Professor Johnson considers the matter done as far as her public statements are concerned. But the Catholic Theological Society of America has lowered the boom on the bishop’s Committee on Doctrine. The bishops, it seems, didn’t even follow the rules laid down in 1989. I suppose one can argue it was a different bunch of bishops back then. But on the same tack, some of them don’t even feel bound by their 2002 rules of sex abuse either. A Hermeneutic of Entitlement gone wild: they can do whatever they darn please and lay people and presbyters can’t say boo.
In 1983 Doctrinal Responsibilities was unanimously approved by both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Canon Law Society of America. It was further refined by the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and formally approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1989. Under the heading “Ecclesial Responsibilities” (which considers the responsibilities and rights of both bishops and theologians) it states: “It is inevitable that misunderstandings about the teaching of the gospel and the ways of expressing it will arise. In such cases, informal conversation ought to be the first step towards resolution.”Professor Johnson’s response to the Doctrine Committee indicates that no discussion with her took place before the statement was published: “I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points but was never invited to do so. This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place.”
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.’”
This sorry episode adds significant damage to the bishops’ already reeling credibility on administration. Here’s the worst of it.
A number of theologians have less reason than ever to approach their bishops. The “come-to-nothing” mentality seems fairly toxic. Cooperation with Ex Corde? Why bother? Aside from plagiarizing the catechism, how can one be sure a bishop will perceive any sort of theological depth. Professor Johnson isn’t the most dense theologian I’ve read.
More likely that a bishop will give a thumbs up to a friend. Imprimatur for a reputation. Condemnation for someone outside the boy’s club. Petty vendettas on a country club timetable: a few rounds of golf, a few strong drinks with cigars, and an off-season condemnation.
“Came to nothing” looks more like the theologian to bishop direction. Maybe the Jovial One can do something with the Pharoah and his Vatican committee. Nothing like a good laugh to smooth out a few difficulties.