Vatican stifles theological inquiry

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. It was a reply to a September 2004 article in which two theologians argued for a change in church teachings on divorce and remarriage.

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. The journal’s editor in chief, Fr. David G. Schultenover, announced the changes, following the words “A clarification” printed in bold letters in his editor’s column in the December 2010 issue.

He then wrote for his subscribers, mostly Catholic theologians who carefully read each issue for scholarly purposes, an explanation for some editorial policy shifts in the journal. Schultenover began by making a reference to a controversial essay published in the journal’s September 2006 issue. That essay, sources have told NCR, further raised tension levels between the Vatican and Theological Studies’ editors.

Wrote Schultenover: “Even with the best professional protocols and sincerest intentions to offer a journal of service to the church, an article might appear in our pages that some judge could mislead some readers. This seems to have been the case with ‘Catholic Sexual Ethics: Complementarity and the Truly Human,’ by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler (September 2006). Some readers might have formed an opinion that because this article appeared in our pages, the journal favors and even promotes its thesis, one that does not in all aspects conform to current, authoritative church teaching. For all such readers, I wish to clarify that this article, insofar as it does not adhere to the church’s authoritative teaching, does not represent the views of the editors and sponsors of Theological Studies. While the journal, heeding the mandates of recent popes to do theology ‘on the frontiers,’ promotes professional theology for professional theologians, it does not promote theses that contravene official church teaching, even if — though very rarely — such theses find a place in our pages. If and when they do, our policy will be to alert readers and clearly state the current authoritative church teaching on the particular issue treated.”

Asked by telephone to explain why the journal now feels it necessary to warn readers when publishing essays believed to contravene official church teachings, Schultenover refused comment. When told other theologians said the Vatican had pressured Theological Studies to make the editorial changes, he answered: “Their conclusions did not come from me.”

In an uncommon note in Theological Studies that preceded the Vatican-mandated June 2011 essay, Schultenover wrote that “except for minor stylistic changes, the [marriage] article is published as it was received.”

This editorial note tipped off some Theological Studies readers to the unusual nature of the article. Fr. James Coriden, canon lawyer, professor at the Washington Theological Union, and coauthor of the original 2004 essay on marriage, said that upon reading the note he immediately concluded Schultenover had been forced to publish it.

“It’s a terrible precedent,” Coriden said, referring both to the publication of the “as is” article and the new editorial policy that singles out theology not in keeping with official church teachings. Coriden is the recipient of the 2011 Catholic Theological Society of America’s John Courtney Murray Award, the highest honor bestowed by the society to a theologian.

John Thiel, president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, said he regrets the Vatican interventions, calling them “misguided” on several fronts.

“First, it wrongly assumes that the journal’s readership of professional theologians is incapable of making its own professional judgments about theological positions. Second, it seems to conflate theology and doctrine, wrongly thinking that theology’s task is the repetition of doctrine. Theology’s long history of playing a role in the process of doctrinal development shows this not to be true. Third, the publication of an article by a fiat in violation of the editorial process calls into question the integrity of the article so published, placing its authors in an unfortunate position.”

Fr. Charles Curran, professor of theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the Vatican action “is the most serious attack possible on U.S. Catholic theology because Theological Studies is our most prestigious scholarly journal.”

Curran, whom the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in 1986 was not suitable to be a Catholic theologian because of his dissent from hierarchical moral teaching, noted that “once again” it is moral theology and sexual ethics that has become the Vatican’s litmus of orthodoxy.

He said the Vatican actions could doubly hurt Theological Studies, first by encouraging theologians who might be “working on the frontiers” to go elsewhere with articles they think might no longer get published in the journal and, secondly, by forcing Theological Studies editors to “ration dissent” in the publication.

“There’s definitely a chill factor here,” he said. “And if this is going on here, you have to think it is going on elsewhere, in Europe.”

“The Society of Jesus has a cordial, ongoing relationship with Cardinal William Levada, moderator of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” said Jesuit Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States. “The society fully supports Theological Studies and its mission of theological inquiry and investigation. I am grateful for the fine job Fr. Schultenover has done as its editor in chief.”

The article that first sparked the controversy in 2004 was coauthored by Coriden and Franciscan Fr. Kenneth Himes, chairman of Boston College’s theology department and previous head of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

In an earlier essay in Theological Studies, Himes and Coriden argued for a pastoral approach that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to fully participate in the Eucharist under certain conditions. However, in the 2004 article, “Indissolubility of Marriage: Reasons to Reconsider,” they go much further and maintain that the teaching of the church on the indissolubility of marriage should be changed.

“We believe the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried in the present situation has reached the stage where honesty requires a reconsideration of the continued divide between the church’s teaching on indissolubility and the pastoral strategies of its ministers,” they wrote, asking “if church teachings remain persuasive.”

“By asking this question, however, we do not wish to be seen as advocates of divorce. The teaching of the Catholic church that marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament that should entail a permanent and faithful union of love between husband and wife is a wise and much needed message in the modern world.”

After years of mounting pressures, exchanges, and at least one rejected rebuttal submission written by Jesuit Fr. Peter F. Ryan, the Vatican finally mandated that Theological Studies publish — unedited — an essay coauthored by Ryan and theologian Germain Grisez titled “Indissoluble Marriage: A Reply to Kenneth Himes and James Coriden.”

Ryan is professor of moral theology at the seminary of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.; Grisez is emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University.

In their essay the authors offer a vigorous defense of church teaching on marriage, saying it can never be changed. “At the risk of seeming presumptuous, we will argue that substantive revision is indeed impossible,” they write, criticizing Himes and Coriden’s arguments.

It is not unusual for Theological Studies to publish a reply to an essay. Normally, however, such replies run half the length or less of the original essay. The Ryan and Grisez reply is an exception, running the length of a full article.

Schultenover took over as editor in chief at Theological Studies in January 2006, succeeding Jesuit Fr. Michael Fahey, who served 10 years in the position. Theological Studies says it has subscribers in some 80 countries. It has a Jesuit board of directors and 13 editorial consultants who assist Schultenover by reading and helping to choose manuscripts. The journal says it typically receives some 200 unsolicited submissions yearly, of which some 35 are published.

This is not the first time the Vatican has placed significant pressure on a U.S.-based Jesuit publication. In May 2005, Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, resigned at the request of his order following years of pressure for his ouster from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that instance, the Vatican also said America had strayed too far from official church teachings.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not respond to NCR questions regarding Theological Studies.



Catholics in Crisis: Sex and Deception in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

This is a MUST READ!

As the Archdiocese reels from a second grand jury report detailing its cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, the local church faces the biggest crisis in its history. How could a spiritual institution turn a blind eye to evil not just once, but twice? The answer lies in the story of the two men who’ve led the Catholic Church in Philadelphia for the past 25 years



Suit: Former Catholic priest molested boy

Another lawsuit was filed Friday claiming that former Catholic priest Daniel McCormack sexually abused a boy while at St. Agatha parish in the Lawndale neighborhood.

The plaintiff, who uses the name John Doe 184 in the lawsuit, claims that McCormack begin sexually molesting him when he was 11-or-12 years-old in 2004 while the boy helped with chores at the parish, located at 3151 W. Douglas Blvd., according to the suit filed in Cook County Court.

After the incidents, McCormack would reward the boy for his help at the church and lure him back for more “projects” with money, gift cards, cash or a video game, the suit said.

The abuse continued until just prior to McCormack being arrested and charged in Jan. 2006 with sexually molesting two boys on multiple occasions, the suit said.

The suit claims that the Catholic Bishops of Chicago and Cardinal Francis George knew of McCormack’s sexual abuse of young boys before he was assigned to St. Agatha and began abusing the boy, the suit said.

The two-count suit claims negligence and fraud. The suit, being handled by Jeffrey R. Anderson, seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.

The Archdiocese is disappointed that Jeffrey Anderson has chosen to file another lawsuit regarding Daniel McCormack which needlessly subjects his client to the ordeal of litigation, according to an emailed statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman.

The Archdiocese has worked hard and successfully to resolve these matters outside of court and will continue to do so, according to the statement.

The Archdiocese has a long-standing practice of reaching out to all victims of misconduct by clergy to resolve their claims in a just, compassionate and respectful way, the statement said.

The Archdiocese continues to work for the healing of all those affected by the tragedy of child and adolescent sexual abuse, according to the statement.



One man’s long and lonely crusade against Vatican opposition to married priests

RITE AND REASON: ONE NIGHT in 1952, a German boy of 19, in the throes of a youthful romance, became overwhelmed with the certainty that God wanted him as a priest. In the following days he felt he could not pray “Thy will be done” if he refused the call.

And yet during those same days he found himself weeping uncontrollably, “shadowed with darkness because, for the sake of the priestly vocation, I had to accept the renunciation of marriage”.

Heinz-Jurgen Vogels stayed with his vocation all the way to ordination, for the call had taken place “with such inner force that it carried me over the threshold of priesthood, yet only to drop me burnt out immediately after that.”

The couple of years that followed Vogels’s 1959 ordination were years of unrelieved depression, inability to function in his priesthood, leading him eventually to the brink of suicide.

“Only years later was I able to recognise that my subconscious, at the ordination, had concluded: ‘Now, finally, the door to marriages has closed; now there is no longer any rescue for my desire to have feelings for the other half of humankind, which is, however, part of my nature.’”

The crisis came in his little Cologne room overlooking the Rhine: “The abandonment in the colourless grey room was felt so greatly that I stopped again and again at the washstand, and took the razor blade to cut open the arteries in my wrist. Only with extreme effort could I return it to the glass plate. The window, the Rhine, the rail tracks, everything attracted me almost irresistibly.”

Vogels was sent to a rest home for a while and then resumed duty, living with an understanding old parish priest in a village in the Eifel mountains.

“It was a time of long conversations in the evenings, seated in comfortable armchairs. Yet it should take another five years before the fog was dispelled.”

It happened after a pilgrimage to Kevelaer: “It may sound strange that during my prayer I found rising in my soul the dear wish: ‘Oh would I be allowed to use sexuality!’”

And then came the revelation in a verse from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: “Have we perhaps not the right to take a wife along with us, like the other apostles . . ?” (1 Cor 9:5) – the word “mulier” being open to interpretation as “wife” as well as “woman”.

That linked up with the sudden realisation that there were already married priests in the Catholic Church – all the Eastern Catholic churches in union with Rome had their married priests, and even here in the West, Protestant pastors could become Catholic priests and then live openly with their wives and families.

The rest of Vogels’s life has been a one-man crusade to convince the authorities in Rome to abolish compulsory celibacy. This story is told in his extraordinary book, Alone Against the Vatican , now available in English.

Unfortunately the publishers have chosen a less striking title, Catholics and their Right to Married Priests , with the subtitle, Struggles with the Vatican . It’s readily available in paperback from Amazon and is also on Kindle eBooks.

Those struggles make for a fascinating story. The first declaration of his views in a sermon led to such a rumpus that he was diagnosed with “endogenous mania”, church authorities holding that anyone with such views had to be round the bend. But Vogels stayed sane, dangerously so, grew as a theologian and disputant and gradually his crusade developed.

Inevitably came marriage to Renata, plus a challenge to Vatican authorities to declare his marriage invalid, which they declined to do.

All these years later, Vogels is still fighting his case, alone against the Vatican. The kernel of his argument is that the gift of priesthood and the gift of celibacy are separate, and only rarely are bestowed on one person.

Hence the horrors that we see around us here in Ireland, when attempts at staying celibate fail. Vogels even has the support of Vatican II, which declared that celibacy “is not required by the very nature of priesthood”.

This fascinating book is just Vogels’s latest salvo. But what comes out most clearly is the steadfastness, devotion, support, indeed heroism, of Renata. She, indeed, is the best of all arguments for what a helpmate could be for a priest.



Clergy devalues language in response to child sex abuse

IT’S THAT “if” word again. Irish Catholic bishops and archbishops have been finding it so very helpful in recent years when expressing personal sorrow for what others have perceived as wrongs on their part.

Such a delightfully useful word. It creates just the right amount of wriggle-room to allow a putatively penitent prelate allow an outside perception of deepest repentance while not really feeling such a thing at all.

You could say the small “if” word, with such a big meaning, comes from the same stable as that thoroughbred “mental reservation”, of which there is none better when conveying a false impression – truthfully.

And so, little “if” popped up when the former bishop of Cloyne John Magee spoke to RTÉ on Monday.

“To the victims I say I am truly horrified by the abuse they suffered – it is very clear to me when I read the complete report – and if through my not fully implementing the 1996 guidelines which we had, I have made any victim suffer more, on my bended knee, I beg forgiveness, I am sorry.”

The extravagance of the language (how Italianate!) should not distract from the place of little “if” in the scheme of things. Or that of the equally useful “fully” term.

The Dublin archdiocese liked the “fully” word too.

In explaining how it could say in a mid-1990s statement it had co-operated with gardaí in dealing with allegations of clerical child sex abuse cases, while at the same time retaining files not handed over to gardaí, the Dublin archdiocese pointed out it had not said it co-operated “fully” with gardaí.

This was also presented to the Murphy commission as an example of mental reservation in all its glory.

Recall that the Cloyne report found Magee “took little or no active interest” in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the framework document on child sexual abuse was agreed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

There are no “ifs” about that. It was “little or no” interest.

And Magee was similarly athletic with his use of language in the statement he issued on Monday.

He accepted “full responsibility for the failure of the diocese to effectively manage allegations on child sexual abuse”. He unreservedly apologised “to all those who suffered additional hurt because of the flawed implementation of the church procedures, for which I take full responsibility”.

This would suggest he was taking on board such responsibility because of his role as bishop rather than through any direct personal fault of his own.

And that “fully” word appears again. He let the victims down “by not FULLY [my capitals] implementing the guidelines which were available to me” and he apologised “to the people of the diocese for not managing this important work more effectively”.

It is difficult not to agree with the Cloyne woman, herself abused by a priest, who told my colleague Barry Roche last Monday she was sceptical over Magee’s expression of remorse, saying she had heard so many apologies from the bishop and other clergy in Cloyne that she questioned their value.

“Anyway, whatever he does now can’t undo what was done to us.

We can all be sorry after the fact – he can say sorry as much as he wants, but it isn’t going to change what happened to me or to the other girls who were abused,” she said.

Wise words.

Indeed, it is hard not to concur with Magee himself when he said on Monday, “I feel there is nothing I can say now, which will ease the pain and distress for victims.” There isn’t.

The problem Magee and other senior clergy face is that they have devalued language.

They have rendered words of sorrow and remorse redundant through repeated abuse.

They have done as did Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass.

“When I use a word,” he said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

The question was, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

He knew better.

“The question is,” he said, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

The bishops and archbishops might also reflect on what became of Humpty Dumpty.