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Theological Studies and Editorial Independence

NCR has published a report and an editorial on the Jesuit-run journal Theological Studies being pressured to run an essay without peer review. In 2004, Kenneth Himes and James Coriden co-authored an essay in TS calling for the re-evaluation of the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage on grounds of a deep disconnect between the Church's doctrine and its pastoral practice. The new essay, co-authored by Peter F. Ryan and Germain Grisez, forcefully rebuts that call. Nothing new so far--theology is a discipline whose practitioners disagree, sometimes profoundly. Most of us recognize that it is precisely in the engagement with those who disagree with us that our arguments are tested and honed. Theological discourse is a testing ground for ideas, a place where we feel free to launch new ways of thinking about the tradition, trusting our colleagues to help us identify powerful new vehicles of understanding, and to help us see which of the new vehicles are just theological Edsels. Of course, recognizing the integrity and value of positions we do not hold ourselves is also a basic virtue of teaching. Good teachers do not expect ovine obeisance from our students, but thoughtful engagement with ideas. It seems eminently appropriate for differing voices to be heard in TS. What's troubling here is the apparent imposition of an essay without peer review and the consent of the editor. TS editor David Schultenover, S.J., has not confirmed that he was forced to publish this piece, but NCR reports:

After years of mounting pressures, exchanges, and at least one rejected rebuttal submission written by Jesuit Fr. Peter F. Ryan, the Vatican finally mandated that Theological Studies publish -- unedited -- an essay coauthored by Ryan and theologian Germain Grisez titled Indissoluble Marriage: A Reply to Kenneth Himes and James Coriden.

On a good day, peer review helps to insure academic merit, not by imposing ideological criteria, but through the advice of other knowledgeable professionals in the area. It need not imply editorial approval or agreement with the author's thesis, but only that he or she finds the piece worth discussion. Peer review and editorial approval are especially helpful when scholars read outside their own area of expertise, for example when a scripture scholar reads an essay in systematics. I might not agree with the thesis of a particular piece, but it's helpful to know that other scholars in that area feel the ideas are worth a look.And peer review need not shut down diversity of opinion. One of the hallmarks of TS is its willingness to publish back-and-forth from authors in the name of ongoing dialogue, with peer review at each step. Indeed, Grisez' work has graced TS' pages many times, with peer review. One of the unfortunate effects of side-stepping peer review is the risk that doing so may diminish the reception of this work by scholars leery of the process for this essay. So what to do? This essay is published with a superscript that indicates that "except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received." I'd hope for a more explicit label for pieces that are published without peer review (at least for items normally subject to that process.) That fact may not be apparent to the reader, and is relevant to the reader's--especially the non-specialist reader's--approach to the text.


Commenting Guidelines

F. C. Bauerschmidt,Despite all you say, I question why it was so important to the powers that be to have the response published in Theological Studies. It seems almost punitive to me, like requiring them to print a retraction. Ryan and Grisez could have responded to Himes and Coriden in any number of venues. Those of us who would like to read what they have to say but are not subscribers to Theological Studies will have to wait five years or so until 2011 content becomes available free on the Theological Studies web site.

I think David Nickol and Professor Bauerschmidt get at much the same thing -- this sounds very much like a power play of great intensity because the stakes are so small (even if it signals something of greater import).

Fritz,Your point is taken about the existence of petty, biased, underhanded vipers lurking in academe. And your reason for thinking that petty, biased, underhanded vipers are not lurking in the Vatican is... ?

When Theological Studies, submitting to higher authority, agreed to publish the complete and final version of the Ryan-Grisez article making the case for the absolute indissolubility of covenantal marriage, the editor requested and we provided the abstract that usually appears just before the beginning of the text. The page proofs we received, however, replaced our abstract with an unusual editors note: The article is a reply to one by Kenneth Himes and James Coriden published in our September 2004 issue. Except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received.In our next note to the editor, we said: Were concerned that the second sentence of what appears instead is misleading, for we did a great deal of work to respond to the criticisms proposed by the first group of readers assigned by TS, and we thank them in the final note of our article. If the reason for the change is to suggest that the article is being published under duress, we think it would be well to say that straightforwardly.The editor replied: As to the abstract, I decided on this briefer form because what you said in your abstract is repeated at the beginning of article, and I wanted to save space. I dont think the abstract as it stands is at all misleading. What concerned us was that the editors rejection of the first draft of the article, in May 2009, was accompanied by his lightly edited summary of the [three] referees reports.In August 2010, having received our final draft, the editor wrote: I am pleased to report that my editorial consultants have recommended that we publish your manuscript, but in a substantially reduced form. That letter included comments from two referees along with the editors proposed trimmed version, from which were excised our arguments showing that much of Himes and Coridens case is unsound and that Piet Fransens interpretation of Trent on marriage, on which they rely, is based on false factual claims.Had Theological Studies not required a mandate from higher authority to publish the unexpurgated final version of our reply to Himes and Coriden, their publication of the article would have contributed to the journal's credibility as a forum for fair and thorough treatment of vital theological controversies. As for the quality of our scholarship, we ask only that readers of the two articles set aside the fact that higher authority had to mandate publication of the unexpurgated version of our article and judge for themselves.Grant Gallicho (comment 30 above) provides good links to both articles. For the record, pace Alan Mitchell's claim, Peter Ryan never "worked for Ratzinger [or anyone else] at CDF." Moreover, Mitchell mistakenly describes the point of our article when he says, "there was very little need to publish a rebuttal to the article in question in order to clarify what is the official teaching on the indissolubility of marriage." Our purpose was both to refute the case that Himes and Coriden made for dissolubility and to offer a fresh case for indissolubility.

Peer review does have its problems. And no system can compensate for ethical corruption. But does anyone think that there is a better system, overall, than double blind review?The editorial decisions in law reviews are made by second and third year law students. It's not blind. Does any one want a shifting population of people in the MDiv program making decisions for publication?It's also true that different journals deal with different things. One wouldn't, probably, send an article about a technical point in Karl Barth to Theological Studies, or an article on a technical point of Catholic theology to Modern Theology. Journals host conversations--and one function of the editorial board is to signal the conversation going on in a particular journal.At the same time, it's probably true that being known in the field --and in the particular journal's community--helps being published. The editors at TS would do well to think twice about rejecting an article on ecclesiology by Joe K--even if some shiny upstart rouge reviewer gave it a bad review. One of the judgments that an editor makes is which reviewers to trust--which can be done viciously, as Fritz says, but can be done virtuously as well. I think one of the skill sets you develop in the field is how to do anonymous reviews in ways that are helpful to both editor and author (because we are a community.). One of the most satisfying editorial board memberships I have ever been on is that of the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics. We as a society take very seriously the obligation to provide constructive and not destructive criticism, particularly to younger scholars.I think it wouldn't be a bad idea for four or five general editors of journals to put together a session at the CTSA or the SCE or AAR on how to do a good job at reviewing articles--a task for which grad school provides no preparation.

I would be tempted to favor articles where there is a polarized response rather than a bland consensus among peer reviewers. If everyone at TS agrees that article X is state of the art, cutting edge brilliant, I'd be a trifle suspicious.

Patrick, it depends why. If you have a bunch of reviewers from differing perspectives agreeing that a particular article is badly reasoned, then that says something. Also, in my experience, some reviewers tend to be tougher on articles that agree with their ultimate position, but which they think makes the case weakly. The other question, of course, is comparative--it's like college admissions. It's not just that the article has to be good. It has to merit publication more than nine other articles, also written by people in the field. So here, in my view, the question isn't merely "is the article good"--but "does it fit the journal's conversation?"

In TS of December 2010, a "clarification" in From the Editor's Desk by Editor in Chief Schultenover addresses what sounds like a similar problem of article content raised by a 2006 Salzman-Lawler article ""Catholic Sexual Ethics". He states the intended journal policy for such cases. The rest of the page is interesting for the editor's view on how the working world of theologians has changed in a few decades. (In Sept 2010, Salzman and Lawler had been lambasted by the USCCB Committee on Doctrine under then-Abp. Wuerl for their book "The Sexual Person". USCCB addresses have been changed recently. Critique is now at - 2011-04-25 The USCCB Committee bishops declared in their conclusion: "The efforts of theologians, however, can only bear fruit if they are in fact carried on within a hermeneutic of continuity and in the framework provided by the Catholic theological tradition and the teaching of the Church." Immediately before that, the bishops wrote: "The issues treated in The Sexual Person are indeed vital matters for the life of the Church in our time. They should be thoroughly studied and discussed by theologians as part of their service to the Church and to society.") Further clarifications seem needed. Cathleen Kaveny's (09/01 - 10:39 am) suggestion of s strategic clarification session sounds essential provided it includes a bit on journals dealing with anonymous higher authorities.

Bauerschmidt vs. O"Leary at 20 paces.The issue here is not "peer review" but control! What's the phrase ,"submitting to higher authority."Over at America, Ray Schroth has a fine piece started on Weinandy and the Sr. Johnson mess and, I'd venture to say, "higher authority."The issue of peer review may have different takes from different perspectives. butthe issue of divorce/remarttoage is very real and part of the issues that are tearing apart the church in Austriaand part of the broad isues about command/comtrol, and credib!ity!I'd leave it there but I think the isue of future scolarship in the church is in question - it's already a problem IMO in diocesan seminaries.

Cathleen, I agree that there are many combinations and permutations and thousands of factors that go into good peer reviewing. Hence the weakness of my generalization, which I nevertheless still affirm. I have a bias for debate.I spent a couple of years as a graduate student editor of a fairly prestigious social science journal at the University of Chicago - - rejecting an Andrew Greeley article, which was a common occurrence, was always an education in academic politics . The editorial board members were chosen mainly for their prestige and to indicate the broad direction of research the journal wanted to pursue. But these individuals rarely reviewed; at any rate their best research years were behind them. The worker bees doing the actual peer reviewing were listed annually, both to give them some credit and to show our audience that we cast a wide net and one which was intellectually as diverse as possible. I hope TS does the same.BTW, any staff member who did not know how to sabotage the process by sending the article to the appropriate reviewers would have to be pretty naive. And as you say, the ultimate guarantee of fairness must be anchored in the ethical sense of the editors.One aim of a professional journal is to stimulate debate. Why TS would not be eager to publish a reply to the original article is puzzling. If nothing else, high level controversy improves the circulation, in both senses. If the editor has any initiative I would think he would be shopping for a response such as the one finally published. Its ironic that it took intervention from above to persuade academics of that duty.

Here are some ways in which the authors of the rebuttal could have addressed their displeasure with the editor's proposed modifications, rather than overriding the editor's judgment via an appeal to some anonymous higher authority:1) Add to their paper a link to a full version on their web pages with the complete arguments.2) Split the paper into two papers submitted separately: one would be the refutation of the case that Himes and Coriden made for dissolubility, and the other would be offering a fresh case for indissolubility.3) Withdraw their submission and publish it in a different journal. As Bob said, the issue of divorce and remarriage is very real. It provides many examples of the disconnect between official church statements and human reality. When confronted with it, it forces us to acknowledge that the church's answers ring terribly hollow, and, abandoned by our supposed leaders, we are forced to each find a way to understand the mess of human life as best as we can in the light of our personal faith and of the helpful people or books whom we might encounter on our way (perhaps those encounters are the ways in which we are rescued from being left orphaned).

Fr. Ryan --Thank you for your response. I must s that this old liberal is alarmed by the actual editing out of the *reasons* you gave for your conclusions. To eliminate reasons is to abandon rationality, so the edited version of your article must have been unacceptable by both your own and the TS editors standards of scholarship.But does that justify calling in an umpire to enforce publication by the offending journal, especially without notice that the publication was forced? I think it's a draw. Sad all around.

Patrick, I think there's a few questions here. 1. Should TS and any reputable journal publish replies to controversial articles? Yes. And TS does. If you go to their website, and google "Wildes" and "Meileander" under authors, you will find a very fine debate on the topic of end-of-life decisionmaking, which I assign to my seminar on that topic. But you will also note that each reply is about half as long as the piece to which it is replying. And that is TS's rule, as I understand it. That seems to me to be a defensible rule, given all the other people that want to publish in TS.. My own experience with TS suggests that they care as much about word count as Commonweal does--a lot. In fact (sorry, Jesuits!) one reason someone might try to publish a particular piece somewhere else is the stringency of the world count.2. Should a reply to the Himes/Corrigan piece be published in TS? Yes, of course. Are Grisez/Ryan likely candidates to do it? Yes. I teach Grisez in class too (on cooperation with evil)-though I don't always agree with him, I think it is an intellectually worthwhile endeavor to clarify for myself when and why I don't. And then Himes/Corregan should get the last word. 1, .5., .25 in length. Just like the Wildes/Meilaender debate.3. As I read the debate (and Fr. Ryan can correct me if I'm wrong), the key issue in this case was the rule about length. Is it reasonable for TS to insist on a reply complying with the generally applicable length requirements? Yes, it seems to me. Now, maybe TS could have said "I don't care how you do it, reduce your article to (say) 7k words" --maybe that would have been better. Should the CDF make a journal take a longer article than normal? What should the editor's note be in that case? Should it say, "We normally limit replies to half the length of the original article, at the CDF's direction, we are printing this reply in its entirety?" After all, if there is no editor's note, than other voluble respondents to other articles might wonder why they didn't get the same privilege. 4. Should Grisez/Ryan, be free to follow Claire's suggestion 2, and split the paper into two (critical/constructive), and submit both parts to TS? Of course. Or maybe this is the nucleus of a book on the topic.

It would be interesting to know whether the editor of TS accepts Ryan and Grisez's version of events. Not all writers respond well to being edited.Peter Ryan reproduces the statement he and Grisez issued to Catholic World Report. That statement leaves several questions unanswered. Did Peter Ryan submit a rebuttal to Himes and Coriden on his own? Did he seek out Grisez as a coauthor after his piece was rejected? How did the CDF get involved? Did anyone at the CDF see their draft article before it was submitted to TS? If so, did the CDF offer editorial suggestions to the authors? Do Ryan and Grisez know how the CDF dealt with TS?Ryan and Grisez complain that the editorial note above their article was not sufficiently straightforward. Perhaps they should take their own advice and make clear what actually happened here. Vague allusions to "higher authority" won't do.

Cathleen,I give up. I thought we were concerned with the indissolubility of marriage, not word counts.I am now tempted to suggest another solution -- the next Pope should make a vow of special obedience to the Jesuit rules about word counts. But perhaps with a Jesuitical (?) or Michelle Bachmann codicil that obedience really means respect.

Patrick Molloy: Back to the arch position so soon. And there you were having a serious discussion. Jesuit or not, editors who aren't concerned about the length of articles they publish are not doing their job.

Patrick, you say you were an editorial assistant. Word counts matter to journals. The question I thought we were addressing is how an academic journal of theology responds to discussion or debate about an issue. I showed you what TS's normal practice is on another controversial issue . . the question is whether 1) CDF interference should warrant an exception to a generally applicable rule; and 2) whether some notice of that exception should be made available to readers. I suspect that what you're really saying is that theology isn't an actual academic discipline.I should also emphasize that each "extra" piece published in TS means that one other piece is rejected--and publication in TS is usually a boost for tenure consideration in theology departments, at least in the US.

Grant --Your questions raise a question I've wondered about for years: is there such a thing as a semi-official Vatican theologian? I mean a theologian who somehow represents the CDF besides the ones at the CDF who write official documents. The interference with the editorial process at TS indicates de facto that there are.Next question: if Ryan-Grisez aren't official representatives of the CDF, then why didn't the CDF do the article themselves?

Question from the unwashed: How wide is the theological journal landscape? How many well-respected, high-end journals like TS are there? Too many to list? And is there a "conservative" counterpart to TS?

One topic that has drifted in and out of this discussion has been the question of "obedience" to Rome's teachings. What does that mean? What is it to "obey" a statement from Rome? In the ordinary uses of the terms "statement" and "command" only commands are obeyed, not statements. Statements are agreed or disagreed with depending on whether or not one thinks they are true. The only way to "agree" with a statement which one actually thinks is false is to agree with it only verbally, but that is to lie.This, it seems to me, is the most important moral issue in the disputes between theologians (and the rest of us) and Rome.

I apologize to Peter Ryan for placing him at CDF. I had confused him with another Maryland Province Jesuit, whose last name begins with the letter "R", who worked there when Ratzinger was prefect.

I should also emphasize that each extra piece published in TS means that one other piece is rejectedAlso note that the page limit is an evolving concept. More and more journals are all-electronic, and then there is no reason to have page limits to any journal issue. This concern will vanish in the near future.

Claire - " then there is no reason to have page limits to any journal issue. This concern will vanish in the near future."Beg to differ. Consider that, obviously, no one should be expostulating knowledgeably here today without having absorbed and understood the 90+ densely written, footnoted pages that caused the uproar. (At your links 8/31, 4:10, 4:12) Brevity is the soul of getting across, paper page limits or not.

Actually, both articles are pretty long--nearly 50 pages each in print, and TS doesn't have word limits on its author page, so maybe I'm wrong about them. For some reason, I thought that they shoot for 8-10 k per article.

So, which authors have the better argument?

Jack: yes. I mean, the physical constraint disappears. How that will change journals in the future, I'm not sure.David: I have no idea. Even if I read them (beyond the first couple of pages which I did look at), I still wouldn't be able to tell. Maybe some journalist could interview them and write a synthesis accessible to the general public :)

"One topic that has drifted in and out of this discussion has been the question of obedience to Romes teachings."It is unfortunate that this central issue is quite poorly developed in the comments. Obedience is to the truth. While Rome may claim some authority, all things being equal, it has to be admitted that Rome has made serious mistakes. There is just no refuting that. Do we have to go thru that list again? As a result the claim of continuity remains a specious one and can only be held if one denies reason or common sense.This carries over into non-dogmatic areas also. No way Cardinal Egan should have listened to John Paul II about staying in New York. All Catholics should know that they are not absolved from fault if they listen blindly to Rome.

And your reason for thinking that petty, biased, underhanded vipers are not lurking in the Vatican is Rita,Oh, I'm sure they're there. but I figured that for Commonweal readers (among whom I count myself) that would go without saying.

Ann's point needs stressing. The proper response to the commands or laws of legitimate authority is obedience. The proper response to a teacher, including teachers in the Church, is assent. In the case at hand, if ecclesiastical or Jesuit superiors ordered that the article be published, then this could call for obedience. The teaching on indissolubility appeals for assent. Grave harm is done to the Church and to Church authority when assent is made equivalent to obedience, or when people speak about "obeying Church teaching." To repeat: one obeys laws; one assents to teachings. Teaching is not a species of legislation.

Don't the Jesuits have some rights with respect to a journal that they produce? It is not merely an academic journal, but is one "run" by Jesuits. That means it reflects in some way on the Jesuit charism, which is guided by Jesuit superiors and has a heavy emphasis on obedience to the Pope. In that context, TS is doing a service by bringing the CDF into conversation with readers. Theology, and journals, are not abstract entities that have no relation to personal realities. They are expressed by particular individuals with particular povs, and sometimes are influenced by particular groups. TS probably has enhanced prestige because of its connection with the Jesuits, and the ability to foster this kind of dialogue ultimately will enhance that prestige.I liked Claire's suggestion that the article be split in two, but on further thought I think the TS editors did just the right thing. Cutting out the rebuttal/criticism of the earlier article, and focusing on the more constructive part of the article seems like the right way to go.

Thanks to Ann Olivier and Father Komonchak for those comments and clarifications. Very useful, I think. I find it hard to gin up the expected anger at Rome on this issue, perhaps because apart from the problem of spurning the conventions of publishing in scholarly journals -- a serious issue but one that needs more details to adjudicate, if that can be done -- the Vatican did in fact respond in kind to a debate over the teaching on marriage. They have engaged the debate, which seems to presume on their part that this is a teaching that does require assent, and cannot be settled by command. Of course, Tom Reese did that when he edited America, and we saw where that got him. But it is still better, I think, if the various arguments are put out there. Again, I have not been able to plow through both articles and am not sure I'd be able to say anything about them if I did.

The problem is that we are living through a major shift in the paradigms of anthropology, which affects marriage among other human realities. The thinkers of the world are grappling with this is many academic disciplines (law, ethics, cultural anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis and psychology, sociology) and the would be deeply grateful for a coherent Christian and Catholic contribution. But the Catholic response has become totally predictable -- a focus on whatever threatens to bring change to official Catholic teaching and a dogged stone-walling and silence. The first TS article was an effort to give a Catholic response to current anthropological insights and questions. The second was defensive stone-walling.The Church is silencing itself, and remaining unhelpfully mute in face of the signs of the times and the questions of humanity. Catholic who do grapple honestly with the issues are not able to function in the formal institutions of their Church. A case in point is Charles Curran, flourishing among the Methodists.

So to say that "the Vatican did in fact respond in kind to a debate over the teaching on marriage" makes sense only if one accepts the complete validity of the old anthropological paradigm of Humanae Vitae and the documents in its wake. In fact the Ryan/Grisez article did not address contemporary questions but merely argued that for reasons of authority the church teachings were unchangeable.

And of course the procedure followed in the response was not "in kind" but the kind of strong arm tactics that have been used on many Catholic journals that have not organized independence of Rome -- Etudes, Intercom, America are among those that come to mind. There is even a question if these journals are giving honest value for money.

I apologize to Matthew and jim P. that I'm not going to cite the America or NCR(though I could mention Phyllis zagano there) websites.Unfortunately, I still think this is hardly a minor matter- got an e-mail this morning from an ex seminarian who said the ability to question anything is verboten in diocesan seminaries.From what I hear from my friends in New York and what I experience of our new deacons here(sorry Jim) who are more Roman than Rome, it strikes me that indoctrination is the name of the game and scholarship be damned.What's worse is that hierachical credibility concomitantly crumbles in the areas of sex abuse -the Lynn grand jury testimony in Philly just relaesed is shameful anfd the KC recport by its own hire is damning.In Ireland and Austria(Germany and Australia too?) things may be coming apart, but the future looks bleak to me here too in a Church not only of command and control but half truths and propaganda.I'll put my money with O'Leary on this one.

"what I experience of our new deacons here(sorry Jim) who are more Roman than Rome"Hey, Bob, God always puts us wherever we are for a reason. I feel sure that your assigned role in your parish is to knock those new guys off their pedestals :-)

This whole issue to me seems to revolve around the issue of Academia vs. Church. If a theologian writes something for publication as a academic, as a teacher whatever, and do not publish it as Catholic Theology, then Rome would have little right to say anything. However, when one dons the mantle of Catholic Theologian, and submits articles about Catholic Theology, or publishes a Journal (like Theological Studies, which is published by the Jusuits) then one enters the realm of the Ctholic Church. And the Church, the magisterium, gets to define what is "correct theology". It can forbid theologians from teaching as Catholic Theologians in Catholic Universities, and it can prevent publication of documents it percieves as in error. The Jesuit order is under the authority of the Church, so it seems logical that a jounal published by them also falls under that authority. Also, the idea of obedience, even in the face of injustice is not unheard of. One need only reference the life of Yves Congar, who was silenced, remained obedient, and played a significant role at Vatican II and became a Cardinal. Also it should be noted that the authors of the article in question have said that it was submitted for peer review.

Fr. OLeary (@ 8/31//2011 - 6:18 pm) unburdened himself of a considered judgment of Germain Grisez and his theological efforts.Grisez is a failed theologian associated with a failed encyclical and is being propped up by artificial life-support. In a feat of bilocation the ubiquitous theologian made a similar claim at Catholic World Report to which there was a reply that is worth reporting here:8/31/2011Dear Joe O'Leary, The last time I checked, I was not on life support. I leave it to those willing to read our article to judge whether I'm a failed theologian.Germain Grisez

"They have engaged the debate, which seems to presume on their part that this is a teaching that does require assent, and cannot be settled by commandDavid G --I fear that our problems aren't solved simply by distnguishing a command and an assent. Look at your statement above and the phrase "a teaching that does require assent". A teaching is a statement, but what about this "requiring" assent? If that means that the Vatican requiring a theologian (and the rest of us) to assent, isn't that the same thing as *commanding* assent? We can be commanded to do many kinds of things, and, I submit, commanding assent is one of them. But then a real problem arises. What is a theologian to do when he thinks that dogma A which Rome is requiring/commanding him to assent to is actually false? Is it even *possible* for him (or anyone else) to assent to something that he thinks is untrue? It seems to me that that is impossible, because he would have to think that dogma A both is and is not fact. The theologian migh assent verbally (i.e., repeat the statement expressing dogma A), but he would be lying, and the Church forbids that.

Following Ann's point, the distinction doesn't go quite far enough. Some qualifiers are required. As stated, blind obedience is the proper response to commands or laws from a legitimate authority, even if the particular command or law given is illegal or immoral. Similarly, assent is said to be the proper response to a teacher, even if the particular matter being taught is demonstrably in error or false. In other parts of the world, the "just following orders" justification has been found to have significant limits. Are there no situations in which the obedience or assent becomes an improper response?

"The proper response to a teacher is assent."I don't understand assent. When I teach, if the student meekly says "Yes teacher", I get frustrated. The student hasn't learned anything in any depth, and it has very little value. I want the student to dissent, raise objections, challenge my statements in every way possible, so that I have a chance to convince him and so that he finally believes what I teach, not because I said it but because he can see for himself that it is true. That's learning. (Of course sometimes the student raises valid criticisms; then I just have to acknowledge his point and we can amicably continue.)What difference does it make that I am his teacher rather than, say, his roommate? The difference is that, based on prior experience, or on reputation, or on blind trust in status, he trusts that he has something to gain from our interaction, and is thus willing to put some serious effort into listening, understanding, and challenging my claims. For me the proper response to a teacher is attentiveness in that sense.

Ann, you make a good point, but I think that can be resolved by making the distinctions clearer. I understood the assent to a teacher meaning that the teacher had made a convincing case, and hence not assenting to something made intelligible and convincing would be obtuse. Ratzinger's view on this is, to my mind, problematic. I here quote myself -- a terrible thing that requires no assent -- but easiest way to illustrate the point, from my B16 bio:

"In writing about his old seminary professor, the biblical scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Maier, Ratzinger warmly recalled how much he learned from him and how Maiers scholarship, which led to Maiers condemnation and exile from the university for many years, was now fully accepted and remains fundamental to me. Although he acknowledged that Maiers treatment was unjust, Ratzinger does not raise a finger in protest on behalf of his shabby treatment. Instead he cooly criticizes Maier for not getting past the trauma of his dismissal and harboring a certain bitterness against Rome. More to Ratzingers liking was the example of another professor of his, Gottlieb Shngen, who in 1949 argued strongly against the burgeoning movement to have the teaching on the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven proclaimed a dogma.. Asked what he would do if the pope did proclaim the Assumption a dogmaas Pius XII subsequently did in 1954Ratzinger notes with satisfaction that Shngen replied: If the dogma comes, then I will remember that the Church is wiser than I and that I must trust her more than my own erudition.

That's his take on such things. I think it raises the problems you note.

\David G. --It sounds to me as if Fr. Sohngen's final acceptance of the Assumption dogma was a matter of his being convinced that he must be have been mistaken after all. In other words, he *reversed* his initial thinking based on his even stronger belief that the Church knew more than he did. So his was not a case of needing to both accept and deny the Assumption.But in some cases, when the official Church puts something out as settled or "definitive" or whatever, the theologian/believer *cannot* honorably change his initial belief because his evidence overwhelms his trust in Rome's evidence. Perhaps he sees that Rome has contradicted itself or perhaps Rome's argument in favor of the dogma is not really supported by its purported evidence or perhaps Rome in proposing the dogma has contradicted what it says elsewhere about equally important matters. These are the cases when conscience must be followed and dissent is the honorable, virtuous course. Of course, there are people who honestly believe that anything that comes out of Rome must be true, and that if one initially disagrees with Rome then one must simply have been mistaken for some reason one does not yet understand. But as in Fr. Sohgen's case, for such people there is no dilemma because their trust in Rome changes their minds. (Where is Nancy, anyway?)Whether such belief is itself rational is another question.

David G. --Another part of the Church's intellectual heritage that needs to be honored is it' classic meaning of "conscience". Conscience is NOT a feeling that inclines one to do or not do something. Conscience is a person's best *judgment* that something ought or ought not to be done. It is a cognitive appreciation, not an affective one. Conscience is what we honestly *think* we ought to do, not what we are feel we ought to do.

David, that's a very interesting quote, thank you. If the dogma comes, then I will remember that the Church is wiser than I and that I must trust her more than my own erudition.That way of thinking is very strange to me.And who is "the Church"? If some day a near-unanimity of Catholics are in favor of the ordination of women, will that represent the wisdom of the Church, and will the pope assent in spite of his own erudition going against it? I don't think so. I think that the profound trust in that quote is in short supply these days. The Vatican does not trust the Faithful, and the Faithful do not trust the Vatican. In practice that way of thinking is now marginal and outdated, I think.Also note the "if". Assent is not required until something is proclaimed as a dogma. At that point -- is discussion closed? Is there no point in exploring the claimed dogma with an open mind any further? Does that not bind future generations to assent superficially, without the understanding that comes from honest challenges? Doesn't that result in a weakening of the faith?I live in a world where the willingness to radically question long-held evidences is the key to scientific progress -- Einstein in physics, Church-Turing in logic. The "basic truths" of science (the dogmas) must be questioned. The progress of science does not invalidate them but reveals that they are incomplete approximations, and enables the discovery of deeper truths. I can see how assent is a useful shortcut that, in the multitude of topics open to question, provides a convenient set of beliefs that free the mind for other pursuits. It would be exhausting to spend our whole time questioning everything, and it's nice to have quick guidelines when we don't have time or interest to learn about something. But that's only a convenience, not a requirement. And requiring even the erudite specialist to maintain his assent in the middle of his intellectual exploration -- isn't that stifling, limiting, and doesn't it prevent the truth from being understood? If scientists were forbidden from questioning the basic tenets of their fields, that would be disastrous.

All of this discussion is due to the reversion to the Ottavaini HJoly Office/now BXVI /CDF Church of"command/control." And, its enforcement by the JPII/Law Bishops.Resorting to authority/obedience/ magisterium arguments, like brian, is circular to the discussion.Calling someone a"failed theologian" is ad hominem unhelpful.The issue is contol. The topic (marriage/divorce etc.) desrves better attention then this kind of debates in TS nad sometimes here.

Mr. Barry: I don't see any place in which either Ann Olivier or I, in distinguishing between obedience and assent, state or imply that the first is "blind" or that the second is due "even if the particular matter being taught is demonstrably in error or false." Speaking for myself, I believed that certain things simply didn't have to be said, so obvious are they.Claire: It all depends on the subject matter. There are many things that I still believe (assent to) today that I learned in grammar school, high school, and college without ever having felt the need to investigate them on my own or prove them for myself. It's been said that very little of the furniture of our minds consists of things that we have experienced ourselves, come to understand first by ourselves, and verified for ourselves; and even those things that we did experience, figure out, and verify are intertwined with other things that we hold only by believing the reports, appropriating the insights, and accepting the conclusions of others. And there need not be anything irrational about this. In other words, there are kinds of assent. When I taught my course on Vatican II, there was much to which any student might respond by dissent, raising objections, challenging my statements, but if any one or several of the students did this at every point, it could have taken a day or a week to get beyond my very first statement: "On January 25th, 1959, less than one hundred days after he was elected, Pope John XXIII startled the Catholic world by announcing that he intended to convoke an ecumenical council." The students accepted the statement on my authority even thought they could have undertaken the laborious task of determining for themselves the truth of the many elements of this statement. Acknowledging that kind of authority in a teacher (authority = trustworthiness) need not be "meek," or superficial, or without value. That also is learning.

Father Komonchak, I agree with your examples; the kind of assent you refer to is a useful shortcut to get to the meat of the discussion. (Even then, though, the assent is tentative. The student is willing to accept the statement at its face value, for the sake of moving forward, but reserves the right to go back and revisit it if it turns out to be a possible source of critical controversy.) But I don't think that applies to the indissolubility of marriage or to any of the other "hot" topics in which people are intensely interested. I see no value to mandating assent on such controversial topics.

JAK -I agree with all you say above, but I think that Claire makes an important point, at least about learning some subjects. I mean matters of fundamental importance, such as religious and scientific knowldge. There are practical limits, of course, how far intro. courses can go into challenging the fundamentals that are the meat of intro courses. But student do need to learn that experts often disagree about at least some aspects of the fundamentals of their subjects. And at times, when contrary evidence piles up, paradigms have to be abandoned and new ones supplied. However, the new theories don't reject everything, usually, only the structuring of the data or large portions of the data that have been collected over eons.By conincidence, 10 minutes ago I finished reading an article and comments about Einstein possibly being a plagiarist and his theory being inconsistent in some aspects. One comment even cites a place in his own writings where he contradicts his initiall rejection of ether. But we don't usually hear about that. This little kink will, no doubt, take some pretty high=powered physicists to straighten it out. See, even the big guys are not beyond suspicion of error. (I've also read years ago that Galileo fudged some of his calculations, though they don't affect the big sweep of his claims.) fundamental problem, besides possible moral ones, are epistemological, I think. How and when do we know that an authority is speaking the truth? Perhaps an even more fundamental qustion is: how should theological authorities be established as authorities? E.G., why trust Rome/the bishops? and/or *when* should we trust Rome/the bishops?

JAK --Yes, there are kinds of assent. The most primitive kinds are, I suppose, those such as 'That is a red ball", or 2 is smaller than 4. These are judgments in the philosophical sense. Then there "assent" to the judgments of others as being better informed and thought out than our own, e.g., "Yes, the trouble is his appendix, not too much sauerkraut", a judgment based in turn on a complicated little process: "The doctor says that's what it is, and so I go along with him". Sometimes this use associates with it a certain grudging admission that he's most probably right and I'm probably wrong. Authorities are those whose knowledge, like the doctor's, is superior to our own, and accepted by us as such. First we judge them to be authorities, then we judge that their statements are true.Then there is the sense of "assent" as in "give in". This includes an act of the will, as is the case when we finally agree to promise something or agree to a contract or agree to allow something -- e.g., Bishop X finally assented to having altar girls in his diocese. The opposite of this term is the almost poetic old one to "nix". Bishops do a lot of nixing.