Thursday, August 21, 2008

How not to nix a liberal Catholic prof

That the Univ of San Diego is taking action against Rosemary Ruether's appointment to an endowed chair in "Roman Catholic Theology" is not my issue. I'm glad they did that. But there are many good reasons to "nix" her appointment, so why of all things would the university administration trot out her abortion stance as the single reason, as if she were running for political office?

Among the strongest arguments from liberals concerned about the friction between "Catholic identity" and "academic freedom" is the ideological ossification of Catholic thought. As a Catholic who cares about orthodoxy, I'm with the liberals on this point. The battle for Catholic identity on our campuses should never be framed in ideological terms -- no political litmus tests which are more applicable to the campaign trail than the white paper trail. As anti-abortion and pro-life I try to be, I cannot find much comfort in a Catholic administration that revokes a faculty appointment on the primary grounds that the appointee is pro-choice, not because I'm sympathetic to the views of pro-choicers or believe in their "right" to preach the abortionist gospel on a Catholic campus, but because litmus tests cheapen the Catholic vision of intellectual integrity and excellence.

What I would prefer to see more confidently expressed is the argument that academic freedom is MORE vibrant in pursuit of Catholic orthodoxy; that heresy is a throttling of the Truth; that the attempt to belittle and relativize Catholic orthodoxy on Catholic campuses in the name of academic freedom is really just liberal secularism/Protestantism imposing its own totalitarian vision of Truth on other communities who may dissent. USD could have mentioned that the theological disciplines can only be properly called a science if it is pursued ex corde Ecclesia.

So while Ruether's abortion stance is morally repugnant, it is, more importantly from a university's point of view, intellectually repugnant. The pro-choice position fails to meet academic standards that are intrinsic to any university much less a Catholic university.

Furthermore, as important as opposition to abortion is to Catholic theology, it is obviously not the primary object of study. The university should have made some reference to the substance of Catholic theology and how Ruether's work is of shoddy quality. She is without question one of the most overrated Catholic theologians of the post-V2 era, whose popularity derives not from the merits of her scholarship but from its incendiary posture of dissent and heresy which has value and utility only for liberal secularist and Protestant ideology. Catholic theology should proudly confidently put all ideological pursuits on notice as unbefitting of the "Queen of the sciences." We can easily find in Ruether's impoverished Christology, her anemic neo-pagan feminism, her sloppy relativistic ecumenism, and her weak attacks on hierarchy and patriarchy an ideological self-impairment that is simply not worthy of even a faculty position, much less a chair in Roman Catholic theology at a Roman Catholic university.

One of the great weaknesses of so-called "conservative Catholicism" in America is its casual adoption of ideological/political thinking on orthodoxy. We are told often that orthodoxy is neither conservative or liberal. Yet Catholics who appreciate orthodoxy, even in the apostolic sense, often fall into this trap anyway, in large part because ideology has crept into every nook and cranny of Catholic life, most disastrously in its liturgy and spirituality. Catholicism has become excessively Westernized and modernized, hence Sean Hannity thinks of himself as an orthodox Catholic.

In our collective amnesia, the Catholic and Apostolic mindframe that predates Trent is almost completely beyond our grasp, even though it is our birthright. This is why we now need a Pope to compensate for the other pillars of orthodoxy of our Apostolic past that we've neglected: liturgy, asceticism, monasticism, iconodulism, synodal subsidiarity, inter alia.

Kudos nonetheless to USD for caring enough about Catholic identity to block Ruether's accession to a theological cathedra.