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Bishops Defend Criticism of Top Theologian

WASHINGTON (RNS) Under fire for criticizing a popular theologian, the U.S. Catholic bishops said they must occasionally assume the role of referee and rule wayward thinkers out of bounds.

“Once ideas are written and published by a theologian, they must stand on their own,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on doctrine, said in a statement. “It is the bishops who are entrusted with the office of referee, who must call the play.”

Earlier this month, Wuerl’s committee criticized a book by feminist theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson that is widely used in Catholic universities and colleges. The book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, criticizes and revises traditional church teaching, the bishops said.


The public back-and-forth debate between the bishops and theologians, while rare, has increased in recent years, as the bishops seek to guide a large and sometimes unwieldy church.

Johnson has said the bishops misrepresented her work, a charge echoed by the Catholic Theological Society of America, which Johnson once served as president.

The CTSA also said the bishops’ criticism of Johnson “seems to reflect a very narrow understanding of the theological task.”

Wuerl, in his 14-page response, said the CTSA “seems to misread the legitimate and apostolic role of bishops is addressing the right relationship of theologians and bishops.”

“It is the responsibility of the bishop to make the call and to declare, if necessary, certain notions out of bounds, the bounds of Christian revelation,” Wuerl said.

– DANIEL BURKE, Religion News Service

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Do Catholic leaders ever get through with policing each other? It sounds as though the Holy Spirit in each of them can’t lead unless the Bishops say it’s all right with them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Tideandebb

    Neither Catholic nor any other leaders can “ever get through with policing each other” because, while it is impossible to have all members of any organization to think alike, all leaderships must guard the fundamantal principles of their groups, or they will be stretched, altered and become non-existent. If Elizabeth Johnson’s writings are irreconcilable with the teachings of the Catholic Church, then she is the one who removed herself from the organization she once had belonged to, and the only thing left for the bishops to do is to congratulate her on her new endeavour: the establishment of a new of philosophy

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Well, who or what would you want to be in charge, Henrietta? :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    The Sister who wrote whatever disturbs the Bishops so, didn’t disturb other Catholics (The Catholic Society of America) or the Universities, (Catholic, again) who have it in their libraries, nnmns, and tideanebb. The title itself; Quest for the Living God Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, sounds like a very interesting book for any student of anyone’s religion, but of course Catholic as it is written by a Sister. I take seriously Jesus words, he said I go to send you the Holy Spirit to lead each of you. Not just to Bishops, Popes, Cardinals, Ministers, but everyone who loves the Lord. So, I think her words as a Catholic won’t cause the overthrow of the Roman Catholic Church, and might even teach us something that we all should read.;)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    what is an feminist theologian? huh?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    A feminist theologian is someone (of either gender) who works from the Wisdom of God rather than the might of God. It is to God’s Wisdom that Jesus was constantly drawing people’s attention. This is the experience of God from the NT, as well as parts of the OT. Even as far back as the Torah God has favored the wise over the mighty.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    As expected jest a hot pile of stream, that’s no answer; does not define a “feminist theologian” it is an attempt to justify but it explains nothing of why should their be an distinction. A true “feminist theologian” as the term sounds has nothing to do with God, the theologian would be preaching feminism.

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