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The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine has reaffirmed its concerns that the 2007 book “Quest for the Living God,” by Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, is an “inadequate” presentation of the Catholic understanding of God.

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Bishops reaffirm doctrinal concerns with scholar’s book
November 2nd, 2011
By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The nine members of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine have reaffirmed their concerns that a 2007 book by Fordham University theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson is “seriously inadequate as a presentation of the Catholic understanding of God.”

In an 11-page response to Sister Elizabeth’s extensive June 1 defense of her 2007 book, “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,” the bishops said her explanation did nothing to change their minds. Sister Elizabeth said then that the bishops misunderstood and misrepresented the book’s main points.

The committee, chaired by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, said that Sister Elizabeth’s response to their original critique of March 24 had “not in fact demonstrated that the committee has misunderstood or misrepresented the book.”

Sister Elizabeth, professor of systematic theology at Fordham and a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, said in a statement in response Oct. 28 that she read the committee’s statement with “sadness.”

“I want to make it absolutely clear that nothing in this book dissents from the church’s faith about God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Spirit,” she said.

The statement “does correct some errors made in the committee’s original reading of my book, and the vituperative rhetoric has been toned down. Yet there is little movement in understanding,” she said.

She said the statement “disappoints” because it “ignores the breadth and depth of God’s self-gift in history (revelation) and the people’s living response (faith).”

While commending Sister Elizabeth “for her stated intention to help the church progress in her understanding of divine realities,” the bishops said the book “fails to fulfill this task because it does not sufficiently ground itself in the Catholic theological tradition as its starting point.”

The statement added that “multiple readings of the words themselves point at least to serious ambiguity” and a close look at particular points confirmed the committee judgment that the scholar’s word choices do not “adequately express the faith of the church.”

The bishops reiterated that the book is a “particular pastoral concern” because it is written for a broad audience and widely used as a college text.

Father Thomas G. Weinandy, executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine for the bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 25 that the bishops understood that Sister Elizabeth’s central argument revolved around the idea of expressing the Catholic faith in “new ways, creative ways.” However, he added, “the words and concepts she used did not in fact state the truth” and were “inadequate, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes erroneous.”

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that Cardinal Wuerl invited Sister Elizabeth to meet with him to discuss the book and the bishops’ concerns.

Sister Elizabeth’s statement said she was not afforded the opportunity to meet with doctrine committee members despite her stated willingness to do so after she provided her June response to the bishops’ initial criticisms.


From November 4, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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