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The CDF vs. the LCWR is back in the news again

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 10, 2014: Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), has long been my favorite scholar. In my estimate, he is an excellent guide for understanding our contemporary cultural situation in Western culture.

Ong published his key article "World as View and World as Event" in the journal the American Anthropologist in volume 71, number 4 (August 1969): pages 634-647. We reprinted this piece in volume three of Ong's Faith and Contexts (Scholars Press, 1995, pages 69-90).

Briefly, Ong says that the world-as-event sense of life characterized primary oral cultures, and then carried over to a significant degree in residually oral cultures after the advent of phonetic alphabetic literacy. A stylized version of the world-as-event sense of life can be found in the Walt Disney animated musical Pocahontas (1995). A scholarly presentation of the world-as-event sense of life can be found in David Abram's book The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (1997). The Homeric epics the Iliad and the Odyssey represent the world-as-event sense of life, and so does the Hebrew Bible.

According to Ong, the world-as-view sense of life accompanied the development of philosophic thought in ancient Greece as exemplified in Plato and Aristotle. It was carried forward in medieval times not only in philosophy but also in Christian theology. After the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s, the emerging print culture made the world-as-view sense of life the dominant cultural conditioning in Western culture down to the present time.

But Ong suggests that a new mix is emerging in our contemporary secondary oral culture.

Now, I would say that after the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church (1962-1965), many women in Catholic religious orders helped pioneer the emergence of this new mix in the stodgy Roman Catholic Church.

For understandable reasons, many people admire the work undertaken by Catholic women religious. (Technically, women religious are categorized as lay people in the Roman Catholic Church.)

By contrast, many people are still crying out for the Catholic bishops to be held accountable for their roles as enablers of priest sex abuse.

Apart from their roles as enablers of priest sex abuse, the Roman Catholic bishops are notoriously conservative fellows, to say they least. They are locked into the world-as-view sense of life based on their understanding of the Roman Catholic Tradition. (Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York says that Tradition should be capitalized.)

In addition to being conservative, the Catholic bishops are male chauvinists if ever there were male chauvinists. They are the hierarchs in the church's hierarchy. As a result, they are not interested in any talk about equality -- you know, the kind of talk about equality that was involved in the American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. The bishops like to say that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy.

To the bishops, talk about the supposed equality of the sexes is "radical feminism," which they do not like.

The bishops also tend to be thin-skinned about their understanding of the proper way that women religious are supposed to behave.

Under these circumstances, it is not exactly surprising that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is upset with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Formally, the LCWR has been under investigation by the CDF since 2009, involving certain issues dating back to 2001.

In a document dated April 30, 2014, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the CDF, criticized the LCWR.

One of his criticisms involved the 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award that the LCWR conferred on Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at FordhamUniversity, the Jesuit university in New York City. You see, the doctrinal committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had publicly criticized one of her books for alleged doctrinal shortcomings.

OK, it may have been a bit of a provocation of the hierarchs for the LCWR to confer this award on Sister Johnson. However, the award was not specifically for the one book of hers that the doctrinal committee of the USCCB criticized.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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