Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bishops Take Aim at McBrien's 'Catholicism.' (Richard P. McBrien's Book Opposed)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bishops Take Aim at McBrien's 'Catholicism.' (Richard P. McBrien's Book Opposed)

Article excerpt

After 15 years of study, the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine is seeking to bar Fr. Richard P. McBrien's widely used Catholicism from college and seminary courses and formation programs for adults and deacons.

NCR has learned that a public statement, offering a negative assessment of the book's use by nonspecialists and reflecting concerns of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is expected imminently, possibly by April 19.

Informed sources, requesting anonymity, said McBrien had pressed the doctrinal committee for due process - a formal doctrinal dialogue called for in guidelines established by U.S. bishops in 1989 - saying it was essential to preserve his reputation. Despite support for that request from a number of bishops, it has so far been denied.

McBrien, a priest of the Hartford archdiocese, holds a chair in theology at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., and is a former chairman of that university's theology department.

Catholicism, first published in 1980 and substantially revised in 1994, is regarded as a "great success" by its publisher, Harper San Franciso. John Spalding, publicist, said the book has sold more than 150,000 copies since 1980 and is very popular at Catholic colleges, where it is "assigned by professors who tend to be independent-minded and consider it a good resource."

The book won a Christopher Award in 1981, and the revised edition earned a first-place award from the Catholic Press Association in 1995. Judges said the book encouraged a deep appreciation "for the beauty of the Catholic faith."

However, a confidential 21-page review by the doctrinal committee, while citing many positive features of the book, faults it for failing to differentiate between orthodox and speculative views.

According to sources, the committee describes the book as confusing to non-specialists because it presents various theological opinions on such issues as contraception, clerical celibacy, teachings about Mary, including her perpetual virginity, and the teaching that Jesus was incapable of sin. The committee also said the book overemphasizes diversity in Catholic teaching, as well as change in teachings over time, and fails to give sufficient weight to the role of the magisterium in defining truth.

The bishops, concerns are far from new. In 1985 the bishops, doctrinal committee issued a 1,500-word statement citing "many positive features" of the early edition of the book but criticizing it for sometimes presenting church teaching in ways that seem "difficult to reconcile with authoritative Catholic doctrine." The committee requested clarifications and many bishops praised McBrien for his cooperative spirit.

Dominican Fr. J.A. DiNoia, executive director of the doctrinal committee, said the book's censure for use in certain contexts did not amount to an outright ban. "We don't have prohibited books," he said. "The bishops are just raising concerns about this book."

He added that censure of Catholicism was not a negative judgment against McBrien's credentials as a theologian in good standing. …

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