Are there theologians that the church says we should not listen to?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is one of the congregations of the Roman curia, the departments that handle the various affairs of the universal Church. As its name suggests, the CDF addresses matters of doctrine. This includes issuing official statements on doctrinal points when necessary. It also includes investigating doctrinal concerns about specific works or scholars. When a theologian publishes material or officially advocates a viewpoint that gives cause for concern, a process of evaluation takes place. This process can be more or less transparent, depending on the case – usually the CDF will send a letter to the theologian, asking him or her to clarify, expand upon or retract the point in question. The theologian then has an opportunity to respond. Ultimately, if the point is not resolved to the satisfaction of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, it may issue a statement declaring that the given work or scholar does not faithfully represent Catholic doctrine. In the most serious cases, a theologian may no longer be able to teach in a Catholic university or institution.

Theologians whose work has recently come under scrutiny include Jon Sobrino, SJ, of El Salvador, in 2006, and Roger Haight, SJ, of the United States, in 2004. Also, a recent work of Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, was reviewed by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011. Further explanation of the specific points of doctrine in question, how these scholars have defended their work and the resolution of each particular case – which is more complicated than whether the Church says we should listen to them or not – is beyond the scope of this column.

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.