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We the members of the CTSA Ad Hoc Committee on Theological Diversity hereby submit our report to the Board. Peter Casarella Holly Taylor Coolman Daniel Finn, Chair James F. Keating Danielle Nussberger Christopher Ruddy Susan Wood, SCL I. Background
A. According to the CTSA Constitution, the three purposes of the Society are “to promote studies and research in theology, to relate theological science to current problems, and to foster a more effective theological education,” and these are to be accomplished “by providing a forum for an exchange of views among theologians and with scholars in other disciplines.” Thus we might say that the purpose of the CTSA is to be the forum where Catholic theologians gather to discuss theology. B. The CTSA has worked hard in recent decades to reach out to a number of underrepresented constituencies in theology, an effort that has greatly enriched the diversity of the Society. Yet there is another important group within Catholic theology that is underrepresented at the CTSA: conservative theologians. (The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are inaccurate labels – see Appendix A – but we hope that they are understood well enough to serve our purposes in this report.) C. Catholic theology has always entailed a creative diversity but today we have fragmentation: in particular a trend to separate meetings. The major option for conservative theologians is the Academy of Catholic Theology, an organization formed in the past decade, with about 100 members. Many of those theologians used to be members of the CTSA. D. Catholic theology would be enriched by the scholarly interactions that would occur if a greater number of conservative theologians attended the CTSA convention regularly. Both the CTSA and the Catholic Church would be stronger for it.
A. Many CTSA sessions, both plenary and concurrent, include jokes and snide remarks about, or disrespectful references to, bishops, the Vatican, the magisterium, etc. These predictably elicit derisive laughter from a part of the audience. B. Many CTSA members employ demeaning references. For example, the phrase “thinking Catholics” is sometimes used to mean liberals. The phrase “people who would take us backwards” is sometimes used to mean conservatives.
C. Resolutions are a significant problem because an individual member can bring to the floor of the business meeting a divisive issue that not only consumes important time and energy but exacerbates the ideological differences that exist among theologians, typically leaving conservatives feeling not only marginalized but unwelcome. (CTSA members who have trouble understanding this as a problem might ask how they would feel if they were part of a professional society that passed resolutions criticizing a theologian they hold in high regard or endorsing views they reject.) D. In recent decades, conservative theologians have only rarely been invited to be plenary speakers and respondents. E. In CTSA elections, there is a general unwillingness of many members to vote for a conservative theologian. Scholarly credentials seem often outweighed by voters’ partisan commitments. F. Some conservative theologians have experienced the feeling that a number of other members “wish I wouldn’t come back” to the CTSA. G. In sum, the self-conception of many members that the CTSA is open to all Catholic theologians is faulty and self-deceptive. As one of our members put it, the CTSA is a group of liberal theologians and “this permeates virtually everything.” Because the CTSA does not aspire to be a partisan group, both attitudes and practices will have to shift if the CTSA is to become the place where all perspectives within Catholic theology in North America are welcome.
III.Recommendations for Board Action
A. Plenaries We recommend that the convention’s plenary speakers should regularly include conservative theologians. Plenary respondents should, when relevant, be similarly chosen to explore issues that divide the theological guild. Neither of these need necessarily occur every year, but both should be regular parts of CTSA life. Recent efforts in this area are to be commended. B. Special evening sessions The CTSA periodically schedules special evening sessions to explore timely issues. We recommend that it be board policy that panel members represent a diversity of views, including, when relevant, the official positions of the church. C. Consultations/Sessions The CTSA has created a number of long-term consultations to ensure that certain particular theological foci are represented at each annual convention. Although CTSA sessions of all sorts should reflect theological diversity, we recommend that an additional consultation be added to assist such efforts. There are currently some interest groups that represent this diversity. We recommend that, over the next 1 to 3 years, the board arrange for an invited session dedicated to better understanding the issues that divide liberal and conservative theologians, for example, a session with the presidents of two or three theological societies. D. The role of board members We recommend that board members, particularly officers in the presidential line, distinguish their office from their personal views. When acting within that
office (e.g., when shaping the convention program) or when identifying themselves as board members in a public forum outside the CTSA, they should strive to embody the Society’s mission to facilitate theological conversation, rather than articulate the board member’s personal theological views. E. In general We recommend that the board explicitly re-affirm to the membership the CTSA’s mission to be a forum for theological discussion among the full range of Catholic theological perspectives. As a part of that commitment, and in parallel with outreach regarding other forms of diversity, we recommend that the board announce an active effort to make the Society a more welcoming place for conservative theologians. F. Business meeting conversation 1. We recommend that this report be shared with the membership prior to the business meeting. 2. We recommend that the board announce at the June 2013 business meeting any decisions it may come to concerning the above recommendations at its pre-convention board meeting and arrange for a conversation about the inclusiveness of the Society at that meeting. The purpose would not be to ask the membership to preempt board decisions, but to help shift what we might call the “cultural expectations” of the annual convention to be more respectful of the views of conservatives and more welcoming of their contributions.
IV. Appendix: Two Notes
A. A note on resolutions 1. The way resolutions play out at the annual business meeting is a source of concern for our committee. Decided as they typically are in accord with the Society’s more liberal majority, resolutions often eventuate in a sense among more conservative theologians that the CTSA officially stands for positions they themselves cannot endorse, leading many to conclude that the CTSA is not an organization they can belong to. Resolutions threaten the inclusiveness of the Society. 2. Options for a (full or partial) solution include limiting the character of resolutions to issues of due process, requiring them to be submitted two weeks prior to the convention, requiring board approval prior to debate by the membership, requiring support from some minimum number of CTSA members, and eliminating resolutions altogether. 3. Nonetheless, our committee judges that any proposal to alter the process of resolutions would be highly controversial, and, indeed, the committee recognizes that such resolutions may be appropriate when the due process rights of a theologian have been violated. Thus to encourage a discussion on the more general issue, we recommend no changes in the CTSA resolutions process at this time. We would, however, recommend that the board make clear to the membership the conflict between well-intended resolutions and the Society’s constitutional mission to create a forum for Catholic theology. B. A note on nomenclature 1. We recognize that the words “conservative” and “liberal” are inadequate to name the differences to which we refer. Many “conservatives” bristle at the
frequent presumption that their position includes “political conservatism” on issues such as war, immigration, or the death penalty. “Liberal” theologians, of course, at times have an analogous experience. Presumptions that conservatives are simply “rigid white males” – or only study “dead white males” – are equally faulty, given the gender and ethnic diversity among conservatives. Our committee has considered other terms, such as “more traditional” or “Ressourcement” or “more orthodox” theologians, but each of these is inadequate for various reasons as well. As a result, we have kept with the simple though imprecise adjectives of “conservative” and “liberal,” trusting that they carry enough meaning to indicate what we’re aiming at. 2. What the members of our committee understand by “conservative theology” varies. Beyond saying what it is not, we offer a brief enumeration of characteristic features, recognizing that some items doubtlessly converge with the concerns of self-identified liberal theologians. a) a substantive engagement with the whole of the Catholic tradition that utilizes a “hermeneutic of reform in continuity.” b) an engagement that attends to the resources of the Catholic philosophical tradition and the history and culture of global Catholicism prior to the nineteenth century. c) a critical appreciation of the myriad ways in which Catholicism(s) and liberalism(s) have been joined in the past and in the present. d) an appreciation of authority as a gift in the Church, and as a result an awareness that a hermeneutic of trust regarding magisterial pronouncements can deepen our understanding of the faith. While the theologian's task entails raising critical questions, this is most fruitfully done in a way that affirms the hierarchical nature of the Church.
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