’ll never forget the story of a theology professor who, when asked about the plausibility of these so-called revelations, dryly observed: “Our Lady seems a bit… talkative.”
Alas, being “a bit… talkative” is not limited to apparitions. Remember how Pope Benedict was going to be “hidden from the world” after his retirement? This fall the emeritus pope sent a talk to the Urbaniana (Oct 21), a message to Summorum Pontificum pilgrims (Oct 25), a message to the Anglican Ordinariate (Oct 30), and met with leaders of Caritas Veritate International (Nov 6), all of which were reported in the press. On Nov. 17 he again made headlines by changing his 1972 views on admitting the divorced and remarried to communion, with his new views now being published in his collected works. He then talked with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Dec 7) saying it’s ridiculous to think he was trying to influence the Synod on the family. “I try to be as quiet as I can,” he said.
And then there’s his secretary and master of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. When his picture appeared on the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, in January 2013, he was quoted virtuously suggesting that his role should be like glass: “the less you see of the glass, the better it is.” But that didn’t stop him from giving interviews. He was interviewed on Rome Reports, Reuters, Vatican Radio, the Washington Post, and Gloria.tv. Next thing you know, he gave an interview on German television in March 2014 saying Pope Francis is “not everyone’s darling,” and darkly predicting that his popularity won’t last.
But the all-time chatterbox award has to go to Cardinal Raymond Burke, now former head of the Apostolic Signatura.Read more
Leave it to David Gibson to ferret out the facts on Pope Francis’s alleged comments about pets going to heaven. He maps out the origins, paths, and mutations along the way of the story many might have wanted to believe in spite of their doubts, and not just the doubt sparked by its appearance on the front page of the New York Times last week (and repeated in brief by Serge Schmemann in the paper’s Sunday Review section). In short: an increasingly common combination of misinterpretation, credulous recounting, embroidery, and misleading headlines—wed with generally held beliefs about Francis’s uncommon appeal—lent the story plausibility, not to mention legs. Why wouldn’t this pope, in particular, make it okay for our pets to meet us in paradise?
As Gibson points out, Francis did not say all dogs go to heaven, and that further he has previously expressed concern over the attention and money society lavishes on pets at the expense of people in need of more of both. Even those who don’t hold with the concept of dominion might wonder more these days where humane treatment and sensible protection slips over into something more than accepted notions of stewardship would warrant. (And what does it say that cat content accounts for fifteen percent of all internet traffic?) Plus there’s the question of where to draw that other line, of just which animals might or might not have consciousness. “Where do mosquitoes go, for God’s sake?” was the widely reported reaction of religion professor Laura Hobgood-Oster.
New Jersey, I’d answer, the very thing that might make the most densely populated state in the nation hellish for us making it paradise for mosquitoes, of which I recall multitudes. I also recall the neighbor’s German Shepherd, which bit my brother on the day of his first Communion and sent him to the hospital for a dozen stitches to his chest; mightn’t it deserve just a little bit of otherworldly torment? But the majority of the pets I grew up with, even if I could remember them all, I’d be fine not having to encounter again in any realm (the belligerent pair of gerbils that fought each other to the death one night while I slept, for example). All except maybe the beloved family mutt, with the unlikely name of Mulligan, who if he didn’t have a soul definitely had soul. Living in the rural part of the state, we lost a number of pets to “misadventure”—hunters, cars, wild animals—but Mulligan made it to old age, leaving, as well, a number of local descendants. His eventual decline was accompanied by distemper and overwhelming fear of thunder; it was hard then not to treat him like a loved one, and there was no reason not to. I’ll admit it now: Among a handful of occasionally recurring dreams I have is one where he’s hanging around and talking, sometimes sagely from a barstool. In terms of getting to see him again, it seems just about right, and so just about enough.
See video update after the jump.
The public dispute over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is heating up. In the United States, Ignatius Press is preparing to release a few books featuring several cardinals arguing against Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to allow certain -- not all -- divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. On Tuesday, one of them, Cardinal Raymond Burke, joined a press call sponsored by Ignatius Press to unburden himself of some thoughts about Kasper. He doesn't like that Kasper has claimed Pope Francis agrees with his proposal. It is "outrageous" that Kasper "claims to speak for the pope," Burke said on the call. "The pope doesn’t have laryngitis." Last week First Things ran an excerpt from a new book-length interview with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he too tilts against Kasper's argument (not too successfully--which I'll say more about later). And today in Rome Vaticanista and papal critic Sandro Magister (who recently defended the deposed bishop of Ciudad del Este, republishing the entirety of the bishop's long-on-chutzpah-but-short-on-facts self-exoneration) introduced Cardinal George Pell, who has written the forward to one of the Ignatius Press books opposing Kasper.
When asked what he made of this coordinated effort to rebut his proposal, Kasper called it a "problem." He continued: "I do not remember such a situation where in such an organized way five cardinals write such a book. It’s the way that it’s done in politics but it should not be done in the church." Kasper's opponents claim that relaxing the discipline barring divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist would be to effectively change church teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, a teaching based on the words of Jesus. But their arguments, Kasper has noted, tend toward theological fundmentalism: "We cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything.... Discipline can change."
It's not as though the church has never made pastoral adjustments on this question.Read more
We now have the names of the new members of the International Theological Commission, including the five women theologians Cardinal Gerhard Müller mentioned a few weeks back, when he revealed in an interview that Pope Francis had asked for more women to be included. Looking over the list, I'd say the CDF won't need to fear exposure to the influence of radical feminism any time soon.
According to the press release from the Vatican announcing the new appointments, the list of advisers was proposed by Müller (prefect of the CDF) and approved by Pope Francis. Among the appointees, who will serve a five-year term, are five women, two of them sisters, and twenty-five men. That may not sound like much, but it's a significant increase over the two-out-of-thirty women who served on the previous roster. "Women now constitute 16% of the Commission’s members," the press release says, calling that fact "a sign of growing female involvement in theological research." Is it a "sign" that more women are involved in theology, or a belated acknowledgment of that fact?
I am mostly interested in what the advisers might have to say to the CDF on the subject of their reform of the LCWR. Remember that Cardinal Müller cited the USCCB's negative judgment of Elizabeth Johnson in a public scolding of the LCWR leadership -- something he might not have done if he'd asked around about the quality and reception of that particular document. I had hoped a broader complement of women among those chosen to advise the CDF might help prevent such lopsided interventions in the future, but I can't say I'm optimistic that the CDF will be getting the advice it needs to hear.
Of the five new women members, there is one American: Sr. Prudence Allen, RSM. Lest you be misled, as I was at first, by the "RSM," please note that she is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, a more traditional offshoot of the well-known congregation founded in Ireland by Catherine McAuley. (Those Sisters of Mercy belong to LCWR; the congregation to which Allen belongs is a member of the alternative religious-women's leadership group, the CMSWR.) She is a philosopher, the author of a two-volume work called The Concept of Woman, an expert in the complementarity of the sexes, and a proponent and supporter of John Paul II-inspired "New Feminism." She formerly held the Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, Chair of Philosophy at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. I am sure she is a fine scholar and will bring wisdom and dedication to her new role. I just can't see her prodding the CDF to reconsider its ingrained fear of ordinary, not-actually-radical Catholic feminist theology. (On the other hand, according to this brief biography, she is also a divorced mother of two, so she may represent a greater diversifying of the committee than is at first apparent.)
I'm more familiar with the other American named to the commission: Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, author of Does God Suffer? and former executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine of the USCCB. Weinandy was in that position when the USCCB's committee on doctrine released its critique of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, and although the final document (available as a PDF, linked here) did not bear his name -- signed, as it was, by the members of the doctrine committee, all of them bishops -- it bore strong marks of his involvement (see John F. Haught's expert take on that, in Commonweal). If the USCCB's take on Johnson was wrong, as I would say it clearly was, that error was likely due in large part to Weinandy's personal approach to reading her work. I can't see him telling Muller to ease off on judging Johnson, and by extension the LCWR, based on the USCCB's badly argued takedown of her book. Remember also his weak explanation for why the USCCB doctrinal committee wouldn't meet with Johnson before issuing its judgment of her (misrepresented) views. And of course there was his weirdly hostile reproach to CTSA president Terrence Tilley, published in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly -- here's the PDF -- and replied to by Tilley here. And then there's this response he wrote to Richard Gaillardetz's Commonweal article "The Limits of Authority," disagreeing with Gaillardetz's claim that "The bishops’ teaching authority is not binary in character; it is simply not the case that they either teach with an authority that demands unconditional and unquestioning assent or they teach with no authority at all."
(Daniel K. Finn replied to that here.) In short, if the CDF is looking to broaden the range of viewpoints it considers, and especially if it wants to get on top of the contributions of women in contemporary theology, Weinandy would not have been my recommendation.
I haven't found any evidence of progressive views or an inclination to challenge authority among the other members of the commission, which includes Moira McQueen, a Canadian bioethicist and mother of seven (per her Twitter bio), and Tracey Rowland, who is among other things Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.
Still, a few more women, a few more lay people, a few more non-Europeans: all of these are steps in the right direction. It's worth noting, too, that Francis has indicated that policing doctrinal disputes is not a major priority for him. Perhaps we'll be hearing less in general from the CDF during this papacy.
Stephen Webb makes a startling claim at the close of his First Things article on the U.S. penal system: “Revival will come to America when Christians begin doing justice to the American prison system.” He speaks from his experience in prison ministry and by analogy argues to substantiate his remarkable claim. We have to ask: What is the fundamental link between prison reform and national spiritual revival?
Frankly, when I read his piece for the first time, I felt myself uneasy, sensing that something was wrong. Part of this unease came from an assertion, almost a plea, that I have heard in one form or another for the two and a half years I have worked as a prison volunteer: “We need a voice.” This from a man all too aware of his crimes and his powerlessness within the system (yes, he is a felon), but more directly, his woeful prospects once he finishes his sentence. Stephen Webb’s article is not that voice, I reckon.
This is not a denial of the three telling assertions that Webb makes. Quite the contrary, I can’t but agree with his analysis. He sees the common human condition, bondage to sin in a fallen world, as most clearly exemplified in the life of prisoners. He calls for a re-examination of notions of justice in terms of the traditional teaching about Purgatory. Divine justice is restorative, and prison reform should follow from or reflect this model. We need to see rehabilitation not punishment as the end of correction. Finally he points to the paradox of modern conceptions of heaven – shall we say caricatures that pass for concepts. For too many, heaven appears as eternal imprisonment among the unbearably devout. Re-envisioning the ends of the criminal justice system and its practice points directly to a profound engagement with Christian life: faith, contrition, penance, amendment, the just life and the afterlife. We have to see ourselves in those who live behind bars and revive our Christian commitment.
I think, “What would the inmate who asked ‘for a voice’ say to Stephen Webb?”Read more
In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano (
not yet published in English Update: strike that, here it is), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, revealed that Pope Francis has directed that more women be included in the Vatican's international theological commission. Andrea Tornielli reports for Vatican Insider:
The members of the theological commission that assists the Holy See, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in examining crucial doctrinal questions are nominated for a five-year period and there are currently thirty of them, including two women: Barbara Hallensleben (professor of Dogmatic Theology and Ecumenism at the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg, Switzerland) from Germany and sister Sara Butler (professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary – in Chicago, US).
According to Müller, the number will increase to "five or six," which "would be a significant increase," Tornielli points out.
An increase in the number of women theologians would also, of necessity, mean an increase in the number of lay theologians. I'm a little baffled by the honorific titles in the list of members on the Vatican website, but from what I can tell, everyone identified as "Rev." is ordained -- with the exception of "Rev. Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT." That means twenty-five priests and five lay members of the commission, including Butler; the other four are Hallensleben, Thomas Söding, and Johannes Reiter, all of Germany, and our friend John Cavadini of Notre Dame.
In her address to the LCWR last month (which I blogged about here), Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, pointed out that the opening of the study of theology to lay Catholics after Vatican II led directly to the increased participation of women in church life. That participation has been reflected, valued, and celebrated in academia, in many dioceses, and most especially in the congregations of women religious whose leaders make up the LCWR. But it has not been reflected in the hierarchy, where the relationship between power and sex remains firm (and is carefully protected).
Johnson talked about what it means for her to do theology as a woman:
Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity....
Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.
Now, she said, thanks to the open doors of Vatican II, "while excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike." That experience will be reflected to a much greater degree on the international theological commission if the number of women members is increased, even to just one-sixth of the membership instead of one-fifteenth.
What kind of difference could that make? Well, imagine if the U.S. bishops' conference committee on doctrine had sought out the input of some women theologians before expressing its alarm at Johnson's not-very-radical thoughts on female images of God. And the evidence is strong that the CDF could benefit from closer aquaintance with a diversity of women's views. See David Gibson's report on the same interview with Müller, which focuses on his remarks about the LCWR. He sounds some familiar, minimizing notes -- they don't represent all the U.S. nuns; they need help to "rediscover their identity"; the CDF is obliged to come to the rescue of more orthodox sisters who are upset with their orders' rogue leadership. But Müller also insists that he is not a misogynist, which is a good sign, I guess. I presume the way in which he phrased that avowal -- "We are not women gobblers!" in Tornielli's account; "We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day!" in Gibson's -- makes more sense in Italian.
In September 1982, I moved to Rome to do a licentiate and a doctorate at the Gregorian University. I wanted to study with Josef Fuchs, SJ, who had just retired but told me he would direct my dissertation. He suggested that in preparation for the degree I should do my licentiate course work and thesis with Klaus Demmer, MSC. A fellow Jesuit studying at the Gregorian told me that many thought Demmer, who died July 18 at the age of eighty-three, the greatest European moral theologian of his generation. I had never heard of him.
Fuchs and Demmer proved to be very different from each other: Fuchs was clever and friendly, hosting doctoral students in the Gregorian’s dining room and then later in his room where we would retire to drink and share stories. Demmer was shy and frail; the only time I went to his room was to discuss my licentiate. None of us socialized with him; if we discussed anything with him, it was usually a recent lecture of his.
It was in the main aula of the Gregorian where Demmer was in his element. Before his lecture, he would pace back and forth across the enormous foyer collecting his thoughts. At the break, he would do the same. We never interrupted him because we knew that his lectures to the two hundred of us would be memorable. More than thirty years later, they remain so.Read more
David Cloutier says the point of Paul Griffiths's talk is to ask the question "what is theology"? But why do we have to accept his question as THE question, let alone his answer?
As I said at the session, I think Griffths's talk was a jeremiad. It was an indictment of the CTSA, which he himself acknowledged.
But he doesn't have actual jurisdiction, let alone subpoena power. So CTSA members don't need to accept his framing of the charge. And one point of my piece is that I don't think they should.
I really don't see why the narrow defnitional question "what is theology" needs to be the CTSA's question, collectivley, although it may indeed occupy a number of its members. In fact, I suspect insisting upon a precise, exhaustive, definition of theology before moving on to other questions is an unhealthy preoccupation with methodological prolegomena. CTSA members don't need a precise answer to the question in order to do good and fruitful work. In social ethics and moral theology, we live with unclear and sometimes contested and contestible boundaries. Does it really matter whether John Courtney Murray was doing theology all the way down, or was mixing theology and insights from democratic theory? Did he have to get that definitional question right before moving on to address religious liberty? Is it essential to separate his anlysis of the American situation from the rethinking of the doctrine on church-state issues, even if we can distinguish some strands? Those questions are important to ask in some cases, I think. But I don't think there was any way they could have been settled in advance
The Church, after all, baptized elements of Greek philosophy and Roman law, integrating it with insights from Jewish sources. And to the extent that "natural law" is a key aspect of Catholic moral thinking, streams are muddled here as well. Do we need to "purify" all the water in advance?
I still don't know, positively, why members of ACT would want to join CTSA—any more than why someone convinced that philosophy was only analytic philosophy would want to join a group with a substantial number of continental philosophers.
I would be grateful if someone would answer that question.
Paul Griffiths’ plenary address at the CTSA (the full text is now available here) has raised many productive questions. Meghan Clark has responded that theology is messier than Griffiths suggests. Cathy Kaveny just posted a thoughtful comment indicating that the main issue is the CTSA as more “open” and “free-wheeling” than the ACT.
These analyses are on to something, and I would love to engage them in more detail, but I fear that it becomes easy to fall into a dualism—the inclusive liberals over here, the exclusive conservatives over there—that misses the central points of Griffiths’ talk. It is not primarily about tidiness versus messiness, nor about open discussion versus more narrow inquiry. It is an attempt to define more carefully what the enterprise of theology actually is, and thus delineate in more detail why there is contention over it.
Griffiths’ primary contention in the address is that many members of the CTSA do not have an adequate understanding of what Catholic theology is. He is not saying that their work is not intellectually able, and even “beautiful” (a word he uses)…the question he poses is whether it is Catholic theology. Hence, his primary metaphor of arguments between proponents of cricket and proponents of baseball—or the problems with inviting cricket teams to take part in the World Series. It’s not meant to be a point about cricket being worse than baseball…or better. The point is: cricket is one game, baseball is another. The implication: CTSA has people playing cricket and calling it baseball. Doing one thing (which is not theology), but calling it theology.Read more
Are conservatives underrepresented in the theology and religion departments of our nation’s colleges and universities?
This was one of the questions discussed at the 2014 annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America and already here on this blog. It’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time, and I wrote about it once in these pages.
The basic answer is Yes. When compared to the overall percentage of conservatives in religious communities or society at large, conservatives are underrepresented in academic theology.
However, when compared to conservatism as represented in other academic fields, theology is not very different.
That’s why I think the more interesting question concerns academia on the whole, of which theology is just one field that fits the trend reasonably well. The results of the limited sociological studies on this issue, notably that of Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner (good summary here) and, more recently, that of Neil Gross, show that self-selection is the primary reason the professoriate leans liberal. There are few conservative professors because, under the current conditions, few conservatives want to become professors.Read more
In the Spirit of the day [Pentacost], here is a fascinating and unusual account of religious conversion and insight.
From the Jewish Daily Forward
SAN DIEGO -- Yesterday morning, members of the Catholic Theological Society of America listened to an extended critique of the way their organization operates, especially with respect to the way the society conceives of the practice of theology itself and its attitude toward more conservative theologians. The paper, delivered by Paul Griffiths of Duke University, caused quite a stir--an effect that seems not to have been accidental. I live-tweeted the session, as well as a related one that took up a report on "theological diversity" at CTSA released by an ad hoc committee last year.
Caveat lector: This is going to be long. And the ghost of Steve Jobs seemed determined to introduce errors as I tried to capture the flow of commentary. So you'll see a few typos (and informalities, all thanks to autocorrect). Also: Mostly I'm paraphrasing, so I apologize in advance if I've inaccurately conveyed a speaker's intent. Bearing that in mind, you'll find the day-in-tweets after the jump.Read more
With the unpredictability of Pope Francis, some Catholics have wondered if he would call another council -- a Vatican III. It appears not.
Something that big won't do for Francis. He's thinking even bigger: the church universal will be getting a Nicea III.
According to reporting from AsiaNews, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, has announced that an ecumenical "gathering" will be held in Nicea in 2025.
Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis "we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated."
The exact nature of the planned meeting at Nicea (now Iznik, Turkey) is not known. But how could it be, over a decade in the future?
The ongoing Catholic-Orthodox dialogue will be intensified in preparation for the event. What began in Jerusalem in 1964 and was celebrated last week at the Holy Sepulchre will continue in the holy city this fall, when, in Bartholomew's words, "a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission will be held hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy."
In all the attention to the Pope's gestures toward political peace in the Holy Land last week, the joint event with the Orthodox got a bit lost in the mix.
But Francis and Bartholomew didn't lose focus. And they've got a date on the calendar to prove it.
Last week Matthew Boudway and I spoke with Cardinal Walter Kasper here in New York. We covered a lot of ground over the course of an hour. Naturally, some territory was left unexplored, but here's a sample of our conversation, which we just posted to the homepage.
Commonweal: In your book Mercy, you argue that mercy is basic to God’s nature. How is mercy key to understanding God?
Cardinal Walter Kasper: The doctrine on God was arrived at by ontological understanding—God is absolute being and so on, which is not wrong. But the biblical understanding is much deeper and more personal. God’s relation to Moses in the Burning Bush is not “I am,” but “I am with you. I am for you. I am going with you.” In this context, mercy is already very fundamental in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is not an angry God but a merciful God, if you read the Psalms. This ontological understanding of God was so strong that justice became the main attribute of God, not mercy. Thomas Aquinas clearly said that mercy is much more fundamental because God does not answer to the demands of our rules. Mercy is the faithfulness of God to his own being as love. Because God is love. And mercy is the love revealed to us in concrete deeds and words. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the key of Christian existence. Be merciful as God is merciful. We have to imitate God’s mercy.
CWL: You also note that mercy and justice cannot be finally established here on earth, and that whoever has tried to create heaven on earth has instead created hell on earth. You say that this is true of ecclesiastical perfectionists too—those who conceive of the church as a club for the pure. How dominant is that view among church leadership today?
Kasper: There are those who believe the church is for the pure. They forget that the church is also a church of sinners. We all are sinners. And I am happy that’s true because if it were not then I would not belong to the church. It’s a matter of humility. John Paul II offered his mea culpas—for the teaching office of the church, and also for other behaviors. I have the impression that this is very important for Pope Francis. He does not like the people in the church who are only condemning others.
When it comes to the CDF’s criticisms of some theologians, there was not always due process. That’s evident, and here we must change our measures. This is also a problem when it comes to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried people, which is now under consideration in preparation for the Synod of Bishops this autumn. On the other hand, we have positive signs of mercy within the church. We have the saints, Mother Teresa—there are many Mother Teresas. This is also a reality of the church.
Last night Cathleen Kaveny interviewed Cardinal Walter Kasper at Fordham University in front of a packed house. The cardinal has been making the rounds in New York and Boston, promoting his new book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. It was a fascinating conversation, veering from the abstract (How is mercy the key to understanding God's nature?) to the practical (How merciful must I be when grading students' papers?) and back again. Kaveny asked excellent questions, as did the audience, and Kasper offered fascinating responses, some of which I live-tweeted. After the event, one of my Twitter followers suggested I collect some of my my tweets via Storify. So that's what I'm going to do--or at least try to do. Caveat lector: unless you see quotation marks or I say otherwise, I'm not directly quoting anyone, and it's possible that I misheard some of the Qs & As (and sorry for any typos--autocorrect is against me). I've never Storified before, so bear with me--and let me know whether this is remotely useful--after the jump.Read more
Last week, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rebuked representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for giving an Outstanding Leadership Award to Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, "a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings." He called that decision "a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment"--that would be the one that looked like little more than investigation by Google.
Mueller couldn't bring himself to actually use Johnson's name, but everyone in the room knew that he was referring to a 2011 "critique" of her book Quest for the Living God that was published by the doctrinal committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Committee on Doctrine really disliked the book. You can tell because they claimed it "completely undermines the Gospel." But the committee's case was rather weak. It seemed to rest on false assumptions about Johnson's intent--especially on issues related to feminism, which led me to wonder whether committee members had actually read the book. They didn't even invite her to discuss their concerns before publishing their broadside. And when Johnson responded at length to the critique, the bishops on the committee replied by repeating themselves. All in all, not the finest hour for the USCCB Committee on Doctrine--and it probably would have been better for all involved if the entire episode was forgotten.
But here comes Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the CDF, to remind the LCWR that they should have known better than to provoke his criticism by daring to honor one of the most honored theologians working today. He refers to the alleged "gravity" of the "doctrinal errors" of Johnson's "writings"--which makes it sound like her entire body of work is suspect--but he doesn't name them. And neither, really, did the Committee on Doctrine. Their statement vaguely mentions "errors," but mainly it's concerned with "ambiguities." The only "error" it identifies is methodological. But as Johnson herself noted, the committee misunderstood the nature of the book, which is a work of theology, not catechesis.
Mueller knows he's tough-loving: "I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language." Best not to mince words. For the head of the CDF to repeat the canard that Johnsons "writings" suffer from grave doctrinal errors does a great disservice to a great theologian. Mueller is in charge of the CDF now. He's not a professor delivering a critique at a conference. If he's going to claim that a theologian's writings are doctrinally deficient--he ought to show his work, not sloppily dismiss them in an aside.
Well-educated Catholics know a thing or two about why the Great Schism, separating the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, occurred in the eleventh century. But most of us know just that -- only a thing or two. I'll include myself in that group: when students ask me, I say something about the filioque and papal authority.
A recent piece by historian George Demacopoulos posted on the blog of the Greek Archdiocese of North America shows the importance of contextualizing the split in the fuller contexts of canon law and the Crusades. He asks: "[H]ow exactly did it come to pass that the Orthodox Church forbid sacramental union (baptisms, marriages, the Eucharist, etc.) with Western Christians in the first place?"Read more
Just posted to the website, our January 24 issue. Among the highlights: The first part of an exclusive excerpt from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s forthcoming book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God Love (subscription required). An excerpt from the excerpt:
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you,” we read in Job (12:7). My new book takes its title from that verse, placing the natural world as envisioned by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in conversation with Christian belief in a loving God who creates, redeems, and promises a blessed future for our world. When we ask the animals and plants about their origin and relationship with God, a picture emerges of how they are cherished by divine love prior to, and apart from, the emergence of humanity. The evolution of the human species introduces sin into the world, seen today in our destruction of habitats and the resulting extinction of species. In this context, listening to the beasts fosters a deep ecological ethic as humans aim to replace their domination over nature with mutual regard and responsible care in the community of creation. The goal of this dialogue is to discover how love of the natural world is an intrinsic part of believers’ passion for the living God—to practical and critical effect. In this essay, the first of a two-part series, I hope to make clear how Darwin’s work changed our understanding of nature and humankind’s place in creation.
Also featured in the new issue: Jo McGowan with a personal reflection on moving her aging father into assisted living, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels on the peril of letting an ally determine our foreign policy, and Nick Ripatrazone on a new book of poems from Averill Curdy.
And we’ve also posted E. J. Dionne’s latest column, on the problems New Jersey governor Chris Christie could face with conservatives in the still unfolding “Bridgegate” scandal.
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