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Wednesday, February 27, 2008



That Luke Timothy Johnson is a good Biblical scholar who is utterly hopeless on matters related to Sacred Tradition and morality is hardly news. That Carl Olson has the great good taste to be a country music fan, however, is simply HUUUGE.


Unfortunately this issue (regardless of the merits-I agree Johnson's view of the church is...whacked. He's the Richard McBrien of the South)feeds into a broader narrative of media/Church relations in the St. Louis/Belleville area. ( STL and Belleville are in the same media market). Bishop Braxton ( much like Archbishop Burke) is an extremely intelligent, well-educated and orthodox prelate. Also, like Archbishop Burke, the local media has been gunning for Braxton since he arrived.
Unlike Archbishop Burke (in person a personable and very pastoral man), Bishop Braxton's poor communication skills, and a series of misjudgements (most recently misallocation of mission funds), have set up a situation where any use of episcopal authority will be painted as dictatorial. Not to mention a substansial number of the priests in the diocese lack confidence in his leadership. I strongly support dynamic orthodoxy, and oppose sugercoating
(Bless you, Archbishops Burke & Chaput), but Braxton's crediblity has been greatly diminished by a whole series of unforced errors.
Final note- Johnson's stature as a "solid...biblical scholar" ? Compared to, say Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman and (said with great disdain through gritted teeth) John Dominic Crossan, he's great. That still doesn't say a whole lot for him.

Chad Toney

SIUC is my alma mater. But I wasn't Catholic at the time and spent my days with the fine folks at InterVarsity there.


A faction of priests & lay people (appropriately entitled "FOSIL"s - Faithful of Southern Illinois) have been upset with Bishop Braxton since he was named Bishop of Belleville without their input. The entire diocese needs a huge house-cleaning, due to the long-term effects of a homosexual undercurrent in the clergy (prior to Boston's big explosion, Belleville saw ~13 priests removed in disgrace in the late 80's). Orthodoxy has been kept in check for most of the last 30 years... Braxton inherited a Catholic diaspora - as many other bishops have.


"When Johnson agrees with Church teaching, his writing is measured and his arguments are logical. But when Johnson parts ways with Church teaching, the tone becomes polemical and he shows little if any respect for the thinking and logic behind those teachings."

Wasn't the same true of Martin Luther?


It's not a bad thing that Bellville does not get a "vote" on who their next Bishop is going to be, rather it is a good thing. This is not a democracy, democracy is surrendering to teh will of the people. This is a Church, The Church, and our effort is to surrender to the Will of God, not the demands of the mobs.

It'll be our job to play "cowboy", wrangle the strays, lead the herd, and then settle. Yeah, sure, "cowboy" seems to have that lone ranger disaffected attitude, but that is not "cowboy", that is "rodeo". Cowboys are constantly working together so that while one goes after that lost sheep, er, "cow", the rest can stay with the flock, er, herd, and all will remain together, as one.

But Luke, if ya get right 'round ta readin' dis here, I can tell ya one thang the Creed do say - "If it ain't One, it ain't Church". So as long as you be out der, preachin' away wit yo otha Goespels 'n such, wit yo otha teachin's, den you must done put yo-self outside de Church and you ain't Church cuz you ain't one wit da Church. I cain't say I'm sorry cuz I didn't do it fo you, but I can say dat whut you is and whut you doin' hurts e'erbody. Das fo sho. But I sho hope you enjoyed readin' dis here in a Cajun accent! Smile and don' be so angry. I wont you ta get dat gris gris from da Lord, not from da inventions of yo mind. Bon.


I'm curious how (some)one would distinguish this situation from the one with Pope Benedict and La Sapienza?


"And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim 'our own sexual orientation' is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us."

That suggests two things.

First, that Johnson is himself homosexual, which means that he has a heavy load to carry to follow Church teaching, and although that is not an excuse, considering our human tendency to rationalize our own weaknesses (we all do it, I think) we can certainly understand why he would seek to change Church teaching. However, I may be misinterpresting his quote, and he my not be homosexual, but simply has a high degree of empathy for them, which in itself is commendable.

Second, he has a faulty view of human nature and original sin. That is evident in his criticism of JPII's Theology of the Body, but once again, that is circular because it arises from an attempt, from the homosexual standpoint, to rationalize that sexual orientation as "normal," and created by God to be so. Psychologically, no one wishes to be abnormal or defective, particularly on a level as deep as sexuality, so it is much simpler and easier to declare it a part of the area we would call "normal." Indeed, it would be much easier to live with being born without a limb, or some such obvious physical defect. Any of these things help to determine who we are but sexual orientation is very difficult to separate out from our God-given identity as a human being. Many have given up trying.

The advocacy of priestettes is window dressing to Johnson's real issue, in my opinion, born of a comaraderie found in having a common opponent, the hated hierarchy.

Sharon Stone called Dwight a "dirt sandwich" if I am not mistaken, but as long as he stays out of the movies and keeps his hat on (I am follicly challenged too, but Dwight needs to keep the hat on), he's alright with me.
"I'm a thousand miles from nowhere..."

Carl Olson

First, that Johnson is himself homosexual,

No, his daughter is. Johnson is married. But, if I remember correctly, he was once a Benedictine monk and priest (yep, that is correct).

Sharon Stone called Dwight a "dirt sandwich"

Yes, talk about the kettle calling the pot black. And, for my money, Dwight is every bit the actor as Stone. And a far, far better singer/musician!

Carl Olson

I'm curious how (some)one would distinguish this situation from the one with Pope Benedict and La Sapienza?

Pope Benedict had been invited to speak at the school by the rector of La Sapienza; Pope John Paul II had previously spoken at the school. After some teachers and students misrepresented Benedict's views and aggressively protested the Pope's scheduled talk, Benedict decided it would be best to postpone it. The school has said Benedict will be invited again to speak there. Benedict's speech was not an attack on La Sapienza or higher education, nor on science or the scientific method, but a reflection on the nature of "university."

Johnson was invited by the pastoral council of the Newman Center to speak there. The Newman Center is ultimately under the pastoral direction of the bishop, who apparently was not originally asked about or told of the invitation. Johnson has a clear history of dissent from Catholic teaching on various issues, especially relating to sexual morality. Perhaps Bishop Braxton could have done a better job of handling the situation; however, he is well within the bounds of the authority and responsibility granted to him by virtue of his office.

If the bishop had invited an thoroughly orthodox Catholic speaker and the pastoral council had publicly protested, then the situation would have had some resemblance to that to Pope Benedict and La Sapienza. As it is, there really is no resemblance, despite the self-serving cries of "censorship" and such.

Dan Deeny

Very interesting. Another interview project for Carl Olson. Two people mention problems in the Belleville diocese before and during Bishop Braxton's administration. What are the facts? And I thought once a priest, always a priest. Am I wrong?


The point of course is that when the Newman center brings in a 'Catholic' speaker it is implicit that the speaker is teaching along with the church. The bishop does right to avoid the terrible scandal associated to these scoundrels. On the other hand, when a university brings in a speaker no such imprimatur is implied on the part of the university.

Johnson i'm sure is still free to speak at the university (who knows? maybe he intends to)
they just have to find a room for him and make it clear that he is not a legimate 'Catholic' teacher.


This situation is exacerbated by the fact that troubles follow Braxton where ever he goes. He was not liked much in his previous diocese (the Traditionalists were made because he took their Indult Mass away from him). There were protests when he was appointed (literally in the last days of JPII's life) because it was claimed the appointment bypassed Cardinal George's approval, the usual route in that province. There have been other issues as well, most recently (and I think, Carl, you are remiss not to mention this) the really serious problem of Braxton taking funds donated for the Society for the Propogation of the Faith and using them for other purposes. That is very, very serious.

His cause regarding Johnson is right, but I fear the whole thing will stay a mess because Braxton truly is a polarizing figure.

Carl Olson

(and I think, Carl, you are remiss not to mention this)

My simple excuse: I was not aware of it. As I mentioned in the piece, I know very little about Bishop Braxton. The focus of my post, of course, was the conflict between Johnson/Commonweal and Bishop Braxton...

Carl Olson

That Carl Olson has the great good taste to be a country music fan, however, is simply HUUUGE.

I tend to be very select in my country tastes. Dwight is right there at the top; I have nearly everything he's ever recorded. I'm not really a purist; on the other hand, I largely despise the "country music" heard on the radio. It is mostly revolting. Some other country-flavored artists I enjoy include Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, some Buck Owens, Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley, Kim Richey, the Mavericks and anything with Raul Mao, Robbie Fulks, Buddy Miller, some Steve Earle, and so forth.


If Pope Benedict had purposed to criticize the university or science, would there have been grounds to protest his appearance?

Carl Olson

If Pope Benedict had purposed to criticize the university or science, would there have been grounds to protest his appearance?

I would put it this way: those who have a position of authority (rector, bishop) have a right to properly administer that authority for the good of the institution (school, church) they are responsible for. People are free (at least in free societies) to protest publicly and peacefully. But when protests are based upon false or skewed information, or are rooted in bigoted ideologies, they should be properly criticized (as has happened with the situation at La Sapienza).

A pastoral council does not, in the end, have the authority to ignore or trump a bishop's legitimate directive, regardless of how poorly the bishop may or may not communicate or relate. That's the issue, it seems to me, with the Johnson situation.


Just a thought: I saw above somebody mention LTJ's daught being homosexual. Whether that is true or not, should we be discussing that? Kind of strikes me the wrong way.

Sorry, but I had to say something. :)

Carl Olson

Whether that is true or not, should we be discussing that? Kind of strikes me the wrong way.

Actually, it is pertinent, I think, because Johnson's stance re: homosexuality and "same sex marriage" has clearly been related to his daughter's situation. For example, in the June 2007 Commonweal article referenced above, Johnson stated:

For me this is no theoretical or academic position, but rather a passionate conviction. It is one many of us have come to through personal struggle, and for some, real suffering. In my case, I trusted that God was at work in the life of one of my four daughters, who struggled against bigotry to claim her sexual identity as a lesbian. I trusted God was at work in the life she shares with her partner-a long-lasting and fruitful marriage dedicated to the care of others, and one that has borne fruit in a wonderful little girl who is among my and my wife’s dear grandchildren. I also trusted the many stories of students and friends whose life witnessed to a deep faith in God but whose bodies moved sexually in ways different from the way my own did. And finally I began to appreciate the ways in which my own former attitudes and language had helped to create a world where family, friends, and students were treated cruelly.

So, I do think it warrants at least a mention as it is quite pertinent.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

Commonweal, of course, editorialized on this situation. One of the things they noted was that then-Father Braxton, when he wrote for Commonweal, was open to "various 'hermeneutic circles.'" In other words, he didn't mind talking with dissenters and engaging their ideas in an "open-minded" way. I wrote a letter to the editor and said thus:

The editorial deploring Bishop Edward Braxton's decision to not allow Luke Timothy Johnson to speak in his diocese was misleading. Starting off with La Sapienza University's response to Pope Benedict and comparing that to Bishop Braxton's refusal to allow Dr. Johnson to speak in his diocese makes it seem as if Dr. Johnson is on the same magisterial level as the Holy Father. Obviously that is not the case.

And it doesn't matter how "great" Dr. Johnson's "exegetical and theological sophistication" is -- if he wants the Church to deny her teaching on such a core subject as human sexuality, then, as Bishop Braxton said, he is giving teachings "that oppose, deny, reject, undermine, or call into question the authentic teachings of the magisterium of the Catholic Church.” It really is, as the bishop said, a very simple matter.

Finally, there is probably a very good reason for Bishop Braxton's change from what he said as a priest to what he is doing now as a bishop. This is pure speculation, but I think it's well-founded speculation. As a priest, he was (he presumed) a little more free to play around with "various 'hermeneutic circles.'" My guess is that when he became a bishop, the grace of episcopal ordination clarified that situation for him and he now sees how dangerous it is. Would that other bishops -- and laity -- saw the same thing.

Mark Brumley

What can one say? Truth in advertising laws do not apply to Newman Centers. Which is one reason we Catholics have bishops. Thanks be to God, Bishop Braxton did the right thing and "bishopped" well here. Unfortunately, Dr. Johnson is no, well, Dr. Johnson.

It is amusing that some argue that this is a matter of freedom. Yes, in a sense it is. In a very different sense than most who apply the term to the situation mean. It is a matter of the freedom of Catholic students to receive Catholicism in a Catholic context. It is the matter of the freedom of a bishop to fulfill his responsibility to make sure Catholic students have that freedom. One tragic thing about all of this is that a "pastoral council" apparently didn't see this and so many Catholics still don't get it.

Marcel LeJeune

"What can one say? Truth in advertising laws do not apply to Newman Centers. Which is one reason we Catholics have bishops. "

Painting with a broad brush aren't we? In reality, the best campus ministry in the country is happening at large (and orthodox) Catholic/Newman Centers at public universities. In fact, not far from NIU is one of the best - St. John's at Illinois. Another is the one I work for and there are others.

It is my thesis that true reform of the Catholic Church in the USA is happening through these campus ministries. We have the future in our midst presently.

Marcel LeJeune

For readers who don't know - Mark Brumley is an adjunct instructor in the Masters program I went through and I admire his work. I just disagree with his statement above.

Mark Brumley

Marcel, do you mean to say that you think truth in advertising laws do apply to Newman Centers insofar as their Catholic identity is concerned? Or that such laws apply to some centers and not others and therefore the statement that such laws do not apply to Newman Centers is too broad?

I am not sure how else to take your comment. My statement did not impugn Newman Centers. It pointed out that it falls to the bishop to insure that what is labeled "Catholic" is in fact Catholic, and that includes Newman Centers operating within his diocese. Thus, Bishop Braxton was only fulfilling his responsibility in the matter. I said nothing about the general quality of campus ministry at Newman Centers, nor is it reasonable to infer a judgment by me regarding the general state of affairs at Newman Centers from what I did say.


"First, that Johnson is himself homosexual,

No, his daughter is. Johnson is married. But, if I remember correctly, he was once a Benedictine monk and priest (yep, that is correct)."

Thanks for the clarification Carl, which is why I qualified my suggestion further on. (Although, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was married, too) However, the facts as you've stated them, serve the same point. It is usually something intensely personal that drives someone to defy the Church. At least he is somewhat consistent and honest about his position, although he fails to realize, it seems, that defying authority on one or a few issues, does not leave that authority intact on the rest. He must not only toss out the Scriptures and the Hierarchy on these sexual issues but also on everything else, and re-work his entire faith based on the authority that he cites. He cannot have it both ways.
I don't envy him the task. Even the Reformers kept most of the Scripture, although I think they cheated a little on some of the core doctrines like the Trinity.

Evelyne Teske

as a former Episcopal clergy, I think that Johnson would be very much at home there.

RJ Chavez

Carl, try on the Derailers for size.

While Archbishop Braxton seems to have some pronounced shortcomings (who in this world does not?), he is right in this situation, for allowing Johnson to speak at a college campus amounts to endorsement. Given Johnson's position(s) on many issues of authority, his talk could very well be the occasion for sin and serve as scandal in more ways than one. Pray for the conversion of Catholics to Catholicism!

Marcel LeJeune


I think I misunderstood you somewhat. The way I read your post was that you were saying that Newman Centers were not truthful in selling themselves as "Catholic". My mistake.

There are many Newman Centers who are thoroughly Catholic in their identity and some that are not and I agree that the Bishops are the ones to determine and guide these centers in shaping their proper identity.


+Braxton is largely getting a raw deal in the media coverage. It is time to call out this matter for what it is - the last cries of a dissident movement on the part of priests who were against him from day 1.

The following have been some of our most popular Posts at PC for a reason - this issue has gotten remarkably odd and or biased coverage so far.

Bishop Braxton Fire Them!


+Braxton's "Belleville 46" Identified -

Belleville's 60%???

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