John Allen Jr. posting on the CTSA conference.
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.
Oddly I hardly find a list including Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California, Emeritus Bishop John Cummins of Oakland and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit hardly comforting.
Covering reaction to the 1997 statement was, in some ways, my introduction to the bitterness of much American Catholic debate. Most famously, Cardinal Bernard of Law, then the archbishop of Boston, defined the CTSA as a vast theological "wasteland." Then-Fr. Avery Dulles, now a cardinal, said that the CTSA "constitutes a kind of alternative magisterium for dissatisfied Catholics." Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote acerbically that a Lutheran friend goes to CTSA meetings "to stay abreast of liberal Protestant theology."
…I want to make two further points.
First, the women and men who make up the theological community in the United States are critically important voices in Catholic affairs. Their books and lectures frame a substantial portion of Catholic conversation, and they are often the experts to whom the media turn when the church is in the spotlight. As goes the theological guild, in many ways, so goes the church.
Second, if the CTSA were to become a space in which theologians from all the various tribes in the American church come together, the ripple effect could be enormous, precisely because theologians are pace-setters. We might relearn the discipline of conversation, as opposed to spin and partisan rhetoric.
At one point, Finn said that by working to build such a climate, he did not mean theologians shouldn’t be "prophetic." Though I’m sure this is not what he intended, one could read that statement to suggest that the only form of prophecy within Catholic theology is criticizing authority, whether ecclesial or secular.
I would submit, however, that Finn’s vision is itself remarkably prophetic, pointing beyond the cul-de-sac of interest group struggles, and suggesting a willingness to rethink entrenched attitudes and patterns of behavior in order to realize an ecclesiology of communion. May we have ears to hear.
John Allen Jr. is much more optimistic about what Finn said as outgoing president of CTSA and the future of CTSA. Not issuing press releases against Church authority, but confining them to individual theologians or groups of theologians is not exactly a breakthrough. His idyllic utopia of these "various tribes" of theologians working together is not exactly likely. In the Church we have a gigantic sandbox in which to play in, but the first thing so many theologians look for are those edges if not venturing outside of the sandbox altogether.
There is just so much within Catholic theology that can be further developed and plenty of issues that can be debated since they have not been settled definitively. Throughout the Church there have been plenty of hot and heavy theological discussion among various groups who at the same time were still totally faithful to the Church. Church doctrine and magisterial teaching is to be developed not contradicted.
I do wish that just once when John Allen Jr. talks abut the 1997 CTSA document on women’s ordination that he would mention that the head of the task force on that issue, Sr. Butler, now disagrees with that document (and her own opinion at the time) and now writes defending Church teaching.