Censure or Critique?

The Bishops & Elizabeth Johnson

In late March, the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a critique [PDF] of theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. The committee wrote that Quest “does not take the faith of the church as its starting point” and concluded that Johnson’s book “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points.” In response, on April 9, the board of the Catholic Theological Society of America issued a statement defending Johnson’s work. It said that the Committee on Doctrine had misread Johnson’s book and that it had failed to follow the bishops’ own procedures for how to handle such disputes. In turn, the CTSA said, the committee’s actions had raised troubling issues “for the exercise of our vocation as theologians.” On April 18, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chair of the doctrine committee, responded to the CTSA with “Bishops as Teachers: A Resource for Bishops” [PDF], in which he stated, “It is the specific competence and responsibility of bishops to teach the faith in its...

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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).