There is a bit of a dust up concerning the journal Theological Studies, a prominent English language publication, sometimes useful and much venerated by liberals.
In 2004 Theological Studies published an article by two theologians arguing that the Church should change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Their article was published in full. Two theologians, Germain Grisez and Fr. Peter Ryan, tried to respond in the pages of the same journal, to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage. Theological Studies published the response article in June 2011, apparently after slow pressure was applied by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, TS substituted their own comment in place if the author’s abstract, stating in a kind of disclaimer: “Except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received.”
However, Grisez and Ryan had actually adjusted their article after receiving feedback from peer review imposed by Theological Studies. Grisez and Ryan submitted their adjusted article in 2009 and again in 2010, having used also the feedback.
TS was then going to publish Grizez and Ryan’s response in a truncated form, having cut out salient points and thus weaken their response to the 2004 piece. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith got involved. Subsequently, 7 years after the fact, TS published the response article as submitted. Those are the basic facts as I understand them. The accounts are a little confusing.
CNA wrote a good and accurate summary about this here. On the site of Catholic World Report there is also a good and accurate article about this with links to the articles in question and statements from those involved. A PDF of Grisez and Ryan’s article as it appears in Theological Studies can be read here, and a PDF of the Himes-Coriden article to which they were responding can be read here.
NCR has a couple articles about this. NCR, however, probably through an error, left out that Grisez and Ryan had used peer review feedback.
It is all a bit confusing, but the bottom line is this. To repeat: Theological Studies published an offering which asserted a contradiction to divine law clearly enunciated by the Church. Two theologians responded with a defense of the proper teaching. They went through some peer review at the behest of Theological Studies. Theological Studies still didn’t want to publish it in full. When the CDF got involved – remember: the CDF is supposed to get involved when doctrine has been distorted, and it had been in the pages of Theological Studies – Theological Studies started to play ball, with apparent reluctance.
Now NCR and their camp are now upset that Theological Studies had to publish the full response article defending Catholic teaching.
For example, Mr. Thomas Fox of the NCFishwrap wrote:
We report today that the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sharpened its focus on the way theology is being conducted in our church today. The purpose of the congregation is to uphold Catholic doctrine. The congregation, however, misconstrues its role when it becomes the arbiter of what constitutes Catholic theology, managing and even squelching discussions within the theological magisterium. Doctrine and theology should have separate places in the Catholic lexicon. …. [I]t is essential that journals like Theological Studies are free to support healthy discussions — and are not intimidated for engaging in them.
The problem here is that Theological Studies did not engage in anything “healthy” when it came to the responding theologians.
Another problem, and I am sure you spotted it, rests in the phrase “theological magisterium”.
I am pretty sure that what Fox means to imply here is that there is a “magisterium” exercised by theologians apart from the Magisterium as we understand the term today.
Strictly speaking, the term Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops as the successors of Peter and the Apostles. It is part of the office of the hierarchy to teach official in the name of the Church and of Christ. Theologians do not have that authority. Theologians work to serve the Church’s teaching office, the Magisterium, exercised by the hierarchy, but they do not teach in the same way in place of the hierarchy or on their own. That doesn’t mean that theologians are merely the mouthpieces of the hierarchy. They are not enslaved. They can indeed stretch out beyond Magisterial definitions, but always in the service of the Magisterium. Theologians play an important role in explaining the Church’s teachings, making them fresh and understandable in each new generation. They explore the implications of new developments. But while the hierarchy can oblige Catholics the accept certain teachings, theologians cannot.
More over, theologians aren’t just scholars engaged in research or professional teachers. If they are truly Catholic theologians they must also bear witness to the faith in their work. They must be believers, faithful to the Magisterium, accepting the Church’s teachings, even when they are hard. Insofar as theologians are also faithful and bearing witness to the Faith as the Church teaches, in that sense they edify and by analogy have a kind of magisterium of faithful witness. The many of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are examples of this. Doctors such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux are both Doctors of the Church though they were not members of the Church’s hierarchy. They reflected in their lives and works something of the Church’s role as Teacher. Their writings, however, do not bind our consciences in the way that defined doctrine binds us. Even a great Bishop and Doctor such as Augustine of Hippo’s works are not the equivalent of the Church’s Magisterium.
If you want a good examination of the Magisterium, try the late Card. Avery Dulles’ book Magisterium. Every seminarians and priest needs this book, by the way. Also read the CDF’s Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. NCFishwrap is a bit obsessed about papal authority and what they perceive as “creeping infallibility“. But I digress.
That said, here is another bit from Mr. Fox:
Yes, the papacy should be the final authority in the church, but it has now become the only authority. Yes, theologians will always be prone to mistakes. Theologians must be true to their role and criticize one another, and at times the hierarchical magisterium must step in. However the magisterium cannot just tie itself to one school of theology and condemn all others.
Today little doubt exists there is a widening gap between many theologians and the episcopal magisterium. Some tension in this area will always exist, but the present gap is not good, not healthy.
Again, I don’t think what Theological Studies did was healthy at all. TS should have published the response article, as adjusted by its authors after peer review without the CDF or any other referee having to get involved.
Think about what happened.
The CDF did not make the editor of Theological Studies publish a repudiation of the 2004 article. All the CDF did was get them to publish an article defending Catholic teaching in response to an article contrary to Catholic teaching.
That’s what Mr. Fox calls “squelching”?
Another Fishwrap writer, Phyllis Zagano, promoter of the ordination of women to the diaconate, in her NCFishwrap defense of Theological Studies called the CDF the “Vatican Thought Police”. This comparison will leave any reasonable and well-read person puzzled, because of its tone and by reason of the comparison itself.
Think it through. In 1984, Orwell’s Thought Police (the CDF on Fishwrapworld) suppressed and punished thoughtcrimes. But it was Theological Studies, not the CDF, which suppressed the thoughtcrimes of the responders Grisez and Ryan. The CDF wanted to make sure the other side of the argument was heard and not suppressed. Zagano’s comparison isn’t very apt.
It is, however, pretty mean.
Then again, in the past, Ms. Zagano attacked Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph through a similarly weird, though far meaner, comparison. She drew a moral equivalence between Bishop Finn and Arnold Schwarzeneger (unfaithful husband), Anthony Wiener (odd-ball misuser of Twitter), Dominque Strauss-Kahn (accused, possibly falsely, of attempted sexual abuse) and Egyptian businessman Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar (accused of sexually abusing a hotel maid), putting them all on the same team. Read about that here. And when I defended Bp. Finn, Zagano started attacking me. But I digress.
Make up your own minds about this, but it seems to me that NCR doesn’t like the fact that someone on their team, Theological Studies, was required to play fair. Furthermore, they are continuing with their campaign to support alternative “magisteria” over and against that of the Roman Pontiff and bishops in union with him.