It's the nature of my job that I attend far too many conferences. Over the course of a decade reporting on "all things Catholic," I've sat through thousands of papers, lectures and keynote speeches, in various languages and on various continents. Even measured against that volume of material, however, the Daniel Finn's presidential address June 10 at the annual Catholic Theological Society of America convention ranks as one of the most impressive presentations I've ever heard.
When I say "impressive," I mean not just intellectually provocative or rhetorically satisfying, though Finn's address was both, but also brave and potentially transformative -- not only for the CTSA, but for American Catholicism.
Finn, of St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, invited his colleagues to consider whether the CTSA's high-profile public statements criticizing the Vatican and the bishops over the years have been counter-productive. Those statements have produced a distorted public image of the CTSA, he argued, and they've divided the theological community, driving away conservative theologians who feel "alienated" by declarations that "poke fun at Vatican shortcomings and put the CTSA name on statements they do not endorse."
"The price has been too high compared to what we have gained," Finn said. "I wish we were not facing this trade-off, but I believe we are."
The CTSA, Finn argued, should instead be a common space in which theologians of differing perspectives can come together.
"Our church is wracked by divisions caused by ideological simplicities on all sides, and we need broader dialogue in the church than we have today," Finn said. "In the CTSA, all theologians should feel respected, and a majority should not employ the mechanics of majoritarian democracy to produce statements that the minority would find offensive, and then leave."
This was Finn's last act as president; the office is now in the hands of Margaret O'Gara of the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto.
Finn, it should be said, hardly means to muzzle theological discussion of church teaching or Vatican interventions. He suggested that in the future, statements on those subjects should come from individual theologians, perhaps with others signing on, rather than in the name of the CTSA. Read the Balance of John Allan's article here.
Allen went on to say in giving perspective to his comments: "Second, Finn's choice of topic should not be read to suggest that there's presently some crisis between the CTSA and church authorities. In fact, a number of bishops took part in the conference, including Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles; Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, president of the U.S. bishops' conference; Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California; Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, New Mexico; Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee; Auxiliary Bishop Richard Grecco of Toronto; Emeritus Bishop Fritz Lobinger of Aliwal, South Africa; Emeritus Bishop Francisco Claver of Malaybalay, the Philippines; Emeritus Bishop John Cummins of Oakland; Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit; and Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos, Guatemala. Several expressed appreciation for the theologians' work."It would seem to this writer, barely knowledgeable about the makeup of the U.S. Episcopate, that if these Bishops are the only Bishops from the U.S. who were present at the theologians' conference, not a few of them are considered to be mainstays of the progressive elements in the American Church and there IS "some crisis between the CTSA and church authorities."
The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars is the organization formed by the "more conservative" Catholic theologians.Is it good that the American Church has two theological organizations. Shouldn't theologicans be debating with those with whom they disagree in order to arrive at "truth?"