Parallel Magisterium?

Why Theology Is Not a Threat

In recent years, both the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have censured the writings of Catholic theologians, judging them to be not in conformity with authoritative church teaching. In a 2011 “statement” on Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God (2007) and in a 2012 “notification” on Sr. Margaret Farley’s book Just Love (2006) the Committee on Doctrine and the CDF respectively concluded that theological positions advocated in those works deviate from church doctrine and do not reflect authentic Catholic theology.

The reasoning behind those judgments, and the fact that the bishops’ censure set the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the standard from which Johnson and Farley were alleged to have deviated, led many theologians to complain that the bishops were conflating theology with catechesis. Theology is exploratory by its nature, bringing the truth of revelation to bear on contemporary culture and considering new ways in which that truth can be conceptualized and expressed. Moreover, the doctrine of the church—what Catholics regard as its sacred tradition—can develop in unanticipated ways over time, and theological reflection has always been a crucial...

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About the Author

John E. Thiel is professor of religious studies at Fairfield University. A past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, his latest book is Icons of Hope: The "Last Things" in Catholic Imagination (University of Notre Dame Press).