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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The theologians' letter about Douthat

Reading a couple of posts about the letter from Catholic theologians to The New York Times criticizing their conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat ... Theology and Hate by James Martin SJ, and Ross Douthat, Vatican II Catholic at dotCommonweal.

What's the dust-up all about?

Here's the letter sent by the theologians to the Times (check the link to see the signatories) ...

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

Here's the article by Douthat mentioned in the letter - The Plot to Change Catholicism

The heresy thing mentioned in the letter refers to a twitter exchange between Douthat and Massimo Faggioli in which Doubhat implied that Faggioli's opinion that divorced/remarried should be allowed to receive communion was heretical.

I think there are two issues involved ...

1) Who has the right to opine about the church? ...

The short answer is 'anyone'. The letter from the theologians to the Times stated ... Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject ... but as James Martin SJ mentions in his post on the subject ... the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium states that laypeople are ‘sometimes duty bound’ to speak ‘on matters concerning the good of the church.’

2) What do people have the right to say when discussing church dogma, doctrines, practices? ...

The short answer is 'anything'. The letter from the theologians also states ... accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. ... Douthat is a very conservative Catholic, and there's nothing traditionalists love more than harking back to the day when the church had the power to burn "heretics" at the stake. But of course there are no longer any heretics - the word is an anachronism. The idea that the CDF would begin an investigation into silencing a theologian based on a twitter insult by a writer at the Times is just silly (and come on - the head of the CDF himself, Ludwig Müller, just agreed to the aforementioned "heretical" stance at the recent synod).

So, do we moderates/liberals dislike Douthat's conservative opinions and is it mean to call someone a heretic? Yes. But should the theologians have written to his boss? I think they overreacted.

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