Anathemas to our right, anathemas to our left. What’s a Catholic to think?
As noted in this space (“Bad Karma,” January 31), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s excommunication of theologian Tissa Balasuriya raised troubling questions about due process in the church even while it reminded us of the need to defend doctrine and draw boundaries. To be sure, Balasuriya’s theology seems much in need of elemental, if fraternal correction. How to combine the fraternal with the rigorous is the hard part. Yet the future intellectual vitality of the church depends on how that balance is worked out. It is not a new problem. As Cardinal Newman wrote, in theology there is always “the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around...[but] such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited.”
How dangerous intellectual timidity and the mere veneration of authority for its own sake can be is sadly evident in the recent treatment of moral theologian Richard McCormick, S.J., by the archbishop of New Orleans, Francis Schulte. Learning that the intellectually provocative McCormick was to speak to the New Orleans Notre Dame Club, Schulte let it be known that “some persons might find objections” to the theologian’s visit. To its discredit, the Notre Dame Club promptly rescinded its invitation. When his unwarranted intervention was questioned by McCormick, Schulte offered an embarrassingly pusillanimous explanation, suggesting that McCormick’s presence would bring polarization to his otherwise blissfully tranquil archdiocese.