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It's not about the feminism (except when it is)

In his post below about the USCCB's critique of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, Grant noted that Fr. Thomas Weinandy told the New York Times "The primary concern was not over feminism or nonfeminism. The bishops are saying that the book does not adequately treat a Catholic understanding of God." Laurie Goodstein's article seems to presume that it was the feminist stuff that ruffled the bishops' feathers. And based on what the bishops' statement alleges, Grant wondered "whether Johnson's feminism didn't feature more largely in the committee's mind than Weinandy lets on." I think it's a fair question.

I said below (in the comments) that the reading overall strikes me as deeply unfair and also oddly aggressive. It's a prosecution, not a careful laying-out of concerns and clarifications, and it rests on some odd assumptions about what Johnson is trying to do. The main one, which I find totally unpersuasive, is this: "For Sr. Johnson, if God is incomprehensible he is also unknowable." If she believed that, why would she write a book about seeking God? Why do theology at all? If you'll look to page 11 of Quest, you'll find citations from Scripture about the centrality of that search for God to the Christian faith, and how God has promised to reveal himself to those who seek him. As Erin Kidd writes over at the Women in Theology blog (where a thorough response to the bishops' critique is ongoing), "We are on a quest not because we lack knowledge of God, but because we never come to the end of God. God is deeper than our glance can penetrate." I can't imagine coming away from what Johnson writes at the very beginning of the book convinced that she believes God is "unknowable" -- unless I went in already convinced that Johnson, because she's a contemporary feminist theologian, is interested only in tearing down the faith from the inside. I know there are people who believe that. I should hope the bishops wouldn't take it as their starting point in analyzing a work of theology.

The reason I am wondering about just how much the feminist thing affected the bishops' reading is that it's in the section addressing female language for God where their critique seems sloppiest. Turn with me, please, to page 12 of the bishops' statement, headed "New Names for the Unknown God." (Again, "unknown" -- not Sr. Johnson's claim. "New" is also debatable.) The section begins:

Sr. Johnson argues that women "have experienced strong discomfort with the dominant images of God as father, lord, and king" (96) and that female language for God is not only permissible but necessary.

Instead of "argues" I would say "observes." (This is one of several places in the bishops' statement where one could make that substitution.) What they've quoted/paraphrased from Johnson is not an argument at all; it's a simple statement of reality. I suppose you could quibble with the "necessary" part, if you were determined to find fault, but "permissible" is absolutely in keeping with Catholic tradition, as Johnson makes clear. The next sentence:

For Sr. Johnson, language for God should be analyzed not primarily in terms of its adequacy for expressing the reality of God -- all human language fails to attain the reality of God -- but in terms of its socio-political effects.

That's a big claim, the kind that sends me to the text looking for backup. Does Johnson really say that "expressing the reality of God" is impossible or not important for God-language? Not that I can see. And it turns out you don't even need to have the book handy to see that this is a distortion of Johnson's work. At the end of that very same paragraph, the bishops quote this from Johnson, in re: all-male images of God as experienced by women in the modern world: "Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it." If you want to claim that Sr. Johnson is not concerned with analyzing language "in terms of its adequacy for expressing the reality of God," you cannot then quote a line in which she analyzes language in terms of its adequacy for "evoking the reality of God." What is going on here?

The bishops go on:

As part of the effort to complete the overthrow of unequal and unjust power relations, she argues that it is necessary to replace the traditional language and concepts of God with new language and new concepts of God that will serve the purpose of promoting the socio-political status of women both in society and the church.

Sounds sinister. But I don't see Johnson attempting to "replace" anything -- she never, ever says we must stop calling God our father (something I presume she does several times a day), for example. And I don't see her purpose as promoting any such agenda. She's describing broadening the language we use for God so as to allow all people, including women, greater appreciation for the reality of God -- precisely what the bishops say she's not interested in pursuing. Are they doing so much reading between the lines they're overlooking what the lines themselves say?

The closest the bishops come to a responsible criticism of this section of the text, in my opinion, is when they say (p. 13) "What is lacking in the whole of this discussion is any sense of the essential centrality of divine relation as the basis of Christian theology." I can't agree that the book, or even pages 96-7 of the book, lacks "any sense" of the centrality of revelation, but I will concede that centrality could be stated more explicitly. It seemed to me Sr. Johnson was taking it for granted, as part of the basic groundwork of this sort of theology. A university professor teaching undergrads would be fairly cautioned, though, to make sure to spell it out for students using this book in a class. If the bishops had simply said that, I wouldn't argue. But they claim that Johnson has no regard for divine revelation, which is not at all fair, and they go on to say: "The names of God found in the Scriptures are not mere human creations that can be replaced by others that we may find more suitable according to our own human judgment."

This implies that Johnson disagrees or says otherwise in her book. As far as I can see, she doesn't. Again, she never argues that the traditional names for God must be "replaced." And -- again the bishops' critique is self-refuting -- she grounds her discussion of feminine language for God in Scripture, in a passage the bishops have just quoted. Are they disputing the fact that feminine images for God are indeed found in the Bible and are therefore part of divine revelation? Because that seems to me a fairly orthodox observation.

Finally, on page 16 of the bishops' statement, they quote a section on God's simultaneous transcendence and immanence that ends, "What results is a mutual abiding for which the pregnant female body provides a good metaphor." There's no commentary on that particular sentence. Perhaps they think it's self-evidently problematic. I happen to like it. It also strikes me as scriptural. But I suppose I might feel differently if I were already predisposed to believe there is an agenda at work here other than the desire for greater knowledge of the incomprehensible God. Is that what I'm supposed to be afraid of? I wonder.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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This is a helpful analysis! The more I read the Bishops' statement, the more incoherent their understanding of language seems. Also, thanks for the link to WIT!

I don't understand how it can be simply "observed" that "women" feel a certain way about the patriarchal analogies of God. Was there a poll taken? To whom does this observation refer?I'm reminded of the survey of a Protestant denomination in which people were asked whether they were for or against inclusive language. Most respondents answered, "What is inclusive language?"If it's not an observation, it's an argument, or at least a premise for argument.

Really, Kathy? You never heard of this before? Why don't we do one right here, since you're so perplexed by how women might not be thrilled about the exclusively masculine names for God. Show of hands. P.S. The respondents probably weren't confused about what "inclusive language" refers to. They just didn't know the term.

Grant, I respectfully raised a fair point, and you belittled it. So much for dialogue, eh?

Agree with Erin. Good analysis, Mollie.Funny how masculinists are so twisted by their fear and hatred of feminists that they use adjectives like "radical" and "ultra" to intensify the word and attach the suffix "ess" to any word that should be reserved for men only.As to inclusive language? Hard to believe there would be anyone still who has never noticed the radical feminist language in the bible. Book of Wisdom? Hen with chicks safe under Her wings? Etc. Reading the psalms and substituting Lady for Lord and She for He can be quite illuminating. All the smiting and bashing and dashing doesn't work as well when it's Sancta Spirita being asked to do it.

Kathy: I asked if you had really never heard of this phenomenon. And I indicated why I find questionable the conclusion you seem to be drawing from that survey. Now, if you want to say that you don't have any problem with exclusively male names for God, then that's fine. But if you deny that lots of women do, then I'm afraid you're out to lunch.

I don't think it's just some women who are bothered by exclusive language. I've known many men who have noted their prayer life has deepened from sometimes using feminine language to contemplate the Divine. Metaphors matter, they direct understanding and action.

At the America "In All Things" blog, the responsof Sr Johnson brought forth several comments that underscore the "feminist" issue.I hope posters won't keep arguing why she didn't seek the imprimatur first (as even Fr. Weinandy -who I think is involved in the theology fight, not debate, in American Catholicism- admits not seeking it is usually the case).As to an analysis by someone who has read the book, Horan's evaluation seems balanced and fair.Finally, I think the feminist angle, while of some merit, is only a part of the power/control issue of bringing men and women, lay and religious, into line with the "distinctive catholic" view that is unwilling to engage modernity and to glorify Pre-vat II.I further concur with Bill M. that the current JPII/BVXI/Bernard Law bishops are horrible leaders.

Sr. Johnson says that women "have experienced strong discomfort with the dominant images of God as father, lord, and king. She does not say that EVERY woman ALWAYS experiences discomfort. Her observation is exactly that, an observation of fact, nothing novel about it, and not something I read as referring specifically to Kathy Pluth. But now that we've clarified that it doesn't, we will move on.

Hi, Kathy,I would agree with Grant that many women out there 'in the pews' do not know what the word "inclusive language" means. Many of them go along with what is used---because they really don't KNOW that anything else may be used. Many older women will state---"Oh, when we say 'men' we understand that both men and women are included". But is that true?I remember attending a meeting in my diocese for DREs way back in the mid 1990's. Those leading the discussion asked us (mostly women in this group), to list all the good things that men in our personal lives have done/given to us. After about 5 minutes of writing---we were asked to share. All of us listed wonderful things that our dads, granddads, uncles, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, sons, etc. have done to enrich our lives.The leaders of this discussion pointed out to us that none of us listed anything that any woman has done for us. We stated that we were told to list things that MEN had done. They responded that if in the Church, 'men' means both men and women----we should have cited things that women have done for us in our lives as well.The point with these leaders was that using only 'masculine' terms in prayer, in references to God ----engraves in the minds of all---men and women---only a masculine understanding of God, and Who God is and acts toward us---as a male. God is pure spirit and is androgynous. But the masculine aspect of God's actions toward us----has been emphasized for centuries, and still is today in both theology and in the Church's social teachings.This theological question with Sr. Elizabeth is a touchy point with a number of American Bishops.Do you remember, oh about two years ago, that Ruth Kolpack, a DRE was dismissed from her position by Bishop Morlino of Milwaukee, because of what she had written in her Masters Thesis 3 years prior to that? Ruth, who had been a student in St. Francis Seminary (in Wisconsin----and earned a Master of Divinity Degree from said seminary)entitled her thesis "Theological and Anthropological Implications of God Language."Ruth's main point in the thesis was NOT that we should cease using masculine references to God, but (to quote from her thesis) to understand that "the exclusive use of male language for God is idolized as if it is the only way to speak of God. It has become our "golden calf" in publice prayer."In a meeting that lasted barely fifteen minutes, Bishop Morlino demanded that Kolpack renounce the major points of her thesis----as an incorrect and from a feminist position----or resign from her position as DRE. Ruth would not renounce what she wrote 3 years earlier, and was dismissed from her position in her parish---by order of the bishop.I have a copy of her thesis and I will be eager to compare it with Sr. Elizabeth's book. Of course Sr. Elizabeth was not writing about 'God Language' but she will refer to this in some places. It is well known that the Catholic Church, in general and in its theology and in its social teaching in particular, has been and continues to be patriarchal. Women have no real leadership positions in the church and have played no role in the formation of the papal documents of Catholic social teachings and in areas of theology. Without doubt, this structural defect has alienated many educated Catholic women. Because they have been given no place in the formulation of major documents, many women see the Catholic Church and its teaching office as lacking all credibility. This is a huge dark cloud hanging ominously over all official Catholic teaching, (including on the priesthood) and on all Catholic social teachings.

For what it's worth, I am troubled by references to Jesus as a king and Mary as a queen not because of gender issues, but because king and queen are outdated metaphors. For those of us (men and woman) who had less than ideal relationships with our fathers, the concept of God as father is not necessarily helpful, either.

Addressing the Creator as Amma can make Her less scary.

Little Bear, thank you for your excellent reflection---you're helping to restore my patience.

Grant, I'm pretty sure you realize that starting off a response to a comment with "Really?" is a pretty good harbinger of a dismissive attitude. I'm almost entirely certain you understand this rhetorical fact. Anyways, although I haven't looked at all at Johnson's work, I recently spent quite a bit of time and ink on another feminist author, Catherine LaCugna. She makes the same claim about women's needs, which I find patronizing, frankly. Are women so limited?As I read LaCugna, she seeks to develop a theology of God that changes social structures on earth. She's quite explicit about this. While social structures may need changing, it seems to me that this methodology is backwards. The revelation is critiqued by her sense of right and wrong, rather than the other way around. The Scripture says the word of God scrutinizes us--not the other way around. But I haven't read Johnson, and really my only point is that it's a red herring to make womens' discomfort sound empirical instead of argumentative. Yes, I've heard it from liberal Catholics of the professional class, but not from a lot of parishioners or anything.

Mollie - thanks for this in depth overview and analysis. The initial comments and quick read of Wuerl's statements struck me as the "same old, same old".

Kathy - like Wuerl and company - you might want to review this excellent post from Unagidon on March 7th: applies to unanalyzed thoughts (i.e. meme) that are constantly repeated out of various fears. Highlight:- "A meme is a pre-packaged cultural snippet that seems very clear and self contained. It looks black and white and it makes the other side look vicious, greedy, and stupid. Its function is to translate a complex situation into a pseudo-moral situation for the purposes of political manipulation. Both the right and the left use them and they are particularly common in religious discussions. They have become especially popular with the rise of the internet because they are so short that they can even be tweeted and they seem so complete that a person who uses them can sound like he knows what he is talking about. But they are a scourge that makes us ever more stupid every time we use them."Let's see - we all know what we mean when we say "men" or "man" or "patriarchical analogies"; this is just pure feminism which is, at heart, anti-catholic? But, don't mean to be dismissive or just provide a rhetorical, let's see: "The Scripture says the word of God scrutinizes usnot the other way around." Could have sworn that the OT is filled with language, images, and stories that describe God in feminine terms - or is that just my imagination?And then we have: "But I havent read Johnson, and really my only point is that its a red herring to make womens discomfort sound empirical instead of argumentative. Yes, Ive heard it from liberal Catholics of the professional class, but not from a lot of parishioners or anything."Empirical - really? Was this her point or yours? Red herring - really? Was this her point or yours? and while we are at it, you appear to be taking a "side" issue and trying to use it to question her approach.As the advertising world is wont to say: Priceless!!

Again, the question here is not whether reality still exists if Kathy finds it patronizing. Let's stay focused: have the bishops been fair to Sr. Johnson's work? And if they haven't, as I believe they haven't, why not?

The most disheartening thing about this whole affair is that it seems to reveal the fact that many bishops have neither the theological sophistication and subtlety to be able to critically analyze and constructively engage an argument nor the pastoral sensitivity to generously converse with a fellow traveler. Maybe they should just stick to paying the bills.

Little Bear,Thank you so much for taking the time to relate that experience. It is a powerful example of the impact of images, and how literal in fact the reference to "men" really is.Your wonderful post calls to mind an emotional experience deeply imprinted on me when I happened to come upon the inauguration on TV of Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris, sometime in the 1990's, was it? By accident I found myself in tears, having to sit down, as I observed for the first time in my life women priests in vestments. I was stunned at the power of my reaction to the visual experience. The obverse occurs when I watch the USCCB on TV.Thank you, Mollie, for the thread.The Boston College webcast of Johnson'a talk about women in the church may add to this discussion; hearing her speak is powerful. As I watched the webcast last night, your question about feminism surfaced immediately.

"The most disheartening thing about this whole affair is that it seems to reveal the fact that many bishops have neither the theological sophistication and subtlety to be able to critically analyze and constructively engage an argument nor the pastoral sensitivity to generously converse with a fellow traveler."I'm not sure what argument this advances or retards, but just for my own edification I looked up the educational credentials of the nine bishops who signed the statement on Johnson. I was surprised to find that none seemed to have used a degree in canon law to reach their exalted stations, and while that was encouraging to me, all of them seem to have been formed in highly orthodox Catholic educational institutions in highly orthodox subjects. The one possible outlier is Bishop Vigneron (what a wonderful name, by the way), who has a PhD in philosophy from Catholic University, with a dissertation on Husserl. Vigneron has a French father and a German mother, so perhaps he's not linguistically challenged as badly as some of us.I do wonder, sometimes, whether a broader formation in the sciences and the liberal arts might not open our ecclesiastical leaders to the wonders of the world around us, and the varied ways we have of experiencing it. When, for instance, was the last time the average American bishop read King Lear? And how many have never read (or seen) it? One of Lear's problems was, after all, that of surrounding himself with yes-men (or, to be fair, with yes-women, like Goneril and Regan). Out goes Cordelia, who tells the truth, and look what happens.Do we have any bishops with degrees from, say, Stanford or MIT or Columbia or Amherst or Holy Cross? There must be at least some from Notre Dame? Though, as we all know, Bernard Law was a Harvard man, and look what happened to him.

Carolyn, I second your reaction to the webcast as powerful and your gratitude for the thread and LB's commentary. I agree with Bob's sense that this is yet another example of how this generation of bishops exercises power and control, and what Eric calls a disheartening unwillingness to critically and constructively engage issues. It's also pretty clear that unarticulated gendered assumptions inform their notions of authority, exercise of power, and criticisms of at least segments of the book. The pregnant body example Mollie referenced is a great example of what they assume is transparently true.

"Maybe [the bishops] should just stick to paying the bills."In all fairness, Mr. Bugyis, please, give the laity some credit :-)

Wikipedia says that Bishop Vigneron got his doctorate at C.U. in 1987. By then Msgr. Ryan, a man open to truth wherever he found it, was gone. As I remember, the faculty by then was not as open-minded as in the 60s, when Msgr. was Dean and Maritain was very influential.Bishop Vigneron's Husserl dissertation was probably done under the phenomenologist, Fr. Robert Sokolowski, a truly splendid teacher, but I always felt that he didn't approve of women in philosophy doctoral programs. Later he was quoted in the press as objecting to changing words in Scripture such as "man" to "people". Sadly, the C.U. philosophy school now seems under the influence of some highly conservative folk. It used to be a fine school.

I think a reading of the following will help all concerned:AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE MANIFESTO

Nicholas, My comment, which I realize was a little nonspecific, was meant to underscore the fact that, in spite of whatever credentials the bishops may have, their engagement with Johnson's work doesn't seem to flow from the spirit of honest dialogical inquiry. Instead of thinking with Johnson and critiquing her on her own terms, they seem to be simply isolating particular statements and holding them up against some doctrinal rubric, which will measure the degree of accuracy and precision with which they quantify "God." That's not thinking, but simply an advanced game of matching. In the end, I suspect their problem with Johnson's work has nothing to do with its specific claims, but with the overarching premise that God is a living mystery, with whom theologians are always seeking to enter into relationship. It seems, rather, that "God," for them, corresponds to a list of propositional statements, and if you fulfill enough of them in your description of "God," you can be affirmed as actually concerned with God and not something else. For them, theology seems to be a descriptive enterprise aimed at representing an object not a relational enterprise aimed at expressing the communally mediated experience of an Other. The description seems to determine the relationship, rather than the other way around. This, by the way, is the basic problem with only allowing masculine names for "God." That strikes me as idolatry, not theology. So, maybe they're just mad that Johnson is suggesting that they're not really theologians, and from their response, that seems to be the case. This, as I say, is disheartening because it suggests that the honest quest for God is not at the heart of the Church (or at least the hierarchy), but rather, the possession of "God" remains the first and last priority.

To follow up on Eric, what is one to make (though I think it's on target myself) of Horan's statemen tthat that the issue is not Johnson's theology, but the entire nortion of theoolgy and the way one group (which he refers to as radical Orthodoxy in his Poltical Theology post) has spent the past twemty years or so trying to say that is THE way way theology should be done.

Mollie, we'd agree, I'd expect, that the bishops can admire and support many, many things about feminism and still find (rightly or wrongly) things to criticize in Sr. Elizabeth's book.

What do you think bishops "admire and support" about feminism?

Jim, my point is that I can see how a person who is innately suspicious of the very idea of "feminist theology" could respond to this section of Quest for the Living God in this way -- accusing it of denying the significance of divine revelation and wanting to replace traditional names for God and all that. But I can't see how the bishops managed to read it that way.

Little Bear: one minor quibble to an otherwise superb analysis. Morlino is in Madison; Listeckis in Milwaukee.

Gerelyn, here are some US Bishops statements you can check out. And/or talk with your own bishop.

Thanks, Jimmy Mac---Madison it is.

Following up on Carolyn's wonderful link.....wonder how many of these bishops (or whoever did this analysis) have read some of her prior books & articles; studied her leadership of the CTSA; or her past/current Boston College presentations and yet presume to be qualified to pass judgment.John Allen tries to spin this positively because Rome did not weigh in; USCCB did not condemn (guess that depends upon whether you are the target or just a commentor); and USCCB makes a belated attempt to reach out to Ms. Johnson.Yet, a pattern continues that seems to limit theological works and discussion (and yet we define theology as "faith seeking understanding" vs. a catechism). There is also comment around why she did or did not seek an imprimatur which would have (supposedly) forstalled these public criticisms? Yet, what stands out is that again bishops made a public statement without ever interviewing the theologian (this approach may have had its place in the 18th century but not in the 21st century); it appears to touch on other hot button issues e.g. religious freedom; mandatum; the constant tension between theology and church leadership; boundaries between research and common church rules, etc.Here is an interesting summary of two subjects - dogmatism and authoritarianism: from Prof. Judy Johnson, associate pyschology prof at Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada.Highlights:"But regardless of their affiliations political, religious, and so on dogmatism is less defined by what people believe than how they adopt, hold, and practice their beliefs. In the final psychological analysis, dogmatism is not about dogma or ideology. It's about identity fragile, brittle identity that is externally authored.It seems reasonable to conclude that, given that features of dogmatism become manifest in social institutions, the challenge for scientists, religious leaders, and politicians indeed, for all of us is to open our minds about dogmatic thought; first and foremost our own. Humility and humanity are largely at stake, for as Voltaire said, "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd". Doubt requires humility, and if more of us were comfortable with less certainty, we would be better equipped to confront the ideological extremism of totalitarian regimes, zealous religious fundamentalism, terrorist movements, and fanaticism in general. Perhaps we would also commit the necessary resources for targeted groups particularly educators (think theologian Johnson) and parents so that new generations can experience the flexible splendor of an open mind.""

Sorry - Boston College should be Fordham.

After reading the "defense" posts at Women in Theology (, which incorporate pretty substantial quotes from the book, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that whoever wrote the Bishops' statement didn't actually read the book, or had a pretty weak background in theology, or maybe just hauled out a stock set of bullet points ("here's what we say about metaphor"). It's just silly that during the period of time they were reviewing the text, no one bothered to shoot her an email with a set of questions for clarification, because it really does seem her work was seriously misconstrued.

One more thing. I think this sentence of EricB's from above is a really interesting way to characterize two approaches to theology:"For them, theology seems to be a descriptive enterprise aimed at representing an object not a relational enterprise aimed at expressing the communally mediated experience of an Other. The description seems to determine the relationship, rather than the other way around."

"John Allen tries to spin this positively because Rome did not weigh in; USCCB did not condemn (guess that depends upon whether you are the target or just a commentor); and USCCB makes a belated attempt to reach out to Ms. Johnson." Bill deHaasHow true to form for Allen!


Thanks, Jim! Interesting list of issues the bishops consider "Women's Concerns".

I guess we can all be relieved that these days the inquistion no longers burns alleged heretics at the stake, but merely tries to ruin their reputations . So 21st. century.

Many years ago when Johnson was at Catholic U, the president there goaded by Ratzinger put her under the wringer for her theological outlook. She was truly hurt at the time and was stung by the manner and approach that only Romanita can dish out so callously. She has grown now and understands the kind of approach emanating from Rome. In addition to her smashing theology she is one of the most wonderful persons on this planet. The bishops made a more prodigious blunder than ever in attacking Beth. As much as they knew they were out of order (they kept trying to clean up their act as the ambiiguous document shows) they could not get out of their monarchical and patriarchal fixations. As these modern day Herods attempt to assassinate her we might say with conviction that "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than" her. May God protect this inspiring teacher of our time.

One thing feminism means to me is that women should get to be honest about how they feel without having to worry about conforming to anybody's idea of authentic feminism. If Kathy's not made uncomfortable by non-inclisve language, why isn't that ok?I haven't yet read Elizabeth Johnson's book, but an article on the same theme ....The Effects of Women's Experience on Their Spirituality by Sandra M. Schneiders ... a couple of books - Prayers for an Inclusive Church (Canterbury, 2008) and The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church (Canterbury, 2006), both by Steven Shakespeare.

To clarify - I do want inclusive language used, and I think Johnson's book is being unfairly critiqued by the bishops, but I also think Kathy was getting picked on.

Crystal,I understand your sentiments. Unfortunately, Kathy sides with the bishops on practically every issue. So the reaction, which I share, comes from her unwillingness to dialogue while she complains when others disagree with her. Not that it justifies anything. But Kathy has sent her share of missiles. Particularly irritating her admission that she has not read any of Johnson's book nor does she know anything about her. Yet she takes the liberty to criticize her and side with the bishops which Kathy does on every occasion. It is not a question of picking on someone. Rather it is an appeal to look at the facts rather than presuming that the bishops are always right.

And, if the value being promoted is respect for the individual experience of women, then one ought not dismiss the experience of women who do object to exclusionary language as merely that of a minority of "liberals" and a certain "professional class."

No, I understand. And actually I'd suspect that the majority of women would like inclusive language. I know I would. Who knows when we'll see that in our church - those books I mentioned above by Steven Shakespeare are for the Anglican Church ;)

The whole point of wymynism is that the Creator messed up. If anything, the bishops have done too little to warn against such an ideology.I'm trying to imagine eternal debates over wymynism going on in heaven. Sounds more like the other place.

j.a.m, Would it be possible to keep the discussion respectful?

We understand j.a.m. Eve did it. So you have no responsibility. And God is not merciful because She is truly masculine.

"The whole point of wymynism [sic] is that the Creator messed up." How sweet that you've been inspired to neologism! Have you been secretly reading Mary Daly?I've never heard a Catholic theologian informed by feminism make such a claim. If your statement was intended as anything in addition to an expression of your emotional state, perhaps you could take a moment and provide citations to primary sources. Thanks so much!

With thanks to Crystal, I would nevertheless explain that my concern is not whether I've been picked on, but whether there exists an atmosphere of dialogue surrounding important questions.

Kathy - your use of the word, "dialogue", is sort of like Bill Clinton - it all depends upon how you interpret the word "is". Dialogue requires that you listen first; then, respectfully ask questions. There is no defensiveness in dialogue; there are no efforts wasted on "defending"a position, dogma, catechetical statement.It is difficult to dialogue when you start with someone else's statement about a book that you have not even read. It goes further - raising questions such as....have you ever read anything by Johnson; have you heard her speak; are you knowlegable of her positions and history at CUA and now Fordham - her leadership of CTSA.You made comments above that started with a second if not third level of documentation - a version of commenting on what you have heard or read without ever moving to primary sources. (in some ways, not much different from what Wuerl/USCCB has done here) It reminds me of a favorite movie - "Absence of Malice" - which did a brillant job of showing how institutions could destroy a good person's name and integrity (without violating legalities) - as said illustrated the difference between canon law as de jure and morality (Ladislas Orsy has a whole book on how canon law is premised on clerical jurisdiction which is not the heart of a moral code and many question whether it is even a historical basis for good canon law) . Little Bear's Morlino story is primary documentation (empirical) versus argumentative.

Hi, Crystal, nice to cross paths with you again! As a fellow former Anglican, perhaps you remember the kerfuffle over the 1979 BCP, which includes traditional and contemporary liturgical language? If memory serves, more people were exercised about the IDEA of inclusive language than the actual language changes themselves. My guess is that that's b/c "inclusive language" is, in some folks' minds, code for "International Feminist Conspiracy takeover of our church."Perhaps Sr. Johnson makes this point: Scripture is already full of images of both a maternal and paternal God. It's often liturgical language that fails to reflect God's dual nature as Creator--and not just in the RC Church. I'd like to see God's duality reflected tastefully in the liturgy more, but I mostly feel this is merely my personal problem, and not a reason to fall out with the Church.On the other hand, perhaps there's a reason why I haven't given up using the 1979 BCP for personal devotions ...

Bill,I took issue with a point made in a blog post. As far as I can tell, the issue I raised has still never been substantially engaged. There are doubtless some women who find masculine images for God off-putting, but that does not mean "women" as such have experienced strong discomfort! It certainly doesn't mean, by extension, that "women" as such want or need an overhaul of theology! One can ARGUE that, but one cannot OBSERVE that.Instead of engaging my initial comment, there was an immediate attack. What does this say about dialogue in general? Is it open? If someone progressive says something that admits of doubt, and someone on the right says, "I doubt that for xyz reasons," what happens then?

Nonsense, Kathy. Youre not being persecuted or cut off from dialogue; youre being prevented from changing the subject. One can indeed OBSERVE that women have been troubled by exclusively masculine/hierarchical images for God, regardless of whether you are one of those women. Its not controversial (much like the definition of the word neuralgic), and its not the point of this post, and we are not discussing it further. The dialogue in these comments will just have to be about something other than you.

I think the feminism issue has an intersting future edge to it as more laity and women particulaly enter the world of becoming theologians as there are serious questions raised by the uSCCB action about serious theological discussion.IMO much disappointment in Fr. Weinandy who, if I read views here right, wants to make his way (remember the Tilley CTSA dustup) THE way by enlisting the episcopal club instead of the broad venue of peer review.Is a signal being sent out to young theologians and young women theologians in particular to hue that line of method?

Hi Jean :)Actually, I'm not a convert from the Anglican Church but from being an athesit (does that count as "conversion")? But I am interested in the Anglican Church and do visit the Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans regularly.I've been following their views on women priests/boshops, with NT Wright's defense of that to Cardinal Kasper a few years ago - Women Bishops: A Response to Cardinal Kasper - and also keeping my eye on the Inclusive Church stuff ... keep hoping the Catholic Church will go this way soon.

this structural defect has alienated many educated Catholic womenNo doubt they'd like to get the Mother of God and Mother of the Church in a room and give her an "education".But someone who confuses education with a silly political ideology has been educated beyond his/her intelligence.

"silly political ideology"I realize that "feminism" is a term that has accrued unwanted layers of meaning like fungus on a damp rug.But "feminism" in its purest sense simply means equal rights, protections, and responsibilities for women. That means I can own and inherit property, drive a car, wear what and marry whom I want (however ill-advised those choices), sue someone, receive fair wages, and have the obligation to pay taxes, support my children, and meet debt obligations.What some women have done under the guise of feminism may indeed be silly, cruel, criminal, or short-sighted. Just as what people have done under the guise of Christianity is not everything God would have wanted. Whence the vitriol against well-educated Catholic feminists?

"...whence the vitriol"? Good question. If there's an actual argument, we've yet to hear it, not to mention primary sources to support these assertions you've made about feminist theology. There's room for discussion. No need to be so, um what's the word? shrill about it.

JEan --What I find most encouraging about feminism these days is that I find that most men are willing to re-think what they used to think about women's abilities and "women's place". Most still have a way to go, but they're trying. But in any group there will be blind folks, and unfair ones, and just plain dumb ones who can't change. And, as you indicate, there are even some women like that :-)

Since you can always find more than one woman who will agree with ANY statement. any statement that contains the phrase "women feel..." has no meaning. If you want to make a cogent point, you'll have to work much harder than that.It reminds me of Andy Rooney's line: Did you ever notice that when one side of the political spectrum gangs up, it's to attack, and when the other side of the political spectrum gangs up, it's to protect?

"Since you can always find more than one woman who will agree with ANY statement, any statement that contains the phrase 'women feel' has no meaning."I wouldn't disagree. Certainly, it's more useful to talk about what most American, Catholic, Christian, Republican women think on a given topic.As William Blake once said, "To generalize is to be an idiot." Certainly, I would include that statement covers such generalities as, "Did you ever notice that when one side of the political spectrum gangs up, its to attack, and when the other side of the political spectrum gangs up, its to protect?"But, then, I have rarely found Andy Rooney's trivialities worth listening to.

To get back to the original post..............Last month Cardinal Burke gave a presentation in Australia....his theme was Catholic identity versus relativism/secularism.Hamilton, SJ in Australia suggests (not unlike Johnson in her book) that Burke started with the wrong question - it is not fundamentally an identity question but rather "what matters" or "what do we need to do for others". This seems to touch on one issue in terms of what the USCCB is stating about theologian Johnson and her response published in NCR. It indicates that the USCCB's starting point is reinforcing identity rather than Johnson's starting point. He supports her response that the USCCB did not understand her fundamental approach:Here is a link to his article using the Parable of the Good Samaritan: "The difficulty with preoccupation with Catholic identity is that it stands in such conflict with the central movement of the Gospel expressed, for example, in the story of the Good Samaritan."- "The story suggests that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us. Identity questions fix our attention on the group to which we belong. The question Jesus asks invites us to look through the eyes of strangers. Only from that perspective can we safely reflect on our group."Would suggest that this is what Sr. Johnson is doing in her book. Whether you want to label or condemn that as some type of "feminism" or realize that the struggle for equity and equality between genders continues to be a major/significant issue in this current world....evidence: women fighting for rights in 50% of the world; the current lawsuit at the Supreme Court with Walmart and female employees; our recent memories of the role of G. Ferraro. Would suggest that the church; its liturgy; its theology needs to address these issues and that Sr. Johnson has given language to this struggle.

If anyone doubts the depravity that sexism can lead to, read the appalling book review in today's' NYT about what is happening in China to girl babies. There girls are not even considered by some to be human and are killed at will at birth. Yes, parents and midwives often kill them when upon being born it is discovered that they are girls, not the desired sons.

Not sure the "political spectrum" is relevant here, Jean. The "right" and "left" are theological, and the main issue is whether ethics drives hermeneutics or the other way around.The background question is whether it is possible to even have a conversation about that.

Kathy - would strongly suggest that it is "both/and".........plenty of examples in history and how the church has had to change its positions e.g. slavery; democracy; religious freedom; usury; etc. BTW - those historical examples are empirical and not just argumentative.

Not sure how this gets us back to the original post, but since it was raised:The word "identity" does not appear in Cardinal Burke's homily. Oops!And no, nothing in his homily can remotely be construed as dissing the example of the Good Samaritan.If only Andrew Hamilton had sought to engage Cardinal Burke in dialog before letting loose with scurrilous non sequiturs.Oh wait now we are back to the original post.

Any fair-minded reader of Burke's speech would have no difficulty identifying his underlying thematic as contrasting Catholic identity with secular relativistic western identity. How did you miss that? Perhaps you just did a "find" function for the word "identity" and didn't actually read the speech.You impose meanings where they are not (e.g., Sr. Johnson as a feminist theologianess thinks God was wrong) and ignore them where they are (e.g., Burke wasn't talking about what it means to be Catholic in a sinful world), as long as what you end up with fits your preconceptions (feminist theologians are silly; Bishops are presumptively right). That's a shame.

No mandatum or imprimatur required? How exactly do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Sorry, but Cardinal Burke's homily simply doesn't say what Hamilton uncharitably implies, and frankly it's a stretch even to claim that its "theme" is "identity".And I'm sorry, but yes, the presumption (not certainty) of being right is inherent in the office of bishop. As for academic theologians, they don't even concern themselves anymore with anything so pedestrian as being "right," do they?

What precisely do you think Burke's theme is? Enlighten us. Only sheer obstinance can explain your inability to comprehend Burke's purposes/theme. Sheesh, in the first 5 sentences alone, before he's even finished the throat-clearing he's made 4 references to Catholic/Christian culture (are you such a literalist you need the word "identity" to appear before you get it?) and then proceeds to spend the time contrasting the depraved and fallen West with the true faith of real Catholics. It's not so complicated a speech that he's buried his point in nuance or sophisticated theology. Speaking of which, there's no point in taking your last question seriously, as you clearly don't read any. With the exception of the bishops' apologists, of course, but they aren't doing theology, now are they?

Bill,Do you think that democracy and the theology of God are on the same level of doctrine?

The issue is Hamilton's failure to engage in "dialog" with Cardinal Burke before dishonestly misrepresenting his words. To borrow from this thread, Hamilton's engagement with Burkes work doesnt seem to flow from the spirit of honest dialogical inquiry. Instead of thinking with Burke and critiquing him on his own terms, Hamilton emits preposterous and scurrilous non sequiturs.You're right that Cardinal Burke does not seem to concern himself unduly with nuance or "sophisticated theology." That's because his job is to teach, and academic obfuscation is incompatible with teaching.Cardinal Burke is talking about building up the Kingdom of God in a world enslaved by sin. If professional theologians and theologianesses think that's not his job, then God help us.

Obvious troll is obvious.

Thank you, Abe. Earnest commenters: please don't feed the trolls.

I made a post a little while back deploring the apparent narrowness of education in at least some of our bishops (and other leaders of various sorts). Burke's Australian talk is a perfect example of what I mean. I don't know about his education myself, but he shows absolutely no sense of history -- even Church history -- at all. He talks about tradition and fidelity to the papal magisterium -- but which papal magisterium does he have in mind, apart from JPII and Benedict XVI whom he quotes? Are we somehow to dismiss all their predecessors, many of whom, in encyclicals, bulls, and so forth said things quite at variance with those quoted? Indeed one could make a good argument that it is fidelity to the papacy's historical magisterium that led Lefebvre and his followers to act as they have.A quick reading of, say, some of the pronouncements of Gregory XVI and Pius IX will illustrate what I mean. And they are relatively recent (19th century), as opposed to the popes of the Renaissance or the Middle Ages (try Boniface VIII for instance). I imagine that people like Burke have been taught church history -- at least some of it. But I suspect it's in a highly selective way, that avoids the difficult questions.For the record it seems quite clear to me that Burke was talking about Catholic identity, whether or not he used the term.

Kathy - "theology of God" - isn't this redundant? and what exactly does it mean? theology starts with human beings seeking to understand themselves and their relationship to God. democracy - one of many examples in which grace has built on nature. Theology is analogy (unless you are a fundamentalist and believe that God gave us directly who and what he is? - please describe that process for me. Well, you may have done that since you have now "inserted" the word doctrine. Isn't doctrine the result of human beings discovering something about our relationship to God? Basically, IMO, there are two simplistic approaches to theology: one uses scripture, analogy, stories, images to capture our understanding of relationships and sacraments; the other approach believes that authority via catechetical truths, doctrines, dogmas gives us our understanding of God. Would suggest that Jesus used the former approach and most theology is about the former approach not the latter.); IMO, separating what happens in human history from our understanding of God leaves us with an impoverished understanding of God.

Hi, Nicholas,I agree with everything that you have stated. I do teach Church History and I am horrified at how little so many Catholics know about what paths the Church has been down. And history can be taught in an exciting manner-----it doesn't have to be boring. I am waiting for some high ranking prelate someday to start dictating what may and may not be presented in a church history course.I have no doubt that what seminarians learn about church history is very limited and extremely selective. If they just learned about all the Church Councils (and the issues that the Councils dealt with---or failed to deal with), they should have many questions about current practices. Even reading the encyclicals dealing with the church's social teachings and the documents of the USCCB dealing with social justice----and really analyzing them----would give thema broader understanding of the shifts in the thinking of the church. It has slowly moved back and forth (and during the last and current pontificate---back again).

- The difficulty with preoccupation with Catholic identity is that it stands in such conflict with the central movement of the Gospel expressed, for example, in the story of the Good Samaritan.- The story suggests that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us. Identity questions fix our attention on the group to which we belong. The question Jesus asks invites us to look through the eyes of strangers. Only from that perspective can we safely reflect on our group.Thanks, Bill deHaas, for getting us all back on track. Very interesting way to look at the tension Sr. Johnson's book has created. I don't want to parse things too finely, here, but isn't it possible that a true Catholic identity (vs. a preoccupation with rules, protecting sacraments from the unworthy, and purifying the body of Christ by getting rid of the disobedient) IS outward looking? As a convert (albeit a very bad one), I wasn't attracted to Catholicism because I wanted to "be a Catholic" in the same way people want to be Free Masons or Rotarians, but because Catholicism seemed to me to be the truest way to be Christ to others.Perhaps Sr. Johnson's book is a call back to an earlier sense of Catholic identity that one sees in the great evangelists of the Middle Ages and in those who work with the poor and disenfranchised like Mother Teresa.

"Youre right that Cardinal Burke does not seem to concern himself unduly with nuance or sophisticated theology. Thats because his job is to teach, and academic obfuscation is incompatible with teaching"j.a.m. --Oh, now I get it. YOu think the function of bishops is to engage in a lot of simple-minded rhetoric that makes his sheep feel good.

" Indeed one could make a good argument that it is fidelity to the papacys historical magisterium that led Lefebvre and his followers to act as they have."Nicholas C, --Indeed, this is why I have a lot of sympathy for the Lefebrists. They were brought up with the papal teachings since Vat I, and all of a sudden (to them) their spotty theological rug was pulled out from under them. They have a point, and it's not being met adequately.

Actually, a bishop's function is to engage in simple-minded rhetoric that makes his sheep feel uncomfortable.A bishop is a teacher, not an academic. Most academics would be poor bishops. To observe that, if one must choose, a wise bishop is preferable to a highly-educated one, is not to advocate simple-mindedness or anti-intellectualism. It is simply an observation about human nature.The current Bishop of Rome is a highly-educated intellectual and I'll hazard a guess is not this crowd's first choice as a model bishop.

Bill,I don't think our theology is limited to what we can say about our relationship to God. That is one of its starting points: since Athanasius, Christology has derived its arguments from soteriology. But Scripture is another starting point.I think "analogy" has something more to offer than mere metaphor. It's a tighter link. Metaphor links unlike things, while analogy shows the likeness between like things. Regarding the subject at hand, I'm personally intrigued by St. Paul's expression in Eph. 3:15. He says that all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its name from the Father. I take this verse as a datum that indicates that not only is there an analogy between human fatherhood and God the Father, but goes much further. I think Paul is indicating that earthly fatherhood is the analogate! Earthly fatherhood (earthly familyhood) participates in the one Fatherhood.

j.a.m. --What a weird notion you have of bishops, and human nature for that matter. To listen to you you'd think that ordinary people are incapable of being rational. Are you a bishop?

I thought about this thread and especially the most recent comments, and, the letter we had read from our Abp. on cohabiation and all its evils and I just see the polarization and loss of sense of unity in our Church growing.The impact on many young who seek "spiituality" apart from organized relogion is undoubtedly fed by the back and forth (which unfortunately suffers from any desire for common ground or genuine dialog.)I think this wil also move man young women away from the perceived "know your place" approach .I finally as I read this cannot understand how anyone can't see Cardinal Burke pushing the "distinctively Catholic" identity that divides many; his approach is right out of the school of "radical orthodoxy."

To the contrary, I would argue that those who must earn their bread toiling in the real world (if that is what you mean by "ordinary people") by and large have a greater capacity for rational thought than most ivory-tower academics. But the point is that a bishop's flock includes people from all walks of life and all levels of intellectual ability but precious few whose temporal responsibilities leave much time for esoterica.

Kathy - as usual, you quote one line from scripture and build an empire? Paul was also a man of his time - he used metaphor and analogy from his time. You don't see that?

@ Kathy, re: "I think analogy has something more to offer than mere metaphor. Its a tighter link. Metaphor links unlike things, while analogy shows the likeness between like things."These definitions make sense on a certain level. But even in the most ontologically robust sense of analogy, the "unlikeness" is stronger than the "likeness." And I think the way that Johnson is using metaphor is much much more similar to your understanding of analogy then your understanding of metaphor. I don't mean to be combative - I take your point that it is important to make distinctions between a thick sense of participation and a merely pedagogical linguistic pairing. I think this is exactly the crux of the issue. I just want to question whether we can map this on to analogy and metaphor without examining how a thinker is using those words in context. Unfortunately the way that various theologians, philosophers, and linguists have used these words in the past 50 years make it difficult to assume stable meanings. And this is complicated by the fact that these are words that have meaning outside of theology. It seems to me that most of the Bishops' critiques are rooted in a misunderstanding of what Johnson means by "metaphor," which is why I think it's worth noting here.

J.a.m. -- If academe doesn't teach basics about the real world, why do doctors and lawyers, businessmen, geologists, etc., have to get undergraduate degrees? Sorry that your own education seems to have been so inadequate that you have generalized from it that all higher education is fiction.

Thanks, Ms. Kidd - very insightful and IMO you hit the nail on the head.

Kathy - I would not worry about inclusive language; more than likely that was considered by ICEL and is tended properly in the new translation of the Roman Missal. The bishops worked a long time on the new translation, it was reveiwed by many Roman and Anglo eyes, and most probably they got the balance correct.

"It seems to me that most of the Bishops critiques are rooted in a misunderstanding of what Johnson means by metaphor, which is why I think its worth noting here."Erin,Do you mean to say that the bishops understand Johnson's feminine metaphors to be thicker than she intends them to be? Could you please spell out the misunderstanding?

At the end of the Day, when one considers the fact that there is no mandatum, no imprimatur and no disciplinary measures, this is just another one of those occasional shout-outs to make it appear as if The Committee on Doctrine is not a charade.

Hi Kathy, I'd be happy to explain. I assumed that you were referring to the Bishops' use of analogy and metaphor in their critique of Johnson. She argues that all language for God is metaphorical (this is a much broader claim for her - she speaks only a little about specifically "feminine" God-talk). The Bishops spend a huge amount of time in the statement critiquing this understanding of metaphor as too thin, claiming the Johnson doesn't believe that language for can "attain to God" (Cathechism, no. 43). I wasn't intending to defend any particular metaphors, but to argue that though the word "metaphor" may seem inappropriate given how we normally use the word (in your definition, a comparison of unlike things) she is actually using it in a very robust sense, that I think abides by the Catechisms twofold declaration that language does not "express" God but it does "attain to" God. If that's not what you were originally talking about, then please excuse my misunderstanding!

If I may add to this Ms. Kidd - comment from the past president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology concerning his role with the new, pending implementation of MR3 in the liturgy. He has resigned from the board of the Liturgy Center of St. Louis University: section from his letter which pertains to Sr. Johnson and the USCCB criticique and also follows up on your metaphor comment:-"Why not commission a new version that is faithful to the editio typica, but yet produced by the top theologians and poets? In my experience the best preaching is rooted in metaphors that present the mysteries of the faith in a new light helping us to grasp them just a bit more fully. Could we not also avail ourselves of this fresh metaphorical language in our liturgical texts as well? Can we not preserve doctrine and metaphor? Words matter and not just because they enforce doctrine. They also incite the imagination and enable the gifts of the Holy Spirit to deepen our grasp of Gods presence in our lives."Is this not what Sr. Johnson has tried to do?

Like everyone who has studied Christianity in a Catholic University over the past thirty years, I was assigned She Who Is in a number of classes. I really liked it and used it in teaching my own classes. I haven't read Quest for the Living God, but I just ordered it, and I am looking forward to reading it. I have always found Johnson to be thoughtful and responsible in her writings. In short, I dont believe her to be a radical feminist: her work has assisted and not hurt the Churchs view on who God really is...A few reflections:1)The tone of the USCCB response is quite derisive, using words like radical over and over, and I agree with Grant, there seems to be some underlying suspicion that this work is a thinly veiled attempt to promote women's ordination. Me thinks thou protests too much, comes to mind. I cannot understand any other reason for such an disrespectful attitude towards such a prominent theologian in the church. At the very least, Johnson should have been given the opportunity to respond.2)Johnsons promotion of a Moltmann like passibility of God is nothing new, so I dont really see why this is unworthy of academic or even popular discussion, or particularly dangerous for the faithful.3)I still dont know why the USCCB had a problem with her claim that all names for God are metaphors. Mustnt he be a metaphor for someone who is spirit? I think this goes back to a fear of womens ordination again. Theologically it seems weak.4)The response also attacks Johnsons view of universal salvation, but it doesnt seem that her views go any farther than Rahners anonymous Christian, or even JPIIs response on salvation of non- Christians in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.5)Perhaps the most worrisome area of the response deals with how Johnsons panentheism reverts into pantheism. This could be a problem in confusing the creator/created dichotomy. Another area at issue may be Johnsons Christology and interpretation of the person of Jesus and the Trinity at Nicea. Ill have to read the book to see if I agree with the USCCBs take on this. But here again it seems that a reflection on anthropological terms in Trinitarian theology could be helpful as well.

From "Beyond Utterance", the review of the book on the Commonweal website:"The liturgy, complete with the chants, incense, and marigolds of a typical Hindu ceremony... is a new rite approved by Rome." Yikes!I wonder who in Rome has decided that God Has Revealed we may now worship false idols? It would explain why the several priests on the Altar did not seem concerned when a Hindu woman started to chant during the Consecration at a Mass by the outdoor Chapel in Fatima that I attended the week after Pope Benedict was there this past May. I thought it was strange, but now, not so much. I wonder what is going on at The Vatican these days?

Sorry, but I'm a little late to this all. That being said ----Dealing with non-exclusive language isnt terribly difficult. For instance, there have been any number of inclusive language translations of the Psalms. Here is a short list of what is already in existence:Psalter for the Christian People: An Inclusive-Language Revision of the Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer (1979 Pueblo Books)Joseph A. Arackal, V.C., ( has been a Catholic pioneer in the use of inclusive language and his publications include: Praying in Inclusive Language: Morning & Evening Prayer - The Four Week Psalter (1992 Patmos Publications) and The Psalms in Inclusive Language (1993 The Liturgical Press). For a sample of his translation, go here: He also has produced a book entitled Twenty-Two Gathering Prayers: Praying in Inclusive Language (1992 Sheed and Ward).The bottom line is that producing credible inclusive language prayers for Catholic audiences is not exactly rocket science. Its a matter of willingness, not possibility.

j.a.m. So long as a bishop engages the people in his diocese as "his sheep" they most certainly will continue to feel uncomfortable and, in many cases, unwilling to even give him the benefit of the doubt.A good shepherd is one who can honestly say that "I know mine and mine know me," not "bleat on cue - but only after you write that weekly check."

Nancy asked: "How exactly do you separate the wheat from the chaff?"How about vigorous debate among people who have READ and UNDERSTOOD what has been written?

Nancy, nothing in the rite described (among many) by Johnson has anything to do with idol worship. And, unless your talents extend to South Asian languages and you've translated the chants you heard at Fatima as "Up with Vishnu! Down with Jesus!" I doubt there's any reason for concern, anymore than the old ladies incessantly muttering in Polish during Masses in Chicago should send up red flags there's heresy afoot. The Mary's Gold (marigolds) are just flowers. Is laying roses at the foot of a statue of Mary idol worshop? Unless you're aware of something about the context of the use of incense and flowers in the rite described, you seem to be over-reacting to label it idol worship. Don't make the same mistake some Protestants make about Catholic symbolism and ritual.

Mary, and "a typical Hindu ceremony" is a metaphor for? Not to mention that Hindu worship IS false idol worship and has nothing to do with Jesus, so NO debate is needed. Who in the Vatican approved this Hindu rite, Mary?

Please do read it again, Nancy, because, no, even the part you quoted did not say that a Hindu ceremony was held. It said things that are often used in typical Hindu ceremonies were used in a Catholic ritual--it did not say their symbolic function or content was the same as when they are used in a Hindu ritual, or that any were used in a manner inconsistent with Catholicism. Given that you're just plain wrong to label it idol worship, I can't imagine why anyone should care what Vatican bureaucrat approved it.

"I can't imagine why anyone should care what Vatican bureaucrat approved it."It being the use of chanting, incense and flowers of a typical Hindu ceremony. Perhaps I should remind you that it was Christ Who instituted The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.(CCC nos.1339-1340)

Nancy, you have plainly uncovered a conspiracy that goes right to the top. Under the circumstances I think you'll agree that what Sr. Johnson wrote or didn't write is irrelevant, and therefore you're in the wrong place. Please direct further queries to the appropriate Vatican office.

Nancy --Do you mean that Sr. Roberta who taught us Gregorian chant was really a Hindu in disguise? Shame on her!!! I bet she wore a sari under her habit. No wonder nuns' habits covered them from head to toe -- they were covering saris!! The nuns were probably all part of the conspiracy! And Father Reynolds who bought the incense and the ladies altar society who brought the flowers were all in on it! Shame! Shame!! Do you realize that 'pitR" in Sanskrit means "father", just like "pater" in Latin?? And to think all those years when I thought Father was praying in Latin he was really speaking Hindu. Sneaky!!!

Maybe tangentially relevant--since the discussion has tended toward gender inclusivity in general and now cultural inclusivity: The Church, for centuries, has allowed converts to incorporate cultural symbols into its practices (saints' lives in early Christian Britain used the symbol of the stag, which represented royalty, to represent Christ). Anglo-Saxon translations of the Gospels characterized the apostles as "leorning cnichtas" (knights of learning) who followed Christ as if he were a Germanic tribal king.About eight miles north of my house is the tiny Czech parish of St. Cyril, where the priest still says Mass in Czech, and there's a "polka Mass" every year. Mother Teresa chose saris as habits for her nuns. In northern Michigan, the Native American parish of St. Kateri Tekakwitha uses uses Ojibwa chants and drums, which are sacred to the tribe in the Mass (it was approved by the diocese through the Vatican).In other words, there is nothing new about cultural inclusivity in the Church. I'm curious to know whether Nancy puts up a Christmas tree ...

There is a difference between the culture of India and Hinduism, and that difference makes all the difference. For example, a Catholic from India would worship The Blessed Trinity, NOT the blessed quadinity.

Nancy, that's enough. Seriously.

I see from the Women's Ordination Committee that Roy B. will not be recanting (no surprise there) and that the non-recanting will be public--a Friday speech at the doors of the Vatican embassy in D.C.

Erin,Yes, I think that the bishops were trying to say that "metaphor" in a thin sense is not an adequate descriptor of the knowledge we have of God in revelation. How do you understand Johnson's image, quoted by the bishops: "Our language is like a finger pointing to the moon, not the moon itself"? I've spent some time with these texts over the last few days, including everything in Johnson's book that Amazon shows for free. I think that the bishops' statement is clear and accurate as far as I can tell. The Quest book is in fact written for non-specialists. This is exactly the kind of book that religion professors all over the US would present to their freshmen and sophomores to clear the decks, to begin anew, unless there was some move made to influence administrators.I happen to agree with the perspective presented by the bishops regarding both the knowability of God and the distinction between the divine order and the order of creation. The first paragraph on page 17 is something I have wanted to say in my own writing. I also think that the tone of the bishops' statement is measured. It does not conform to theological discourse in the academic sense. The conventions of the theological academy severely limit the ratio of criticism to exposition, and this statement definitely exceeds that ratio. It's a teaching document, and a good one, I think.

A while back, we had a thread on a group of young catholic moral theologians who were trying to stay above the "liberal/conservative" divide.They offer a perspective on April 4 on Johnson and the Bishops on their blog.It notes( I thought interestingly) how the divide afects their own discipline after the hoped for beginning at Trent turned to finger pointing.It places well(I thought) the role of the theologian .Much of this discussion as well as the Bourgeois discusion below tends to be one way or the other and how authority is and I think should be used.We are truly caught in the problem of how to move forward in our understanding of our faith in terms of the real pluralistic changing world we live in.The problem of the Defenders of the Faith (as they've been called here) is that that engagement only happens on one side of the divide.This thread again shows the problem of even getting past the divide.

Amazon provides nine pages of content from Quest for the Living God.

You can see more pages when you sign in. Still, point taken.

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