Faithful Dissent

Hoyt, Robert G.

BOOKS Discerning theological malpractice Last year, obeying the journalist's Aristotelian urge to classify, Don Wyclif of the New York Times suggested that the dispute between Father...

...Or they lack courage to challenge the resurgent power of the curia under John Paul II...
...It seems to me that this makes a difference...
...In the Curran case, as documented here, regard for process is all but ^nonexistent...
...No comment...
...And most troubling of all, in my view, is that the American Catholic bishops don't appear to see a connection between their shared responsibility for safeguarding the integrity of Catholic theology and their own mission to preach truth...
...If so, what is the nature of the profession what does a theologian do for Catholicism, for the church, for the faithful...
...The function of a Ratzinger-style theologian is like unto that of a parrot, which if it learns impolite words must unlearn them or risk its voice box...
...If a theologian is to be delicensed for dissent on "crucial" points of doctrine, does it matter that dozens or hundreds of other practicing theologians hold and teach the same views...
...I defy any reader to find a clear answer in the congregation's "Observations" or in Cardinal Ratzinger's letters...
...FAITHFUL DISSENT Charles E. Curran Sheed & Ward, $9.95 paper, 287 pp...
...For his part, Curran defends his opinions only briefly...
...It will be clear to readers of Faithful Dissent, Curran's partly historical, partly interpretive, partly documentary account of the struggle, that Wyclif got it wrong...
...Truth in labeling is one of Curran's principal virtues...
...Regrettably, to my mind, Bishop Clark issued a further statement after the Ratzinger ukase was made public, accepting it "in recognition of the ultimate authority of the Holy Father" and "in a spirit of collegiality with him...
...Contrast that with Cardinal Ratzinger's letter of July 1986, informing Curran that even if he were to stop teaching sexual ethics which is no longer of central interest to him he would not be suitable to teach Catholic theology...
...and what does "teaching" mean in this context...
...Now, when he appears in the marketplace of ideas, he cannot represent his teachings as Catholic®, that is, endorsed by the church...
...he is mainly concerned to show that his disagreements are on complex, specific matters that are "far removed from the core of faith...
...This book is not exciting to read, but in its careful, complicated, plodding fashion it does expose a scandal...
...The chief effects of these nonresponses are to blur and belittle all distinction between "infallible" and "noninfallible," and to deny any measure of professional autonomy to a Catholic theologian...
...Again, no comment...
...this because of "the organic unity of authentic Catholic theology, a unity which in its contents and method is intimately bound to fidelity to the church's magisterium...
...Does the theologian's standing in the profession make any difference to ajudgment of his or her fitness to serve...
...Quis custodiet custodes...
...Is a theologian who relies on them acting properly...
...He cites the 1968 statement of the Canadian bishops: Catholics who cannot accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the bishops said, "are not denying any point of divine or Catholic faith, nor rejecting the teaching authority of the church...
...Or both...
...Both to define his own criteria and to learn what guidelines the Congregation would propose, Curran several times cites those laid down in the U.S...
...At one point, before the final Ratzinger decision, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, Curran's own diocese, did issue an admirably forthright statement of support that went beyond praise of Curran's person to point out his recognition in "the Roman Catholic theological community" as a "moral theologian of notable competence whose work locates him very much at the center of that community and not at all on the fringes...
...Throughout his six-year correspondence with the SC?DF, Curran kept putting questions like these, though perhaps with more restraint...
...On the specific Curran opinions to which it objects they have to do with contraception, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and masturbation the Congregation does not defend the merits of the church's teachings but only cites the sources showing that they are indeed the church's teachings...
...The "central issue" in the dispute, said Malone, "concerns the fact that someone who does not accept the teaching of the church on crucial points cannot reasonably expect to occupy a position which requires that he teach what the church teaches...
...In sum assuming, as I think Curran does, that there should be rules for disciplining a professional Catholic theologian what are they...
...Or that a certain number of bishops, thousands of priests, millions of lay Catholics share all or some of the same opinions...
...But, as Curran doesn't say, we also lack any public method for discerning hierarchical nonfeasance...
...But for the congregation and its supporters, Curran's candor is beside the point...
...Robert G. Heyt So it's a dispute about licensing, not trademarks...
...Is a Catholic theologian a professional...
...Curran contends that he has followed these rules...
...And does the earth move around the sun...
...As Curran suggests, we do need a respectable process for identifying theological malpractice, a process at least as open, fair, and balanced as those that have evolved in other callings, and one that does not simply sacralize the human instruments of the Holy See...
...Does the congregation agree...
...More serious is the damage done to academic freedom on Catholic campuses (not just at Catholic U...
...What about the theologian's reputation for intellectual and personal integrity, for piety and pastoral commitment...
...The others publicly involved Chicago's Bemardin, Washington's Hickey, Youngstown's Malone stayed safely, timidly noncommittal...
...Any lexicographer earnestly striving, amidst the fog, to define the meaning of "collegiality" is going to have a time with that...
...But Clark did raise his voice at a time when it should have counted, and his remarks should have drawn some collegial echos...
...One thinks of the procedures followed in disciplining other professionals (doctors, lawyers, professors of economics or literature): open hearings, heavy peer involvement, lots of rules...
...When his conclusions differ from teachings promulgated by authoritative Catholic sources, he puts up warning signs too big to miss...
...The scandal is only partly over the demonstration that the spirit of the Inquisition is back with us (minus the rack...
...And that raises questions...
...What is at stake, from this viewpoint, is clearly if ungracefully expressed in a statement issued last August by Bishop James W. Malone, then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, reprinted by Curran on the last page of the book...
...Most of all, he wanted to know whether there are any circumstances in which a Catholic theologian may express disagreement with any church teaching properly described as "authentic" but "noninfallible...
...One wonders: If John Courtney Murray were to return to life, and if (almost as unlikely) he were to change his thinking about religious liberty, would he have to choose once again between silence and recantation...
...bishops' 1968 pastoral, "Human Life in Our Day," occasioned by the uproar over Humanae Vitae: 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...
...For the prefect and clerks of a Sacred Congregation, the considered views of a national hierarchy are beneath notice...
...BOOKS Discerning theological malpractice Last year, obeying the journalist's Aristotelian urge to classify, Don Wyclif of the New York Times suggested that the dispute between Father Charles Curran and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF) is best understood as a "trademark controversy": The Vatican, which controls the official Catholic® trademark, has withdrawn Father Curran's right to use it...
...It depends on your century...
...None of the letters and "Observations" sent to Curran by the SCDF accuses him of misappropriating the Catholic "trademark," or even of challenging the Vatican's control over it...
...Such respect for process is meant, of course, to protect not only the individual but the profession and the public it serves...

Vol. 114 • September 1987 • No. 16


 
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