US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Elizabeth Johnson responds to the bishops

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Elizabeth Johnson has responded formally to the U.S. bishops’ March criticism (PDF) of her book, Quest for the Living God. The full text of the letter is here and NCR has a comprehensive article on Johnson’s response, but I’d like to note some of my favorite moments (emphasis mine):

"Simple human courtesy would indicate that springing such a public critique without warning is neither a generous nor respectful way to treat an adult."


"Furthermore, in a letter to the Fordham University faculty cited in the press, Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, executive secretary of the Committee on Doctrine, wrote that the critique of the book ‘in no way calls into question the dedication, honor, creativity, or service of its author.’ This is interesting to know, because the statement’s harsh tone, disparaging words, ridicule, and rhetoric of fear certainly created that impression in my own mind and in the view of the public at large."


"It appears that part of the present difficulty stems from the Statement’s reading my book as if it belonged to a genre other than theology. Theological research does not simply reiterate received doctrinal formulas but probes and interprets them in order to deepen understanding. To do this well, theology throughout history has articulated faith in different thought forms, images, and linguistic expressions. Its work employs all manner of methods and ideas taken from other disciplines in order to shed light on the meaning of faith."


Johnson’s work, both in Quest and several other books and articles, played an instrumental role in my theological education, as  it has for many women and men before me and will continue to for all the countless young theologians the future brings. Namely, it breathed life into ideas and concepts that were otherwise falling flat. And the support she’s received from other theologians, scholars, students, as well as other admirers of her work are a testament to the positive impact of her theology.

Her letter to the bishops is an example of not only her writing prowess, but her ability to show that loving the church means also challenging it when its leadership so clearly misguided.