The National Catholic Reporter is almost always predictable, and their choice for 2011’s “person of the year” was true to form: Elizabeth Johnson .
Johnson, a professor of theology at Fordham University, is a standard issue Catholic Theological Society of America theologian, which means a bit of simplified Karl Rahner and lots of talk about contextualization mixed with progressive social attitudes. Yawn. Her great achievement in 2011 was to have her 2007 book, QUEST FOR THE LIVING GOD, criticized by the USCCB doctrine committee as promoting a theology not in accord with Catholic teaching.
So that’s were liberal Catholicism is these days: circling the wagons. Writing and publishing the book wasn’t such a notable thing for Elizabeth Johnson to do. Ah, but to be criticized! One hears the cries of “censorship,” and “oppression.” As the NCR story tells us, after the official criticism of her book was released, “the Fordham faculty rallied around her, as did the leadership of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theology Society, each issuing supportive statements.” The NCR as well wants to play it’s supportive role. Thus Elizabeth Johnson as victim, oops, I meant to say person of the year.
I wrote about this minor dust up in a recent Public Square ( The Changing of the Guard , Aug/Sept), drawing attention to a Commonweal symposium that featured the fevered hyperbole of the Catholic theological Old Guard and the rather more measured and intelligent analysis put forward by Fritz Bauerschmidt.
It’s this contrast that’s the real story here. The Catholic Theological Society of America was once a serious academic organization. Today it’s a Trade Union for Dissent. How dare the bishop criticize theologians! Left with very little of interest to say in the current intellectual and ecclesial context, the Trade Union for Dissent can rouse itself to denounce any who would make the quite obvious observation that the substance and trajectory of their theologies are not in accord with the Church. Yawn.