Catholic theologians defend one of their own against the Vatican
Back home, said the Rev. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, a man beating his hand against his chest is an expression of penance. In the U.S., the same gesture would be perceived as an expression of defiance.
“Perhaps,” the Rev. William O’Neill said to his fellow theologians, “that’s exactly what we should be signifying.”
The audience, all members of the Catholic Theological Society of America, applauded O’Neill’s aside with appreciation.
Defiance was top of mind at the group’s annual convention downtown. One of their own had been targeted by the Vatican earlier in the week, and there was a sense in the Hyatt Regency ballroom that the Catholic bishops had finally gone too far.
Over the last 50 years, the practice of thinking theologically in the Roman Catholic Church has slowly shifted from a practical craft developed by clerics to train the next generation of clerics to a wider field of study that includes lay academics and employs perspectives from across the scholarly spectrum.
As Catholic theology has branched out, bishops — who have the ultimate teaching authority in the church — have struggled to curb theological thinking they consider a potential source of confusion for the lay faithful. As a result, in recent years the bishops have criticized the work of a number of prestigious American theologians. And in St. Louis last weekend, the theologians were girding for a fight.
They spoke in protest against the Vatican’s denunciation of Sister Margaret Farley’s 2006 book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics” in which the bishops found “grave problems.”
We must “learn to say ‘stop’ to those who abuse authority only to preserve it,” O’Neill, of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, told the assembled scholars. [More]