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US bishops criticize book by Fordham's Sister Elizabeth Johnson

March 31, 2011

The Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a 21-page critique of Quest for the Living God by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a Fordham University professor who has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

The book “contains misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors that bear upon the faith of the Catholic Church as found in Sacred Scripture, and as it is authentically taught by the Church’s universal magisterium,” the critique notes.

“The book in question, published some time ago [2007], is not directed to professional theologians for theological speculation, but rather is being used as a teaching instrument for undergraduate students, many of whom are looking for grounding in their Catholic faith,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chairman of the committee, said in a letter to US bishops.

“The bishops have a responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the faithful and the oversight of authentic teaching,” he added.

Whether through course instruction, awards, or lectures, Sister Johnson and Quest for the Living God have had a broad influence on Catholic higher education, and even on some Catholic dioceses, in recent years, including St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry (Dioceses of Rochester and Albany), the Diocese of Spokane, Loyola University Chicago (Institute for Pastoral Studies), St. Catherine University (Minnesota), Benedictine College, Illinois (not to be confused with Benedictine College in Kansas, which has been praised by the Cardinal Newman Society for its fidelity to the teaching Church), Fontbonne University, Center for Spirituality, Saint Mary's College (Notre Dame), University of Dayton, Holy Cross College, Dominican University, Seattle University, Rockhurst University, College of Mount St. Joseph, Fordham University, and Boston College.

Correction: An earlier version of this news report listed the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, among the schools where Johnson's book was taught. An alert reader has called our attention to the fact that the book was listed among the problematical texts to which orthodox preachers must respond; Johnson's text was not used as a classroom text. CWN regrets the misleading report.


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  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Apr. 02, 2011 1:06 AM ET USA

    The bishops' critique of Sr. Johnson's methodology is with her point of departure from Catholic theological principles found in Sacred Scripture and taught by the Magisterium of the Church. Apparently Sr. Johnson ignored these first principles because they represent only one of the many and varied ways in which the ineffable God reveals himself, Jesus Christ included. The bishops are right to say that her book is not in accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points.

  • Posted by: Larry K. - Mar. 31, 2011 10:50 PM ET USA

    The final paragraph of this article is misleading. It claims that Johnson's book has had "a broad influence on Catholic higher education" and then lists several schools. But not all of them are really "influenced" by Johnson's book. For example, if you follow the link labelled "Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology", you'll see a syllabus for a GRADUATE course in which ONE WEEK is spent on liberation and feminist theology. How can we refute such books unless we are able to read them?

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Mar. 31, 2011 10:16 PM ET USA

    I didn't see an imprimatur,but had been told by an RCIA teacher some years ago,that that was so yesterday. We can think for ourselves. I should think that a Catholic university would be more careful with students, but since the father of lies has made great inroads, he has able accomplices in Catholic-in-name-only schools.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 31, 2011 6:44 PM ET USA

    So, Sister published a book harmful to souls in 2007--and (in fact) others much earlier. Now come our Shepherds to safe guard our souls! The situation is SO SERIOUS that they actually published a WARNING. But, the book doesn't carry the warning, and she is still a Roman Catholic Sister! So, the problem continues. Well, maybe they will manage to take EFFECTIVE action before she dies of old age--but probably not. After all, it is just immortal souls at stake--no immediacy needed?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 31, 2011 11:09 AM ET USA

    A perusal of Sr. Johnson's published works on her Fordham website page shows that she went off the rails some time ago, e.g., "She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse", published in 1992. The USCCB's critique is welcome, but rather late. How many souls has her teaching set on the trajectory to the loss of salvation?