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If a Catholic journal publishes an attack on Church teaching, should the CDF have the right to ask it to publish a reply? The National Catholic Reporter thinks not

 Don’t they believe in intellectual freedom?

By on Friday, 2 September 2011

The dome of St Peter's Basilica: some Catholic theologians have a negative view of Rome (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The dome of St Peter's Basilica: some Catholic theologians have a negative view of Rome (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Let us begin with a little story about the National Catholic Reporter (which Fr Z calls the “Fishwrap”), a paper which if you judged that paper by the standards of its best-known correspondent, the excellent John Allen, you might have thought a reasonable and balanced paper, rather than what it actually is, a polemical rag dedicated to the undermining of the Magisterium.
 
The story begins with an article, “Catholic sexual ethics: complementarity and the truly human”  by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, published in 2004 in Theological Studies, a Jesuit journal in which, according to the Fishwrap, “two theologians argued for a change in Church teachings on divorce and remarriage”. Actually, it argued against a lot more than Church teachings on divorce and remarriage (the Fishwrap reporter doesn’t seem to have read it): it also questioned, among other things, the Church’s teachings on the possibility of marriage between homosexual persons.

Some seven years later, in June of this year, Theological Studies belatedly published a reply: an article upholding, says the Fishwrap, the indissolubility of marriage. That’s what has got the NCR into a tizzy. There has been a conspiracy, they claim:

In a move some theologians say undermines the credibility of the leading English-language Catholic theological journal, the Vatican has pressured it to publish a scholarly essay on marriage, unedited and without undergoing normal peer review.

The essay, which appeared in the June 2011 issue of the quarterly Theological Studies, published in Milwaukee under the auspices of the Jesuits, upholds the indissolubility of marriage….

The Vatican has been pressuring the editors at Theological Studies since not long after the publication of the 2004 essay, according to theologians not connected to the journal or to the Jesuit order. The Vatican aim is to weed out dissenting voices and force the journal to stick more closely to official church teachings.

The theological sources, who asked not to be identified lest they come under pressure from the Vatican, say the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pressured policy changes at Theological Studies.

Now, whether or not there really has been “pressure” for a “policy change” of a permanent kind at Theological Studies (and if there has, one can only say that judging by this story it was long overdue), it is very interesting that the NCR should think that “In a move some theologians say undermines the credibility of the leading English-language Catholic theological journal” it is so reprehensible to ask the journal to publish an article upholding the teachings of the Magisterium in reply to an article questioning these teachings.

And who precisely are the theologians who think that? The NCR actually mentions only one, maybe the only one they could get a suitable quote from: Fr Charles Curran, professor of theology at Southern Methodist [no comment] University in Dallas, who said that what the NCR calls “the Vatican action” “… is the most serious attack possible on US Catholic theology because Theological Studies is our most prestigious scholarly journal.”  Well, if Fr Curran thinks that, it must be true (this is a joke). The CDF, you may recall, as long ago as 1986, removed Curran’s license to teach Catholic theology: he may just not be the best person to fulminate against attacks on US Catholic theology.

The NCR piece is an interesting compendium of the usual back-to-the-wall end-of-an-era anti-Ratzinger ravings. Note that interesting phrase, always used in such pieces, “official Church teachings”, as in “The Vatican aim is to weed out dissenting voices and force the journal to stick more closely to official Church teachings”. The word “official” according to the Oxford Dictionary can have two meanings: it can mean “of or relating to an authority or public body … having the approval or authorization of such a body”.

Well, that’s what the “official teachings” of the Magisterium are there for: the Catholic faith is conveyed by a body of doctrine held to be objectively true: the Catholic Church is, as Newman put it in the Apologia, “the oracle of God”: “official Church teachings” are there authoritatively to define and defend what the oracle says. Those who want to undermine that understanding, however, mean something very different by the word “official”;  they use it according to the second dictionary definition: “often derogatory: perceived as characteristic of officials and bureaucracy; officious…”: in other words having no intrinsic intellectual authority at all, and therefore fair game for such as the Fishwrap and Fr Curran.

As for the original 2004 article ,it’s difficult to quote from because it is so long and its arguments are complex. It proceeds, according to its authors as a “disputatio or teaching by objection and response to a theme… This essay intends a disputatio that seeks to uncover and elucidate… Catholic truth… about moral sexual activity.” Got it? What that turns out to mean in practice is describing an argument designed to support the Magisterium and then knocking it down so that some damnable heresy can be set up in its place (that’s also what Curran and the Fishwrap mean when they talk about “US Catholic theology”.

Here’s just one example from Salzman and Lawler. Beginning from their summary of an article by the theologian James Hanigan, who argues that male and female are complementary and that they are “created to be spousal in that they are ordered towards interpersonal union”, Salzman and Lawler argue that this by no means establishes that a homosexual union is not just as “iconically significant” (Hanigan’s phrase describing sexual relations which are not open to the transmission of human life because the couple are infertile) as a heterosexual union:

A question to be posed to Hanigan is this …. In what way is an infertile heterosexual couple’s sexuality iconically significant in a way that a homosexual couple’s sexuality is not? The most obvious answer is that a homosexual couple does not have the heterogenital complementarity necessary to reproduce. Aside from heterogenital complementarity and potential biological reproduction, however, it is not clear that a homosexual couple’s sexuality cannot be iconically significant. Referring to Paul VI, Hanigan himself notes that marriage is “one way God has of realizing in human history the divine plan of love.” And while there may be other ways to achieve this plan, “conjugal union is the way that fully enacts human sexuality.” (34)

One response to Hanigan’s claim of iconic significance of male and female sexuality is that, while we may agree that conjugal acts of a reproductive kind fully enact human sexuality, it does not follow that acts that fall short of that full enactment, such as nonreproductive heterosexual or homosexual acts, are immoral and, therefore, impermissible. To say that an act is inferior is not to say that it is immoral. (35) One must demonstrate this immorality in terms of personal complementarity and the affective, relational, and spiritual dimensions of the human sexual person. Many would deny that nonreproductive heterosexual or homosexual acts violate personal complementarity and are, therefore, immoral.

There are so many objections to this that one doesn’t know where to begin, and I have no space left: but you can certainly think of most them yourselves. What is really interesting is that the National Catholic Register should think it so shocking that the CDF should want these objections to be elucidated in the Catholic journal where the original attack on the “official teachings” of the Catholic Church was made. Don’t they believe in freedom of debate, or what?  And the answer is…

  • Anonymous

    No freedom of debate from” liberals”. Its their way or no way. Most of what you find in the National “Catholic” Reporter, just undermines the Church at every turn. As do blogs like “pray tell”. No one of any depth takes them in any way seriously.

  • Ignatius

    A pity, Mr. Oddie, you cannot defend a position without resorting to cheap abuse: Fishwrap, anti-Ratzinger ravings etc. Odium theologicum was always regarded as a worse sin than any supposed denial of church teaching.

  • Little Black Censored

    Anything else you wish to comment on, Ignatius? The typeface? The paragraph style? Oh, yes, and the subject of Fr Oddie’s article: what about that?

  • Little Black Censored

    Anything else you wish to comment on, Ignatius? The typeface? The paragraph style? Oh, yes, and the subject of Fr Oddie’s article: what about that?

  • Brad

    I was once told a story of how Catholic and non-Catholic Christians differ.  In non-Catholic denominations if two bishops disagree they go to a theologian.  In the Catholic church if two theologians disagree they go to a bishop.  Seems NCR and others have forgotten who we are and why we are.

  • Florin S.

    John Allen is the best of the best – I don’t know why he stays with that rag – the NCP…for years now they have deliberately mixed fact and fiction to pursue their own agenda which I believe is to take down traditional Catholic communities – and they have succeeded very well in some case. They have caused much suffering which will come back to them a hundredfold some day…as for those they have harmed – they will survive and even thrive despite – or rather, because they have suffered nobly…John Allen should leave the NCR and write for a more honest newspaper…

  • W Oddie

    Sorry, i’ve done it again: in thyat last papragraph, Ive referred to the National Catholic REGISTER. I meant, of course, REPORTER. The Register are the good guys.

  • Thomas Hunt

    I like John Allen too, for the most part. However he did coin the phrase “Taliban Catholic.” It seemed to me totally out of character for him to do so, and I wrote to him about it, but never heard back. His reporting on WYD was terrific. Hey, and you mix the two NCRs in their–for example in the last paragraph.

  • Anonymous

    Dr Oddie, surely all the Vatican has to do is to tell the authors of the original dissident article that unless they recant they will go to hell? It’s  really that simple. Isn’t it?

  • Bob Hayes

    Of course the CDF should have a right of reply on this or, indeed, any other matter of Catholic doctrine and faith. The National Catholic Reporter seems to think Church teachings should somehow be derived from debate within the ‘Catholic community’ determined via western liberal democratic decision-making processes. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LDS3V2CYRQHOBNQHQ4HZLO22FI Tom

    Not quite that easy or simple Fr.Heythrop. You see it is not only the National fishwrap that has an agenda,
    there are subtle and disturbing trends that seem to have taken hold of our leaders (USCCB) here in the states and I know Fr. Z would be angry with me for pointing this out, but as the old saying goes, if the shoe fits. Case in point is the Sept story in Catholic news Service an arm of the USCCB praising and idolizing the Secretary of Labor as a good example of a Catholic politician. After all, the article states, she has a devout devotion to Our Lady of Guadelupe and claims Catholicism structures her life and gives it meaning. When she was a congresswoman, she had a 100% pro-abortion voting record from the pro-choice NARAL (Americans for the uncompromising support of legalized abortion. She even opposed restrictions on partial
    birth abortion. Now please bear with me here while I make a few connections. The USCCB is run by none other than Archbishop Dolan of New York who by the way was at a meeting of same when New York passed the most controversial bill for Catholics namely, gay marriage act, while there was no strong push back from the Archbishop who is a friend of the Governor and was out of town at the time of passage. Now I am certainly not going to draw any conclusions here but there are too many examples in not only the state of New York, but around the country where bishops seem to the laity to back and preach one thing and then endorse another. Without getting myself into any more trouble with Fr. Z, I`ll just fight on for the right to life and the traditional teachings of the Church. The story by the way can be found in Catholic Culture .org.
    Pax.

  • Anonymous

    “IF A CATHOLIC JOURNAL PUBLISHES AN ATTACK ON CHURCH TEACHING, SHOULD  THE CDF HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK IT TO PUBLISH A REPLY? THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER THINKS NOT”
       further proof of global dumbing….

  • Anonymous

    …er, actually I was being ironic….

  • Christopher Hunt

    At the end of the article you made a mistake. You said “National Catholic REGISTER” rather than “REPORTER.” Please fix that so that others do not accidentally link the two. (I know, that is already hard. They are both often cited as “NCR.” An unfortunate similarity.)

  • Christopher Hunt

    I think that this should be reposted every few comments. I already did it for you, though. ;-)

  • IowaMike

    I had a parrot once.  Nice bird.  I had him for years.  The parrot suddenly sickened and died.  I was stricken.  I had an autopsy done and learned the parrot died of constipation.  I then remembered I had been lining his cage with pages taken from the National Catholic Reporter for the past several weeks.  Very discerning bird.

  • Ignatius

    No, not because the matters raised are unimportant (as you perhaps think I must believe), but because name-calling and sarcasm like yours are such a disincentive to engaging in adult reasoned conversation. If Christian people cannot even talk to each other with elementary courtesy, maybe we should give up pretending to be the Church because we are not much good at it. Non-Catholic friends of mine who become aware of the Catholic blogosphere are usually appalled by the rancour and bitterness that infest it and can scarcely believe that this is supposedly Christian people talking about each other. It confirms their worst suspicions of the sheer nastiness of the Catholic Church. This too is an important matter!

  • Paul12345

    Problem is sir – is that the NC Reporter are not Catholic. Everyone who is Catholic – and knows what they say – knows this. So while you are right in one way – in another way they are the fishwrap because they should convert to the true faith or leave it.

  • Christopher Hunt

    So true, Paul. Those that dissent from Church teaching that are in any position to forward their false position should be publicly disavowed and dethroned from their position. Ignatius, there is no such thing as a dialogue, conversation, or debate on the defined Church teachings. You are a Catholic adhering to the whole Faith as well as you know, or you are a heretic. It is a shame that the Vatican had to step in. What a weak bishop.

  • W Oddie

    I have already acknowledged this, see below.

  • Anthony from Melbourne

    Will, Will, Will…
    This is why I still love you mate….funny, witty, clever article

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LDS3V2CYRQHOBNQHQ4HZLO22FI Tom

    Forgive me Father. I used your comment to expose prevalent,  pervasive and probably already well
    known liberal and sometimes even stubborn leadership in the Church that exists here in the States that
    actually at times challenges openly with an almost defiant attitude, Moto Propio and Universae Ecclesia.
    If only we had more like Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Gomez. God Bless them. Actually what you suggest has alreday been done in several cases with a follow through, and I am thinking of the bishop in
    Australia and a certain Maryknoll priest here who believes woman should be ordained. Sadly the liberal
    attitudes today are very disturbing and wide spread particularly with a large number of bishops I don`t
    believe the fear of hell will change any of that. Pax

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LDS3V2CYRQHOBNQHQ4HZLO22FI Tom

    Ignatius, There is nothing to debate. The Catholic Church is not a Democracy, it is what it is, and I think you will find a great deal of the hate and venom and anger seems to originate with liberals. I recently read an article in the NCR about the transfer of Archbishop Chaput, a very conservative and pro-life Archbishop
    who runs the Archdiocese according to Church teachings and the hate and awful, disrespectful comments
    that were made after the article were astounding. I responded with a comment of my own and stated that he would be more than welcomed here in Phila., and they would not even allow the comment. They prefer
    the bitterness. I have personally seen the Holy Father attacked in articles by liberals who think he is taking the Church backwards when all he is really doing, is making sure that we understand the Post Conciliar Documents of Vat II the way they were meant to be understood and not the way some liberals have interpreted them. You can not have a conversation or a discussion with someone who has the liberal outlook, because in the end they simply will not accept the fact that it is the way it is, and that Dogma and
    Church teachings are not going to change to accommodate their beliefs. I suppose that makes them angry.
    Pax

  • http://twitter.com/hotcommodities William Conti

         The Catholic Church will survive all attacks. The National Catholic Reporter will not survive. 

  • Ignatius

     
     

    You cannot have a conversation or a discussion with someone who has the authoritarian outlook, because in the end they simply will not accept that anyone who disagrees with them has a right to exist in the Catholic Church and will brand you as a “heretic” and insult you with childish name-calling. “Truth” which has to be defended in this way ipso facto cannot be Christian, though it may be orthodoxly Catholic.

  • Christopher Hunt

    There are easy, natural arguments against the Jesuit, what is it you said, heretic?! Yes, but the content of the article is not the crux of the problem. You are being somewhat dense. We can certainly argue, with ease, against homosexual perversion.

    What the issue is, though, is that there is a Catholic journal that hold prestige, openly contradicting defined Church teaching, and the natural law. This journal, as a Catholic publication, has no right to publish such articles. The investigation, philosophic, theological, and scientific has been done here. The Church defined the sacrament of matrimony, instituted by Christ. If the journal simply called itself “Christian” and was not a publication of a Catholic religious order, then that is their prerogative. But, the fact is, it is a Catholic publication published by the Jesuits, and, therefore, does not have the wiggle room to discuss this topic in such a way!

  • Ignatius

    You seem to be quite dense too, because you failed to appreciate that my point was about the way in which these conversations are carried out.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LDS3V2CYRQHOBNQHQ4HZLO22FI Tom

    Ignatius, Christopher Hunt made the point exactly. You failed to grasp his point. The Church is the authority
    and has spoken. No argument there. The truth dosen`t need defending, it is what the Church says that it is
    and you can either accept it or not and just because you don`t accept it and want to argue the truth does
    not make Catholicism any less christian. There are after all many paths to Christ and in the end it is your choice which one you would decide or feel called to follow and it won`t make you any less christian. The Jesuits are wrong in publishing articles that are not in communion with the teachings of the Magisterium and they are notorious for left wing liberal teachings that deviate from Catholic teaching which may account for their dwindling numbers worldwide. In fact Catholic colleges and Universities in the U.S. most run by Jesuits have gotten so far away from their religious roots that the U.S. Government is challenging their rights under the freedom of religion clause of the Constitution. While “defending the truths” of the Catholic Church
    may in realty be a poor choice of words because in actuality we are only re-stating what already has been defined as truth by the Church. In the end, Christopher`s point is well taken. Pax

  • Gail Finke

    One of the article’s authors says that the article WAS peer-reviewed and was “unedited” because the editors originally wanted to “edit” it by gutting many of their arguments. So that little bit of info challenges the rest of the NCR’s assertions. 

  • Cjkeeffe

    what charlie curran and his ilk forget is that whilst he may have a right to ask honest questions about the faith and doctorine. my right as a lay person in the pew is to be taught the authentic teachings of the church without fr bojangles spin on it. my right to the teachings of the chuirch as the church teahes them thrumps charli’s right to peddle his doctrines. and furtehr the teachjing authority was invested in the apostles and their succesors the bishops, not theologians.

  • Cjkeeffe

    what charlie curran and his ilk forget is that whilst he may have a right to ask honest questions about the faith and doctorine. my right as a lay person in the pew is to be taught the authentic teachings of the church without fr bojangles spin on it. my right to the teachings of the chuirch as the church teahes them thrumps charli’s right to peddle his doctrines. and furtehr the teachjing authority was invested in the apostles and their succesors the bishops, not theologians.