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Catholic Theological Society of America board on Elizabeth Johnson.

The CTSA board of directors has issued a response to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine's critique [PDF] of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God (blogged about here, here, and here).

Our intent here is to voice our serious concerns regarding three issues: 1) the fact that, in this matter, the bishops did not follow the procedures set forth in their own document, Doctrinal Responsibilities; 2) a misreading of Professor Johnsons work in the statement; 3) the troubling implications the statement presents for the exercise of our vocation as theologians.

The CTSA board members are "greatly disturbed" by the bishops' failure to engage Johnson in conversation about her work, as mandated by the "Doctrinal Responsibilities" document that was overwhelmingly approved by the bishops conference in 1989.They also note that the Committee on Doctrine unfairly faults Johnson "repeatedly for holding the position that God is 'unknowable' on the grounds that she maintains that our human words cannot completely capture the divine reality." They write:

This is a surprising leap in logic, not warranted by Professor Johnsons modest, and quite traditionally Catholic, claim that our human words cannot completely capture the divine reality. It is difficult for us to imagine that Professor Johnson, who has written so elegantly and movingly about the divine mystery throughout her career, lacks a heartfelt intention to say something modestly truthful about God based on Gods revelation in Scripture and Tradition.

Finally, CTSA board members take issue with the Committee on Doctrine's rather cramped view of theology. "To suggest that a theologian who engages in the difficult task of interpreting revelation for present times and cultures is denying the knowability of the very revelationthe Word of Godthat theological reflection takes as its authoritative source, strikes us as a fundamental misunderstanding of the ecclesial vocation of the theologian."

About those "Doctrinal Responsibilities": AsNCR hasreported, the bishops of the Committee on Doctrine failed to follow their own guidelines on dealing with disputes between theologians and bishops.

According to guidelines approved by the U.S. bishops in 1989, doctrinal disputes with theologians are to be kept as local as possible and are to follow carefully delineated steps involving dialogue with the theologian to clarify data, meaning and the relationship with Catholic tradition while identifying the implications for the life of the church.

The committee, however, chose not to notify Johnson -- viewed as one of the nations leading systematic theologians -- that it had undertaken a study of her book. It did not engage her in conversation before issuing its findings.

[...]

Titled Doctrinal Responsibilities: Approaches to Promoting Cooperation and Resolving Misunderstandings between Bishops and Theologians, it included an approving appendix letter written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

So, why didn't the Committee on Doctrine bother to contact Elizabeth Johnson before critiquing her book? Fr. Thomas Weinandy, executive secretary of the committee, explains:

The bishops felt that, all things being equal, those guidelines should be or can be employed. But when it seems imperative that something needs to be said and said soon, that cannot always be done. The book was out there for three years before it was brought to our attention, so I think the bishops were wanting to clarify the situation as quickly as they could.

When asked how long the bishops committee had been looking at Johnsons book, the priest said probably a year or so, from beginning to end.

[...]

Weinandy, who has been the executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine since 2005, lamented that in past instances dialogue with theologians came to nothing.

While the committee wants to be fair, he said, its ultimate responsibility is to ensure that the faithful receive the faith as it is proclaimed and believed by the church. That was very much on their [the committees] mind in this particular book.

Weinandy also urged theologians to seek dialogue before publication of their works either in the form of animprimatur, an official declaration from a bishop that the book is in accord with Catholic teaching, or by meeting personally with a bishop.

If dialogue is to take place, then dialogue should start prior to publication of the book and not afterwards, said Weinandy. Otherwise the bishops are always caught trying to play catch-up. And so theyre always at a disadvantage.

Never mind that an imprimatur is usually handled locally--and hardly conclusively.Do Weinandy's explanations add up? Quest for the Living God was published in 2007. What does it mean to be caught off guard by a four-year-old book? Apparently the committee acted in response to complaints from certain bishops. But it took them a year after fielding those complaints to issue their critique. And over the course of that year they could not bring themselves to engage the theologian whose book they accused of undermining the gospel because, according to this report, "in past instances dialogue with theologians 'came to nothing.'"

That may be the case, but even so, why not try? Does the Committee on Doctrine realize that their document could result in the expulsion of Johnson's books from the curriculums of Catholic colleges and seminaries?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

The trouble is that the theology used by the bishops is hermeneutically naive, blunt, heavy-handed.

The Society's statement is a nicely crafted defense. Weinandy's statements make very little sense given the timing involved--not to mention that no one seems to be able to back up the Bishops' hysterical claims with evidence from the actual book. The bishops don't want theologians. They want apologists.

Amen, Mary. Another sign of a profound loss of faith on the part of the institutional church.

"But it took them a year after fielding those complaints to issue their critique."And if they had issued their critique more quickly, say a week or two after fielding the complaints, would you not be complaining that the bishops failed to consider the book deeply enough? That they acted in haste?There are two distinct issues here, it seems; (1) the content of the book and the bishops' critique of it in theological terms and (2) the right of bishops to do so, or the manner in which they did so.The former is pertinent, the latter is not.

No. And those are three issues, not two. The manner of the critique and the right of the bishops to issue it are not the same thing. Increasingly, it seems, bishops and their defenders claim that criticism of episcopal arguments amount to an attempt to curtail the rights of their office. Of course, one can acknowledge the right of bishops to criticize the work of theologians (or anyone else) while disagreeing with their arguments.

(2) becomes pertinent to the extent folks claim exigence as the reason for why they weren't able to take the time to contact Johnson in order to seek clarification. Whether they should have done so isn't the point here, merely that their explanation for not contacting her is silly. They'd've had more credibility if they'd just left it at "we're bishops--our position of power means we aren't the ones who should initiate contact."

"Theyd've had more credibility if theyd just left it at were bishopsour position of power means we arent the ones who should initiate contact.Ahem. I can easily imagine the storm of indignation which would be expressed here if they had asserted their authority in that manner!In the Phoenix hospital case, it turned out that Bishop Olmsted had, in fact, initiated quiet, private discussion with the hospital administrators for more than a year expressing concern with a multitude of issues. It was only with the abortion that the final straw came about and Bp Olmsted made public his statement that the hospital was not "Catholic". Yet I recall no one here commending Bp Olmsted for having privately communicated with the dissenting hospital administrators, etc. Yet now, the bishops are condemned for not previously engaging with Sister Elizabeth?Easy to imagine the fruitlessness of that anyway: If the bishops had communicated their concerns to her, is there any chance she would have reasonably seen their point? She had books in print, a reputation as a dissenting theologian to uphold. She is going to fold, preemptively to the dreaded hierarchy? And what if she did? Issue another edition of the book immediately, to correct her errors? Is this not pure fantasy? And if so, is the condemnation of the bishops for not privately engaging with Sister Elizabeth exposed as a red herring?As Grant and others argued on an earlier thread: make your case against the actual critique of the bishops, if you can. Personally, the basic fact is that the book is not Catholic. I'm sure it passes all sorts of New Age theology tests with flying colors, but that is not what the bishops had to say. They criticized the book as not in conformance with the teachings of Catholicism. I have not seen anything yet that contradicts the bishops on that point.

Since Sr. Johnson's book "completely undermines the Gospel", other theologians must be wondering how their works in progress will be received. They must be asking themselves, what kind of book do bishops want?Here's a model: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3g99btlIt's called Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. It's big, nearly 900 pages. Its editor is Mark Miravalle, S.T.D., of the Franciscan U. at Steubenville. Like Sr. Johnson's book, this one was published in 2007, when Archbishop Raymond Burke was still in St. Louis. He awarded the book his imprimatur and wrote the foreword. He, along with Scott Hahn, supplied a blurb for the back cover in which he says it is his hope that the book will "become a standard textbook in seminaries, programs of diaconal formation", etc. The nihil obstat was awarded by Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, F.I., who also contributed a 64-page section of the book.See page 885 for the list of fifteen men who were contributors to this book about a woman. All are priests, except two. Many are members of the Franciscans Friars of the Immaculte.

They *did* "assert their authority in that manner." Then they made up nonsense about urgency. We're used to them behaving officiously. Now they come off as dishonest, as well. All I'm saying is they compounded their existing pr problem, which you describe.

You're full of imaginings this morning, P. Let's deal with reality for the moment. The Committee on Doctrine failed to follow their own guidelines in this case. And, according to the executive secretary of the committee, they did so for reasons of expediency.What counts as pure fantasy, and the sort of thing barred by our commenting ground rules, is your baseless assertion that Johnson is a "dissenting theologian." Take that drivel elsewhere. It's not welcome here.

Moving forward, what else can one do except argue with R.F., Defender of the Faith, I think-The Hierachy will ignore this and go on .Pilate like, with"what I have written, I have written., and ignore any complaints."The split among US Catholic theoligians will continue to deepen as Weinandy insists hit's his way or the highway.Such is the state of the drifting (imploding?) US Church.

"EASY TO IMAGINE the fruitlessness of that anyway: IF the bishops had communicated their concerns to her, is there any chance she would have reasonably seen their point? She had books in print, a reputation as a dissenting theologian to uphold. She is going to fold, preemptively to the dreaded hierarchy? And WHAT IF she did? Issue another edition of the book immediately, to correct her errors? Is this not pure fantasy? And IF SO, is the condemnation of the bishops for not privately engaging with Sister Elizabeth exposed as a red herring?" (emphasis mine)P. --This is a heap of maybe-maybe-maybe arguments. They don't advance your thesis one inch.

My initial response was to look into the academic expertise of the committee - this may or may not be relevant (IMO it is part of the overall story). I also asked the question - who wrote this? It appears that we now know. So, a thought exercise - who qualifies the executive secretaries of the USCCB committees? Do they have the same qualifications, expertise, etc. as our leading theologians? Who decides if the secretary is just applying their own biases, theological inclinations, etc.?We have seen a number of issues in the past 18 months that have been created by executive secretaries of the USCCB:- Weinandy - Sr. Johnson's book- Moroney - the new translation- any number who have tried to handle the sexual abuse issues- Olmsted and others who, as bishops, have taken stances that may or may not comport with even the USCCB stance - issues from kids of same sex parents and catholic schools; Olmsted's actions based on his interpretation of catholic ethics/morality; issues in support of various US political positions.Yes, we live with the distinction between episcopal jurisdiction (they have the right) and whether what the say/do/rule is correct; pastoral; or even credible. What would happen if Olmsted's decision had been reviewed by the appropriate committee of the USCCB? Why not?This dust up over Sr. Johnson reminds me of the ongoing abuse issues with the USCCB and our bishops....quoted from an unpublished work of Eugene Kennedy:The astounding presumption of their ontological superiority explains to us as it justifies to them their condescending and demeaning style of relating to their people, treating them as children to be set right in their ways these attitudes and gestures telegraph their overarching, triumphant message: We have power and you do not and we enjoy using it over you.

I don't have any other texts and contexts by which to compare this situation with respect to Quest? Does the Committee on Doctrine have an annual timetable in which they release findings? Have the last, say, five to ten official pronouncements on books brought to their attention been comparable to this occasion in terms of time frame, substance, etc? Does the Committee produce reports exonerating some texts, while condemning others? Are levels of concern discernible, e.g, a book is troubling in certain places but does not "completely undermine the Gospels"? Does the committee address only books written by Catholic theologians working at Catholic institutions? Could the Committee have gone even further than they did in consequences, sanctions? There seems to be something of a state-side Inquisitional feel to the process that discourages me, something unhealthy about the process by which a text becomes a matter of concern and then gets worked on by the Committee. There's got to be more to the story.

And when we cup our hand to our ear to hear any arguments against the points actually raised by the bishops in regard to the book... crickets.

"Could the Committee have gone even further than they did in consequences, sanctions."Given that the consequences and sanctions of the Committee were nil, the logical answer to your question would have to be "yes".Again: in arguing against the bishops, it is not the positions per se of Sister Elizabeth which need to be defended, but the assertion that those positions are in conformance with the teachings of the Catholic faith. The real question is: is this a CATHOLIC book? The bishops have answered in the negative.

I am not sure the Committee on Doctrine can do anything more than they did, i.e. issue a public declaration about the book. I believe this is all that they have done in past cases. According to their charter they can evaluate theological trends which seems to be what they have done in this case. I think only CDF or her ordinary can take disciplinary action against her. Apparently, in Prof. Johnson's case that was not warranted. Still the declaration the Committee issued is damaging enough.

The issue here is have the bishops judged well and manuy say no.So "is this a Catholic book?" is the kind of verbal ploy that has grown overly tedious in the current apologetic for our dreary hierachs by their ovine followers.

"The issue here is have the bishops judged well and manuy say no."And yet they can apparently can give no reasoning for their "no". The bishops have been slandered here as theologically illiterate buffoons who should not even have dared to contradict Sister Elizabeth. Yet no one here seems smarter than those buffoonish bishops...at least no one has refuted their allegedly foolish, immature theological reasoning."ovine followers."The mindless sheep are the ones here who unthinkingly, reflexively attack the bishops without even being able to articulate their reasoning for it.But given that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we ARE his sheep, using "ovine" as an insult in a Christian context is either deeply offensive to Christ, or profoundly ignorant, or both.

"Personally, the basic fact is that the book is not Catholic. Im sure it passes all sorts of New Age theology tests with flying colors, but that is not what the bishops had to say."P. Flanagan, You write generalities without specifics. What is not Catholic about the book? Is Augustine who disagrees with Cyprian not Catholic? Or Thomas who disagrees with Augustine not Catholic? Is Jerome who disagrees with Augustine not Catholic? Etc. Please protect your attempt to dialog by providing reasons. Other than the bishops position. You must know that we are obliged to disagree with the bishops when our conscience dictates. And in fact the bishops have made many errors. The excommunication of Thomas was reversed after his death. Your ignorance of church history is startling.

We sure don't sound like a loving family here.From what I can gather, the crux of the matter is whether the Committee on Doctrine has become too much the province of the intellectual energies and leanings of Fr. Thomas Weinandy, who has been able through the action of this committee to carve a line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy that places Sr. Johnson's work on the heterodox side of that line. Was the line properly drawn here? I do not know. I admit that I do not trust this Committee to draw that line, not because I don't think bishops working in committee have the competence and responsibility to do so, not because I think theologians should be given free reign. The reason I don't trust this drawing of the line is that it seems partisan, an outcome in an intramural debate in which one side wields political power over the other wing to declare that side heretical. I don't trust that the decision was made in good faith, that it was informed by sufficiently broad and consultative and deliberative inquiry. It seems like hack work in a parliamentary sense between insiders and outsiders among a theological community that deeply suspects the bona fides of the other side. Think Leninites and Trotskyites, Deconstuctionists and New Critics. Something about this seems like score-settling. Why do I think there is more than a clear-eyed reading of a potentially dangerous text? The conclusions seem unduly intemperate and designed for maximum effect to damage the strength of the politically weaker, but potentially stronger position. It seems that there is a protracted war between theologians and bishops and that this is a skirmish in that war. Am I offbase?

"What is not Catholic about the book?"The bishops made that abundantly clear in their critique. I'll post the link again for you here, so you can respond to them.http://www.usccb.org/doctrine/statement-quest-for-the-living-god-2011-03..."Other than the bishops position."But this entire debate is about precisely that: the bishops' position.

Apparently, Mike--I mean P. hasn't been reading this blog. If he had, he'd have noticed the posts pointing out that the Committee on Doctrine's critique (linked to several times in our several posts on the matter) erroneously claims that Johnson wants to "replace" masculine names for God with feminine ones. Nor does it seem P. has read the post he's commenting on, given that I quote the CTSA board correcting the committee's "leap in logic" that allows them to accuse Johnson of advancing the notion that God is utterly unknowable on the basis of her utterly traditional view that our language "cannot completely capture the divine reality." It ought to be obvious to readers that a theologian who argues for a fuller pallet of divine metaphors would not hold the view that nothing truthful can be said about God. Yet the Committee on Doctrine accuses her of just that. So, yes, part of the debate is about the soundness of the committee's arguments. (I find them unfair and unpersuasive.) But another part is about whether the committee conducted itself well in handling the dispute. According to the principles overwhelmingly affirmed by the bishops in 1989, the answer to that question seems to be no.

A word about "dissent" used as an epithet. In 1968, in the tumultuous wake of the publication of Humanae Vitae, the NCCB (now USCCB,) published guidelines for responsible dissent. In the doc., the bishops summarize and support HV, then say how it is that people of conscience and responsible theologians may be dissenters. In sum--dissent itself is not grounds for casting one out into the outer darkness. So we can stop using "dissent" as a synonym for "non-Catholic," since it was the bishops themselves who said how to do so in 1968. Apologies for length of this quote:

Norms of Licit Theological Dissent49. There exist in the Church a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought and also general norms of licit dissent. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. When conclusions reached by such professional theological work prompt a scholar to dissent from noninfallible received teaching, the norms of licit dissent come into play. They require of him careful respect for the consciences of those who lack his special competence or opportunity for judicious investigation. These norms also require setting forth his dissent with propriety and with regard for the gravity of the matter and the deference due the authority which has pronounced on it.50. The reverence due all sacred matters, particularly questions which touch on salvation, will not necessarily require the responsible scholar to relinquish his opinion but certainly to propose it with prudence born of intellectual grace and a Christian confidence that the truth is great and will prevail.51. When there is question of theological dissent from noninfallible doctrine, we must recall that there is always a presumption in favor of the magisterium. ...The expression of theological dissent from the magisterium is in order only if the reasons are serious and well-founded, if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church and is such as not to give scandal.52. Since our age is characterized by popular interest in theological debate, and given the realities of modern mass media, the ways in which theological dissent may be effectively expressed, in a manner consistent with pastoral solicitude, should become the object of fruitful dialogue between bishops and theologians. These have their diverse ministries in the Church, their distinct responsibilities to the faith, and their respective charisma.53. Even responsible dissent does not excuse one from faithful presentation of the authentic doctrine of the Church when one is performing a pastoral ministry in her name.

William:I don't think you are offbase. I tend to agree with your analysisI have a similar problem with all of this. Having read the Bishop's statements but not Sr. Johnson's work, it appears that the Bishop's make some valid points but Sr. Johnson's view of the suffering of God on the Cross (referencing Moltmann) is powerful. I wondered whether she cites von Balthasaar's theo-drama where he discusses the risk that was at the heart of the Trinity on Good Friday. I deliberately inject von Balthasar since he is usually invoked on the "other side" of this debate. A fact that makes your point.At any rate, Bishops have to make judgements around when and how to make public statements particularly when those public statements might place devout Catholics who are also in different kind of leadership positions such as teachers, writers, etc, in a vulnerable situation. There are many other ways to address concerns. One is to call her up and have more private conversation with the advisors on the committee. In the next revised edition she could make revision if necessary OR maybe the Bishops (in this case likely their advisors) are misreading the text thereby giving incorrect counsel to the Bishops.And theologians for their part should aim for courtesy as well although the relationship is not, as you point out, exactly analagous. One side yields far more political power in the Catholic church.

"The expression of theological dissent from the magisterium is in order only if the reasons are serious and well-founded, if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church AND IS SUCH AS NOT TO GIVE SCANDAL."Lisa --Thanks for this text. I was with it wholeheartedly until "and is such as not to give scandal". That is the excuse for all the sex scandal cover-ups. Bad move.What is the name of this paper? It has certainly been a well=kept secret.Were there other conferences of bishops which published similar norms? John Paul II's appeal to the phantom authority of "definitive" pronouncements seems to have been intended to counter these very principles allowing dissent from non-infallible matter. The "traditionalists" just can't stand any sort of uncertainty.

I think the two issues of the verdict on the content of Johnson's book and the process by which that verdict was reached are interrelated. If the bishops had followed their own guidelines and engaged Johnson in a dialogue their judgment might have been quite different, or may not have been rendered at all. (Or maybe it would have been more severe, but backed up far more effectively than this current verdict was.) But by operating in secret and without consulting Johnson the committee undermined its own critique by failing to account for countervailing views and interpretations. Dialogue is not necessarily a process by which each side compromises on their principles or simply splits the difference. It is a way of being in a community, and a way by which two sides learn about each other. Minds may not be changed, but at least they have been informed and enlightened, ideally, and each side sees the other for what they are, especially as a person. Dialogue (Phil Murnion's first and final exhortation) also seems to me to be a Christian imperative, no? It seems astonishing to me that the institutional church seems constantly to dispense with it as little more than an option, if one has to. Finally, the process by which the doctrine committee arrived at the verdict strikes me as problematic because it is an example of church authorities who tend to be so punctilious about the rules and making sure that the faithful follow those rules just dispensing with them when it suits them. That kind of blithe inconsistency is not a constructive witness, and it smacks of the same mentality that fomented the ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

Our conditioning to look at the bishops for leadership may not serve us well. The bishops have lost their focus for many centuries as they have consistently, with notable exceptions, been on the side of the wealthy over the poor and downtrodden. You will find the poor and downtrodden in their literature but not welcome at their doorsteps. The bishops do not serve which is their mandate, but dominate which is anathema for a follower of Christ. Why do you thing the hierarchy was called the First Estate. The hierarchy became part of the people who cruciified the Lord. Yet the bishops court them meet the poor for cameo shots. We have to change the way we see the bishops.

The approach in this case recalls another book assessment by the USCCB Committee on Doctrine under then-Abp. Wuerl on a similarly important topic, human sexuality. In 2010 they critiqued the Salzman-Lawler book "THE SEXUAL PERSON: TOWARD A RENEWED CATHOLIC ANTHROPOLOGY" (2008) and issued a press release and scathing 24-page rebuke on "Inadequacies In The Theological Methodology And Conclusions". http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2010/10-165.shtmlhttp://www.usccb.org... Salzman and Lawler had won a prize and praise for their book. The 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.") The strictures of the hermeneutic of continuity and the provided framework as understood by the bishops appear to be the boundaries beyond which theologians are forbidden to stray as they serve. Perhaps it is time for a new Syllabus of Errors so that everyone can share a common understanding and avoid incidents like this, which the bishops could well do without at present.

I think the two issues of the verdict on the content of Johnsons book and the process by which that verdict was reached are interrelated. David, I think you're right. I know my own response involves both together: if it were really true that Johnson's book was wildly misrepresenting key truths of the faith, I probably wouldn't mind the breach in protocol so much. But the appeal to urgency doesn't fly for me because, having read the critique and the book, I don't see that there was any such emergency situation.

If the Bishops' critique doesn't make sense either in content or in process, maybe it's not a real critique, but a power play -- a payback. It was just a year ago when the health care reform act was passed with the blessing of the US nuns, making the bishops look like goofs. Cardinal Rode started the trend with the visitation of American religious women, which also never really made any sense. And then there was the excommunication via press release of Sr. McBride, which also didn't make sense (and according to Jesuit cannonist Ladislas Orsy, isn't even an excommunication: see http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=3013Many bishops see many nuns as threats because they hold institutional power, are outside their control and still for the most part hold the trust of the faithful, which gives them authentic authority. The lack of communication and the lack of mutual exploration of reality via reason and evidence in all these instances are best explained as exercises of power, in which reason and evidence play little part.

Reading the Norms of Licit Theological Dissent from 1968 is a good reminder of the expectation at that date that a dissenting theologian would inevitably be male. And a reminder that the USCCB is an all male club.

When you look at the bishops you have to consider how they feel entitled to privilege and assert their authority and position. Which is diametrically opposed to the Apostles. So those who assert Apostolic succession, do not succeed the Apostles in virtue. Here is an excerpt from Wikepedia of the First Estate clergy in France. " The First EstateThe Clergy From the outset, the clergy was established as a privileged Estate. The French Catholic Church maintained a wide scope of powers - it literally constituted a state within a state and it had sustained this position for more than 800 years. The clergy was divided into the lower and upper clergy. Members of the lower clergy were usually humble, poorly-paid and overworked village priests. As a group, they resented the wealth and arrogance of the upper clergy. The bishops and abbots filled the ranks of the upper clergy, men who regarded their office as a way of securing a larger income and the landed property that went with it. Most of the upper clergy sold their offices to subordinates, kept the revenue, and lived in Paris or at the seat of royal government at Versailles. Well, what did the clergy do? Or, I suppose, a better way of framing the question is this: what were they supposed to be doing? Their responsibilities included: the registration of births, marriages and deaths; they collected the tithe (usually 10%); they censored books; served as moral police; operated schools and hospitals; and distributed relief to the poor. They also owned 10-15% of all the land in France. This land, of course, was all held tax-free."

I take the phrase "hermeneutic of continuity" to be code for "previous papal utterances," as in the papal party line on birth control, celibacy, etc. So many bishops seem incapable of seeing evidence or following a thread of logic beyond a papally approved view. Instead, they prefer to make proclamations and then validate them by tracing them back through encyclicals, allocutions, books and speeches, as though the scope of God's creation was really that narrow. Papal utterances have thus taken the place of reality. Yet they are in a pickle. If the bishops are truly open to the full scope of evidence and reason on any one of these issues, it will create the expectation that they will be open and rational about all of them. The whole papal party line either stands inviolate or falls as a whole to the scrutiny of evidence-based reason.

I think Lisa is on track" "hermenutic of continuity" is a mantra for setting aside VII progression in favor of the curial driven reforms of JPII and BXVI, especially emphasizing power/control in the Vatican.

Jeanne F. -Richard Sipe agrees with you on the pickle. He points out knowledgeably that a handful of currently contentious Church teachings related to sexuality are all fundamentally linked together such that any attempt "fix" one or two would bring down the whole house of cards. See "The Pope Has a Sex Problem" at http://www.richardsipe.com/Lectures/2010-05-20-boston.html .

It is so simple. The church of dogma has prevailed over the church of living the life of Jesus. Papal utterances, as contradictory as they are, are mainly about dogma and domination. The gospel and the rest of the NT mainly talk about living the Christian way. We have been so scared by our upbringing that we are afraid to see that the bishops have been wayward with domination as their mantra. Reform will be more effective when the bishops are challenged to live the gospel. People in the church have to get off the defensive and go on the offensive with the gospel as the path.The liturgical changes which are coming has even gotten observant Catholics disturbed at their irrationality. The only thing that explains it is control. A way to begin is to not conform to those new liturgies which have only one purpose---domination and control.

The NCCB doc. is titled "Human Life in Our Day." Here are some reactions to HV from other groups of bishops or bishops' conferences: i.Netherlands: The assembly considers that the encyclicals total rejection of contraceptive methods is not convincing on the basis of the arguments put forward. ii.Belgium: Someone, however, who is competent in the matter under consideration and capable of foming personal and well-founded judgmentwhich necessarily presupposes a sufficient amoung of knowledge, may, after serious examination before God, come to other conclusions on certain points.iv.This from Scandanavia: Should someone, for grave and carefully considered reasons, not feel able to subscribe to the arguments of the encyclical, he is entitled, as has been constantly acknowledged, to entertain other views than those put forward in a non-infallible declaration of the Church. No one should, therefore, on account of such diverging opinions alone, be regarded as an inferior Catholic. v. 30 of 31 Indonesian bishops expressed obedience, but problems of conscience in not finding the argumentation of HV convincing. They wished that "in so delicate a matter touching the life of the Christian community and all men so intimately, the college of bishops had been expressly consulted."vi. Also bishops in Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, the Philippines, West Germany, Japan, France, Switzerland. NB: no bishops' conferences expressed dissent from the TEACHING, but some did emphasize its non-infallible character and raise questions about the adequacy of the arguments offered to uphold it. Imagine, soon after an encyclical appears, to have bishops from all over saying, "notice that this isn't infallible." The task of theologians, of course, is different from that of bishops. Theologians do wade into the theological arguments as such. This "hey, it's not infallible" seems to be an invitation from bishops all over the world to do so. There are those even now who want to assert HV as infallible teaching. Numerous bishops' conferences have said otherwise. Bishops, individually or as regional groups, do not speak infallibly, but clearly HV was not regarded as infallible by uniform consensus of bishops at the time of its promulgation.

Molly, please don't slight the importance of following established procedures in matters like this. Procedural justice is not just some nice accessory. It is fundamental to decent treatment of one another in institutional matters. Suppose the USCCB committee was right on every substantive issue on "Quest..." The procedural wrong that it committed calls for an explicit apology. This is a matter of justice.

LIsa,Thank you very much for all the information. I had no idea that in 1968 bishops worldwide had raised the issue of dissent publicly. I also note that the Church didn't fall apart because of it. What a different generation of bishops they were! And what a difference the internet has made in making the faithful aware of what is actually going on in the Church.

Thought some of you might enjoy this "old" article from Roger Haight: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10686I know, he is also on the "most wanted" list.

The NYT covers the issue again today (along with the new Mas translation) -probably raising the hackles of the Abp. and Mr. Donahue.It strikes me that more and more polarization in the Church is making the Church more peripheral to many in the pews and less of a community among those who care.I hate to say it but so much of this is about power, it seems to me, that it is a very sad stretch of time we live in and will continue to live in if we don't drift off!

We have to ensure that "procedural justice" isn't a euphemism for "give the guilty SOB a fair trial and then hang her/him."

So....over at America there's a new post with the Bishops' rejoinder to the Theological Society statement. My humble opinion is that it's mighty silly--it doesn't explain the inconsistencies in failing to follow their own rules and--bizarrely--seems to say "We suck at catechesis and have produced students who aren't qualified to take college-level courses so we had no choice but to make unfounded judgments about Johnson while ignoring our own rules." Say what?(Sorry to not post a linky-mabob, can't figure out how fm my phonethingy)