Monday, August 29, 2011

Vatican pressures theology journal

Now Rome is racheting up its attack on Catholic theologians by attacking the most basic standards of intellectual life - peer review (not to mention independence)
Aug. 29, 2011

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.”

“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.”

Full article at National Catholic Reporter

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