Donald W. Wuerl
Bishops, theologians and the new evangelization
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At an overflow audience at The Catholic University of America in April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted with sustained and vigorous applause as he spoke to the presidents of Catholic universities and colleges from across the nation. During his talk, the pope emphasized that “education is integral to the mission of the church to proclaim the good news. First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.”

This year, as Catholic universities and the bishops observe the 10th anniversary of the application of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” for the United States, it seems appropriate to reflect on the role of institutions of education and their participation both in the communion of the church that “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” highlighted so strongly and, consequently, in her great teaching mission. The invitation for a renewed collaboration in the proclamation of the faith comes at a new moment—the new evangelization.

It is well recognized that many have fallen away from the practice of the faith and lack a foundation in the essentials of the faith. Pope Benedict addressed several concerns about matters of faith when he spoke to the U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during the same week as his address to educators in April 2008.

For many, the Gospel has lost its taste, its freshness and its luster. We live in a time guided by a secularism that treats religion as a purely private matter. It is a time guided by an ingrained consumerism and materialism, by an isolating individualism and a pervading relativism that erode confidence in the truths of faith and in human reason itself. For too many people, their religious instruction failed them at several levels. Something went wrong.

But we are not without hope. At the same time, this is an age when many, especially the young, are experiencing a surge of interest in enduring values and a yearning for meaning, purpose and a spiritual life. In my ministry as the archbishop of Washington, D.C., I see evidence of this work of the Holy Spirit every day. Young people ask for the wisdom of the church and seek an introduction to Christ. One particularly powerful sign of this openness to the Gospel occurs annually at the Rally for Life in Washington, when youth from all over the nation—in an increasing number every year—celebrate the dignity of human life, the Gospel of Life. This past year we hosted nearly 40,000 young people, who represent a vibrant future for the church in our country.

There are convincing signs that for many the church stands at a cultural crossroads. As we look to the future, we can follow a pathway indicated by voices of this age that draw much of their inspiration from sources alien to the Gospel, or we can respond with a deeper appreciation of our faith and spiritual heritage and with the confidence that imbues generous and apostolic hearts. This is the new evangelization that Pope Benedict described as “re-proposing” the Gospel to those who are convinced that they already know the faith and that it holds no interest for them. It is the courage to invite our contemporaries to hear the message of Christ all over again, as if for the first time.

Recently, as I celebrated Mass at one of our Newman centers, I was pleased to find the church packed. The students explained that the chaplain had encouraged them to invite their friends. The students thought of themselves as apostles on a campus where witnesses to Christ are few. The new evangelization is all about knowing our faith, having confidence in it and sharing it with others.

Collaborators in the New Evangelization

The new evangelization must be rooted authentically in the good news. This saving message of the Gospel finds its home in the church. Its pastors provide the authentication of the message and verify its life-giving application to the circumstances of our day. Our confidence in the teaching office of the church is grounded in the fact that Christ’s message has been handed down, generation by generation, preserving its integrity and its vitality only through the church that he himself founded, beginning with the apostles and carried on in each age by their successors, the bishops. It is through the teaching office of the church that we can be sure of the authenticity of the message that we proclaim.

The effort of the bishops to work more collaboratively with teachers, catechists and theologians at all levels of education can be seen in the cooperation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with the publishers of catechetical materials to ensure that those materials are comprehensive and faithful to the magisterium. Much of the catechetical revival that we are experiencing across our country can be traced to this successful initiative in which the bishops studied catechetical texts over a number of years and identified 10 doctrinal deficiencies that have hindered the formation of so many in recent decades. Adjusting those texts has already borne significant fruit in the formation of young Catholics.

Bishops, however, do not carry out their ministry in isolation. Among bishops’ valuable collaborators are theologians, whose privilege it is to explore systematically the truths of our faith according to the ancient adage fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. As every student of church history knows, theologians have proven invaluable through the centuries in the refinement and deepening of our understanding of the Gospel. Their contributions are most evident when the explorations of theology build upon the insights of previous generations and are fruitful only when they begin from the known truths of received revelation. Identifying those boundaries of authentic faith, the building blocks of genuine theological progress, constitutes a significant task of the church’s magisterium.

There is a powerful and symbiotic relationship, then, between the bishop and the theologian when both appreciate their respective roles in understanding and transmitting the faith. As Blessed Pope John Paul II explained in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (No. 29):

Bishops should encourage the creative work of theologians. They serve the church through research done in a way that respects theological method.... At the same time, since theology seeks an understanding of revealed truth whose authentic interpretation is entrusted to the bishops of the church, it is intrinsic to the principles and methods of their research and teaching in their academic discipline that theologians respect the authority of the bishops, and assent to Catholic doctrine according to the degree of authority with which it is taught.

The vibrancy of Catholic theological development is not hindered by the exercise of the magisterium. Rather, it is the very teaching office that authenticates the fruit of theology.

Given that college- and university-level theological instruction takes place in the real circumstances of today’s diminished faith formation, it is necessary to recognize that the student entering the “groves of academe” too often comes in need of evangelization and faith formation more than theological speculation. The sharp blade of precise theoretical investigation and speculation should be affixed to the handle of basic, firm faith formation.

To be sure, as in every academic field, theologians enjoy a legitimate autonomy, but it is an autonomy defined by the standards of their discipline and the boundaries of what is known with certainty. In the case of theology, it is precisely the truths of faith, taught by the magisterium, that constitute the subject matter of their work. It is an academic freedom, like any freedom, that is ordered to the truth and to human flourishing. As the pope affirmed in his talk at Catholic University, appeals “to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission, a mission at the heart of the church’s munus docendi [teaching responsibility] and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.”

When bishops individually or collectively disagree with a specific theological position or methodology, it is not because they do not understand the task of theology. It is because they do and also recognize their own unique and necessary role.

Catholic Universities at the Meeting Point

During his 2008 talk at The Catholic University of America, the pope observed that a “university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction—do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear?”

As we respond to the call for the new evangelization, there are growing signs of new, constructive cooperation between bishops and theologians at Catholic universities. The bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, in collaboration with Catholic University, for instance, has planned a conference in September for bishops and theologians on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization. As I write, I hope one of the outcomes of this multi-day meeting will be to refocus on the great mission of the church to bring Christ to the world. Another instance of fruitful cooperation, sponsored by both the Committee on Doctrine and the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame in February 2012, will deal with celibacy and the priesthood. Here again bishops and theologians, including scholars from both seminary and university faculties, will explore an element of Catholic faith and practice in a way that probably would not be experienced in any secular university setting.

One can envision similar efforts bringing the best of the church’s theological expertise to significant issues today from the faith-filled and life-giving Catholic tradition on matters as timely as protecting innocent human life, legitimate types of stem-cell research, marriage, the environment, freedom of conscience and institutional religious freedom. Catholic campuses all over the nation can be centers for the new evangelization providing, in communion with the local bishop, the reasoned exposition of the truth of the church’s teaching.

As we seek to make our way through the current cultural crossroads, there are many signs of hope and renewal. Among those signs, bishops and theologians are taking a new look at their relationship and the possibilities offered by their constructive collaboration, as these two examples of academic gatherings demonstrate. When their respective contributions are ordered to the proclamation of the Gospel, grounded in the truths of our faith and the teaching of the church that Jesus founded, bishops and theologians offer a profound contribution to the new evangelization and an irreplaceable gift to our contemporaries: a rejuvenated, fruitful and faithful exposition of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Bishops and theologians discuss the role of theology and catechesis.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl is archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Comments

EDWARD FEROLI | 10/14/2011 - 7:54pm
In  "A New Relationship" (9/26/2011), Cardinal Donald Wuerl attributes the exodus of many Catholics from the Church as due to materialism, secularism and consumerism, when the real cause is more specific and internal.

Women, especially women religious, continue to be marginalized; bishops interject themselves into partisan politics; and discussion of reform is suppressed.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the decades long, world-wide pedophilia scandal in which the institutional Church has failed the faithful.  Because of the exalted status of the clergy, sometimes called clericalism, bishops have regarded the rape and sexual abuse of young people as peccadilloes rather than criminal offenses.  The laity has borne the burden of ruined lives and costly reparations.

In no Christian church, with a married clergy, have such widespread perversions occurred.

Let us pray that the meeting to be held at the University of Notre Dame to deal with celibacy and the priesthood leads to much needed reform

Edward J. Feroli, M.D.

 
JAMES SULLIVAN | 9/20/2011 - 12:17pm
Cardinal Wuerl: The blogs of some Cathoic publications (i.e.. Commonweal) reveal a lot about what is behind their editorials and selected Church issues of the week.  The majority of blogs are initiated by and responded to by university professors or "theologians".  There is always a sense of arrogance, that they are right.  Recently one blog referred to their set group of bloggers as the "thinking Catholics" as if everyone else does not think about their faith or the practices of the Church. Whatever happened to "God resists the proud but bestows his favor on the lowly" (James 4:6).  With that said, how can we come to a fruitful dialogue without humility.  Mind you, the same can be said of Church authorities too. Let's start with "spirtuality" (humility) first.  The ordinary (lowly) should play a part in all these discussions.
Paul Leddy | 9/19/2011 - 7:34pm
I have the greatest respect and admiration for my Archbishop.  The following may be relevant; I thought it was interesting:

From "Letters from Vatican City", The Debate on the "Sources of Revelation":
It was Cardinal Bea, eighty-two years old, feeble-looking, but patently rejuvenated in mind and heart who, with beguiling candor, laid the facts straight on the line. He began by graciously praising the work put into the schema, but informed its authors that they had evidently been marching in the wrong direction. Their end result “did not agree with the purpose set down by the Holy Father in summoning the Council. “What then did the pope have in mind?” he asked. If ever there was a moment when someone should have shouted “Attenzione!” to the opposition, this was it. The pope, said Cardinal Bea, had in mind “that the faith of the Church be presented in all its integrity and purity, but in such manner that it will be received today with benevolence. For we are shepherds.”


There was no need now for patristic or theological argument, he continued. “What our times demand is a pastoral approach, demonstrating the love and kindness that flow from our religion.” This schema was totally lacking in the pastoral spirit. If a schema like this were to be called pastoral, then the same thing could be said of every theological textbook. “It represents the work of a theological school,” he said, “not what the better theologians today think.” He pointed out the many references in the schema to the scripture scholars; yet there was only one favorable mention – all the rest were held suspect. It was not the Council’s business, he said, to do the work of exegetes; to solve problems of inspiration, authorship, or inerrancy, “We must do an ecumenical job.” The schema must be radically redone, he concluded, to render it shorter, clearer, and more pastoral. The voice was indeed that of Augustine Bea, but the sentiments were those of the Patriarch of the West, Angelo Roncalli, now Pope John XXIII.


(Rynne pp. 148-49) Letters from Vatican City. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963

KEN LOVASIK | 9/19/2011 - 7:59am

The Church, throughout her history, has followed the axiom that theology is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding): ‘faith’ being the catechetical/faith formation part; and ‘seeking understanding’ being the theological part. Also often enough in her history, the Church has misunderstood and condemned theologians, like Origen and Thomas Aquinas (and in our own time, thinkers like John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, and others), who were in actuality breaking new ground in faith’s search for understanding, only to embrace their work at a later time. In fact, much of the theology of the Second Vatican Council was inspired by the work of theologians that had been “silenced” by Church authorities. Our contemporary leadership in the Church seems not to have learned much from past mistakes.


Most theologians, like Cardinal Wuerl, see their role as primarily clarifying and explaining official Church teaching. This is especially true of the Bishops, and rightly so. A much smaller group of theologians like David Tracy (University of Chicago), Paul Lakeland (Fairfield University), Richard Kearney (Boston College), Elizabeth Johnson (Fordham University) and others throughout the world are trying to reflect on the ‘deposit of faith’ in a language that can be understood by people living in a post-modern world. They do this by trying to enter into dialogue with the ‘secular’ culture in order to understand the challenges it presents to faith.


Too many of our young people in the Church are simply walking away with a yawn.  They simply fail to see the relevance of a life of faith. Who will show them? If all we can do is hold “World Youth Days” with lots of photo opportunities and sound-bites that advertise how much faith there is among the youth of our time in our Church and at the same time condemn those among us, like Elizabeth Johnson, because they are reaching out to a world we think can be ignored … then we are indeed becoming irrelevant.

KEN LOVASIK | 9/19/2011 - 7:58am

The Church, throughout her history, has followed the axiom that theology is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding): ‘faith’ being the catechetical/faith formation part; and ‘seeking understanding’ being the theological part. Also often enough in her history, the Church has misunderstood and condemned theologians, like Origen and Thomas Aquinas (and in our own time, thinkers like John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, and others), who were in actuality breaking new ground in faith’s search for understanding, only to embrace their work at a later time. In fact, much of the theology of the Second Vatican Council was inspired by the work of theologians that had been “silenced” by Church authorities. Our contemporary leadership in the Church seems not to have learned much from past mistakes.


Most theologians, like Cardinal Wuerl, see their role as primarily clarifying and explaining official Church teaching. This is especially true of the Bishops, and rightly so. A much smaller group of theologians like David Tracy (University of Chicago), Paul Lakeland (Fairfield University), Richard Kearney (Boston College), Elizabeth Johnson (Fordham University) and others throughout the world are trying to reflect on the ‘deposit of faith’ in a language that can be understood by people living in a post-modern world. They do this by trying to enter into dialogue with the ‘secular’ culture in order to understand the challenges it presents to faith.


Too many of our young people in the Church are simply walking away with a yawn.  They simply fail to see the relevance of a life of faith. Who will show them? If all we can do is hold “World Youth Days” with lots of photo opportunities and sound-bites that advertise how much faith there is among the youth of our time in our Church and at the same time condemn those among us, like Elizabeth Johnson, because they are reaching out to a world we think can be ignored … then we are indeed becoming irrelevant.

Bill Taylor | 9/18/2011 - 2:44pm

The Vatican Council ended forty six years ago. The bishops who were present are long dead and buried, replaced by clones of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The priests who took the Council as a moment of the HolySpirit are now mostly dead or retired, replaced by younger priests who are servants of the institution before they are servants of the people.


That means that the complaint that the youth have lost their taste for their faith is a problem of the current generation of "Pope John Paul Priests and laymen and women." We will see how they do. But please, please, quit blaming Vatican II. The parts that survive are being interred by Pope Benedict as we speak. The anti-Vatican II people are on their own.


 

WILLIAM ATKINSON | 9/18/2011 - 1:55am
Its amazing how little the church leaders are resigned to live in the past.  When Weurl came to Seattle, he took a diverse and divided community and with substantial growing problems and turned it into drowning ship, which has never recoved from the pains and suffering of those days.   All over America we see seperation and loss of church members, and the administrators of the catholic church are still perplexed as to the reasons why,  In Europe and Africa the concentration is on pastoral instruction and care, while in America its on administration and leagalizm.    I find it Ironical that small country like Italy has created 64 new diocese in last half century with new Bishops and Archbishops for Pastrol Care, while in America with hugh massive population growth Pastoral Care is naught and the territorial governance of administrating authority has very little changed in past 50 years.  Hugh geographical areas are still governed and administered by one individual.    Just take Archdiocese of Seattle or Portland, or New Orleans and see what loss of pastoral care has done,  How in the world can areas of hugh metropolitian areas (14 hugh cities in Seattle Archdiocese) be under the administration of one individual.  while traveling in Spain or Italy every small community has a ordinary as I saw in Egypt, Iraq, and other places where Pastoral care is placed before administrative needs.
Craig McKee | 9/18/2011 - 1:13am
"Much of the catechetical revival that we are experiencing across our country can be traced to this successful initiative in which the bishops studied catechetical texts over a number of years and identified 10 doctrinal deficiencies that have hindered the formation of so many in recent decades."

Is he referring to this list from 1997 in an address to the USCCB by Archbishop BUECHLEIN?
Source: http://old.usccb.org/catechism/document/oralrpt.shtml




  1. There is insufficient attention to the Trinity and the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings
    Catechetical texts fail at times to present the Trinity as the central mystery of the Christian faith. The language used in referring to the Persons of the Trinity contributes at times to a lack of clarity. This is most evident in the reluctance to use "Father" for the first person of the Trinity and, at times, to substitute "Parent God" for God the Father. Particularly, the relationship between Jesus and the Father is often weak. There are times where the word "God" is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find "Father" or "God the Father" since the reference is precisely to the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity.






  2. There is an obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ
    Texts fall short, at times, in presenting Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God's plan for our salvation. The indispensable place of the Incarnation in the plan of salvation is not always sufficiently presented. Jesus the Savior is often overshadowed by Jesus the teacher, model, friend and brother. It is a question of imbalance.
    Some texts do not present the mystery of the Incarnation in its fullness. Often there appears to be an imbalance in the instruction on the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. At times, we detect a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ, as if divinity is equated with being "distant and unreal."





  3. Another trend is an indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings



    Catechetical materials do not always clearly present the Church as established by Christ to continue both his presence and his mission in the world. The teaching function of the Church and its apostolic nature, as well as the role of the hierarchy and the concept of the leadership of bishops and priests in teaching the Word of God are often under-treated. The mark of unity in the Church is at times eclipsed by an emphasis on the Church's catholicity and diversity.







  4. There is an inadequate sense of a distinctively Christian anthropology



    By and large the catechetical texts do not seem to integrate the fundamental notions that human persons are by nature religious, that the desire for God is written in the human heart and that the human person is inherently spiritual and not reducible to the merely material. Neither are the texts generally clear that it is precisely in Christ that we have been created in the image and likeness of God. Nor do they emphasize that Christ has restored to us the divine image of God, an image disfigured by sin. Rather, too often the impression is left that the human person is the first principle and final end of his/her own existence.







  5. There is a trend that gives insufficient emphasis on God 's initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action



    Texts do not adequately emphasize that human action is intended to follow upon God's action and initiative in the world. When the methodological starting point is predominately human experience, the texts leave the impression that our human initiative is the prerequisite for divine action. God's initiative at times appears subordinate to human experience and human action.







  6. We have detected an insufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace



    The catechetical texts tend to present an inadequate understanding of grace. Rather often it is described as God's love, then not much more is said about it. That the preparation of the human person for the reception of grace is already a work of grace is not clearly presented. Grace is not generally treated as God's initiative which introduces humanity into the intimacy of Trinitatian life and makes us his adopted children and participants in his life. The texts are generally weak in treating the particular efficacy of the grace proper to the respective sacraments.







  7. We have found a pattern of inadequate presentation of the sacraments



    Catechetical texts often do not treat the sacraments within the Paschal Mystery, that is, the sacraments are not explicitly presented as the means by which we share in the new life of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments are often presented as important events in human life of which God becomes a part, rather than as effective signs of divine life in which humans participate. Consequently this leads to a deficient understanding of the divine action and the graced transformation that is at the heart of each of the sacraments. Particularly, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders evidence deficiency because the texts usually do not present the character and role of the ordained minister in the life of the ecclesial community.







  8. We have seen a pattern of deficiency in the teaching on original sin and sin in general



    In general, the texts do not clearly teach that original sin is the loss of original holiness and justice, transmitted by our first parents, and that it wounds human nature in all people. Too often the texts do not address how the doctrine of original sin informs other doctrines, for example, grace, baptism, sin, and redemption.







  9. We have found a meager exposition of Christian moral life



    At times an over-emphasis on personal identity and self-respect gives the impression that these are the primary "sources" of morality. Too often the source of morality found in God's revealed law, as taught by the Church and grounded in natural law, are not adequately treated. Where texts could present the binding force of the Church's moral teaching in certain areas, often they do not. In addition, instruction on what is necessary for the formation of a correct conscience is either inadequately or even mistakenly presented.







  10. Finally, we have found an inadequate presentation of eschatology



    The eschatological aspect of Catholic doctrine is often underemphasized. The transcendent, trans-temporal and trans-historical nature of the Kingdom is not always present. The general judgment, the concept of hell and the eschatological dimensions of the Beatitudes as well as the moral and sacramental orders are not always adequately taught.





While not having had time to do a close compare/contrast with Fr. Weinandy's critique of Dr. Johnson's book, it seems ironic to me that none of these "doctrinal deficiencies" play a signifcant role in the ongoing debate about the place and function of Catholicism in contemporary society, leading me to believe that the bulk of the Archbishop's contentions in this article are largely irrelevant precisely to the people they are purportedly trying to reach.

People are not walking away from the church -or refusing to join in the first place- because of:
1. "insufficient attention to the Trinity,"
2. "an obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ,"
3. "an indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic belief"
4. "an inadequate sense of a distnctly Christian anthropology"
5. "an insufficient emphasis on God's initiative in the world"
6. "an insufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace"
7. "an inadequate presentation of the sacraments"
8. "a pattern of deficiency on the teaching of original sin and sin in general"
9. "a meager exposition of the Christian moral life"
10. "an inadequate presentation of eschatology."

Sounds like the patient in question has a severe case of CEREBRAL DISCONNECT. And the proposed remedy of a so-called "NEW EVANGELIZATION" will ultimately prove to be no panacea.




Daniel Horan | 9/17/2011 - 4:13pm
I appreciate Robert Nugent's well-presented point above (and if this is the same Nugent who is the author of Silence Speaks, I commend him on a great little book and recommend it to many).

It is with all due respect that I offer my own response to the Cardinal's article in my reflection: "Theology is Not Catechesis," and share here my concluding sentence: "I cannot pretend to be untroubled by the seemingly ramped-up rhetoric that Cardinal Wuerl's article only echoes in recent months: the unsustainable critique of Elizabeth Johnson, the caustic rhetoric of Thomas Weinandy, the intervention that jeopardizes the academic integrity of Theological Studies and now this. What's next?"
DAVID GENTRY-AKIN | 9/17/2011 - 12:01pm
Thank you, Cardinal Wuerl, for this thoughful reflection on the role of bishops and theologians in passing on our holy Catholic faith.  I found myself in complete unanimity of mind and heart with everything you wrote.

American Catholic higher education, and American Catholic academic theology, is certainly at a crossroads:  Are our institutions going to continue to secularize, to identify with our secular counterparts and consider their strategies to be the path to excellence, or are we going to return to our roots as institutions committed to handing on a faith tradition of which our culture, and our young people, stand very much in need?  As theologians, are we going to work in collaboration with our bishops to explore the richness of our tradition, or are we going to merely become another branch of the social sciences, one committed only to deconstruction and "critical thinking"?

We desperately need our bishops to enter into serious dialogue with the theological community, to help us all to chart a new path toward collaboration for the sake of the gospel and our Catholic tradition, one rooted in mutual trust and respect.  Even as we theologians need to take the role of the magisterium witht the utmost seriousness, we need our bishops to help us to identfy new structures for collaboration that will avoid the hurt, suspicion, and misunderstanding that have characterized the recent past.  The case of Sister Elizabeth Johnson is just one such case.  Those of us who know Sister Elizabeth and her record of service to the Church would find it hard to imagine a theologian more faithful to the gospel and our Catholic tradition.  If her work needs criticism and further development, so be it.  But, that she was investigated in secret and subsequently criticized so harshly and so publicly without having an opportunity to speak for herself is just deeply scandalous tomany of us.

We need your leadership, dear Bishops.  We need you to journey with us as partners committed to the propagation of the gospel and the tradition.  We need your correction, when appropriate, but also your appreciation and your support for the difficult task that we seek to perform in a highly secularized and sometimes hostile culture.  Help us to find the structures that will enable the development of new modes of collaboration for the sake of the gospel and our faith tradition.
Catherine McKeen | 9/17/2011 - 11:14am
"For too many people, their religious instruction failed them at several levels. Something went wrong."  Cardinal Wuerl

It seems to me that what failed us was not the religious instruction, but our new understanding of the church's history, its myriad leadership failures over the centuries, and yet its insistance in every age that the magisterium always knows best.  It just gets too wearying to read as it is cast yet again in a renewed attempt to get the "faithful" to row the floundering boat.

No, it was not the instruction that failed, dear Cardinal.  It was not the theologians who erred in pursuing new avenues of understanding.  It was the leadership that failed and still fails to be instructed by the being-born of our time.  


Virginia Edman | 9/16/2011 - 11:28pm


The new evangelization must be rooted authentically in the good news. This saving message of the Gospel finds its home in the church. Its pastors provide the authentication of the message and verify its life-giving application to the circumstances of our day. Our confidence in the teaching office of the church is grounded in the fact that Christ’s message has been handed down, generation by generation, preserving its integrity and its vitality only through the church that he himself founded, beginning with the apostles and carried on in each age by their successors, the bishops. It is through the teaching office of the church that we can be sure of the authenticity of the message that we proclaim.
Cardinal Wuerl

I understand that Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document on the constitution of the church, opened up to the truth in other denominations.  It addressed the question of religious pluralism.  Dei Verbum is also more open about revelation.  The argument that the Catholic Church is the only means of salvation, or the only source of the truth has been challenged.  The new evangelization, if it restricts the truth to the one sourse, the Catholic Church, is a retreat to an earlier time.  There is a lot of evangelization happening today, but I think it is going to be more effective if it is preached with love, and not constraint.  Cardinal Wuerl's version sounds heavy and a leap to the past.  It is not the joyful gospel that is going to move the present generation.  Nothing is more distressing then erecting barriers and that includes the barriers around theologians.

Thomas Litsch | 9/16/2011 - 8:07pm
Let me get this right. Only the divinely inspired Popes know the truth and the role of a Theologian is to just repeat back what they say word for word, since everything the Pope says is infallible. Thanks, Bishop. Now I have it.
Luis Gutierrez | 9/16/2011 - 4:22pm
I certainly agree with Cardinal Wuerl that "the church stands at a cultural crossroads" and that "the new evangelization must be rooted authentically in the good news."  But authenticity is not contingent on a literalist interpretations of the Bible and a rigid adherence to patriarchal traditions (with small "t") that preceded even the most ancient biblical texts.  On the contrary, such literalist interpretations and patriarchal traditions are the most serious obstacle to the new evangelization. For instance, fundamentalist interpretations of the masculinity of Jesus as normative for ordination have been proven to be wrong and are no longer credible whether or not the Vatican is willing to face the music. What matters is the humaity of Jesus, not his masculinity.

Cardinal Wuerl also writes: "As we seek to make our way through the current cultural crossroads, there are many signs of hope and renewal."  Indeed, the voice of God continues to resound in the events of history.  But the signs of the times point to the future, in continuity with what is good from the past but without inordinate attachment to what is bad from the past.  It is time for the church to officially recognize that patriarchy is not part of "Natural Law," just as slavery and racism are not part of "Natural Law."  The ordination of women to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate is not against "Natural Law" and most definitely is not against revealed truth. 

We now know that a patriarchal culture is a violent culture, and violence is the gratest obstacle to sustainable human development.  Likewise, a church guided by men alone is the greatest obstacle to the new evangelization, and is also a grave  obstacle to human development in harmony with the human habitat.

Respectfully,
Luis T. Gutierrez
Mother Pelican Journal
ANDRE PAPINEAU REV | 9/16/2011 - 2:51pm
Bishop Wuerl speaks  of the situation of bishops disagreeing with  "a specific theological position or methodology because they contradict "the faith and the teaching of the Church." The definition or understanding of four terms, "theological position,"  "methodology," "faith" and "teaching of the Church" by bishops and theologians seem to be at the heart of the tensions today. 
  Too often, the magisterium attributes a "position" to a theologian (pace Elizabeth Johnson) who in reality does not hold that position. Is the theoloigan's task to "hold a position" or rather  to explore, articulate and contribute to a more developed,  informed position of the magiserium?
 Is it the task of the magisterium to pass judgments on theological methods or only on the conclusions those methodologies reach?  Wuerl cites John Paul II who speaks of theologians who serve the Church in away that "respects theological method"-not "the"theological method as if there were only one.
  The use of the term "the faith" used so often by the magisterium  always needs to be clarified to understand what that kind of faith we are talking and how a particular truth is related to revealed faith. John Paul II acknowledges that theologicalns (and others) assent to Catholic doctrine "according to the degree of authority with which it is taught."
  Finally,  popular and episcopal appeals to "the teaching of the Church" are often used to settle disagreements on the pastoral level  with no understanding of what exactly the Church teaches or of the varioius grades or levels of authority behind the teaching and the respect or assent due it.  To say that something is "the teaching of the Church" only evokes a whole series of questions to determine what that appeal really means.