Bishops defend criticism of woman theologian

April 19, 2011

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."

Early in April, Wuerl's
committee criticized a book by 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.

Public
back-and-forth debates be­tween the bishops and theologians, while
rare, have 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. "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.  —RNS