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Speak freely – but watch your back!

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“As I read the list of disciplined moral theologians, not to mention the lists of those investigated since Vatican II, I wonder if the climate for theological creativity is not being stifled.” So said Jesuit theologian Jim Corkery, in Haddington Rd church on Thursday 11 October.

In a lecture entitled ‘Speak Freely – But Watch Your Back’: Dissent and Dissenters in the Catholic Church Today.’ he went on to say, “On those lists are found just about every name you would associate with giftedness in theology today”.

He referred to the recent disturbing cases of Irish thelogians and also spoke in particular about the doctrinal investigation of the writings of Sr Professor Elizabeth Johnson in the USA – “She taught me theology as a postgraduate student and gave me a feel for the breadth and richness of the Christian tradition, second to none.”

Noting that he had read her ‘offending’ book from cover to cover he added, “I cannot see where it dissents from the faith of the Church.”

He acknowledged from the outset that the title of his talk was provocative but more deeply it was “a recognition that the topic has a political edge, since authority, power and the capacity to make judgements about people’s writings – judgements that can have severe consequences – belong to it”

Drawing on Jesuit theologians Rahner and Lonergan, he outlined the invaluable role theology plays in the life of the Church, the people of God. Theology seeks to mediate between a religion and a culture (Lonergan) and “this is a complex hermeneutically-demanding and creative exerecise that is indispensable to the survival and well-being of the Christian faith”.

All the more worrying then, he believes, that the number of investigations against theologians should have increased so much (in Ireland as in other countries) and in a manner widely acknowledged as falling short of the rights of those involved and of contemporary norms of justice and, indeed, of Christian charity.

Professor Corkery also quoted some reflections of Canon Lawyer James A Coriden concerning the Church’s procedures for investigating theologians. “…we are all in this together; thelogians, bishops and all baptized believers. The Church’s canons remind us that we are all members of the Christian faithful, sharers in Christ’s own prophetic function… In other words, we are all on the same team, engaged in a common enterprise, not on opposing sides”.

Accepting that this was the case, and that this was a profound and challenging journey when difficulties and even disagreements would arise, the question then arises, says Jim Corkery – “Has our oneness been lost sight of, so that we have become strangers and adversaries to one another?”

Since it would appear that this is so then action must be taken to restore lost unity and let the Spirit speak through the whole Church, the whole magisterium – Pope, bishops, theologians, and the people of God (sensus fidelium).  In short,”we must retrieve the communio vision of Lumen Gentium with all its mutualities, to heal and help us”.

The full text of Jim Corkery’s lecture will be published at a later date.