Protocols and Theologians | Russell Shaw | Catholic World Report
What the USCCB's new protocols for reviewing theological works aren't about.
News that the doctrine committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops last year adopted protocols to guide its procedures and those of its staff set the juices predictably flowing at the National Catholic Reporter. An overwritten story on the NCR website let readers know that this particular USCCB committee was “tasked with enforcing church doctrine.”
Enforcing? How do you do that with doctrine? This is the way we journalists talk when we don’t like something and want you not to like it either.
The description of the doctrine committee on the USCCB website says nothing about enforcing doctrine. The committee’s main task is providing theological input to other USCCB committees and staff. In recent years, it has published critiques of books by two women theologians, Sister Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham and Sister Margaret Farley, emerita of Yale—but most of its work appears to be of the in-house variety. (The current chairman is Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. The executive director is Father Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap.)
Observers rather more dispassionate than the National Catholic Reporter see three questions raised by the protocols flap.
• Why this fuss about some protocols?
• What difference does it make what the USCCB doctrine committee says?
• When, if ever, will academic theologians recognize that bishops face a huge pastoral problem which theologians of the not-so-distant past helped cause and which most academic theologians of the present are doing little or nothing to help solve?
Let’s take those questions one by one.