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Essays in Theology

Elizabeth Johnson and the teaching authority of bishops

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The action taken by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine condemning Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God for its alleged lack of orthodoxy has provoked a storm of criticism -- especially from the two main organizations of Catholic theologians, the Catholic Theological Society of American (CTSA) and the College Theology Society, as well as from Johnson’s own religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The removal of Bishop Morris

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The removal of Bishop William Morris from the pastoral care of the Australian diocese of Toowoomba, Queensland, where he has been bishop since 1993, is reminiscent of two other cases: that of Bishop Jacques Gaillot of the diocese of Evreux, Normandy, France, in 1995, where he had been bishop for 12 years, and the effective removal of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen from the archdiocese of Seattle in 1986, where he had been archbishop since 1975.

The U.S. bishops and unions revisited

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Judging by the positive reaction to my recent column on "Bishops and the assault on unions," I would say that the U.S. Catholic bishops have a serious credibility problem with their own people -- those still active members of the Church.

So many cited the bishops' seeming obsession with sexually-related issues while giving too little attention, or none at all, to matters of social justice and the social teachings of the Church.

'Startled and terrified' by Easter

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It is difficult, year after year, to write something original about the feast that is the most important in the Church's liturgical year. But even popes have the same challenge.

Every Easter the Bishop of Rome is expected to deliver a spiritual message about the meaning of the Lord's Resurrection before wishing people throughout the world a "Happy Easter" in many of their native languages.

The origins of Holy Week liturgies

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I have been writing this weekly column now for almost 45 years. Thanks to my friend and former graduate assistant Kern Trembath, his two sons Alex and Cal, who are about to graduate this year from the University of California Berkeley, his step-daughter Emily, and, of course, my own longtime (25 years and 6 months) assistant Donna Shearer, all of these columns are now saved electronically and can be retrieved by subject matter at www.richardmcbrien.com.

Bishops and the assault on unions

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One of the major elements of Catholic social teaching, ever since 1891, has been support of workers to form labor unions. The fundamental right of workers to bargain collectively with their employers has been under direct attack by the newly elected Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, and various other states. And yet our bishops are, for the most part, silent on this greatest threat to Catholic social doctrine since the 1930s. In fact, they are, for the most part, sitting on their hands.

Parish mergers: So tough to balance resources and personnel

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Many years ago priests sometimes gave voice to a gallows-humor sort of comment, "Last one out blow out the sanctuary lamp."

When they made this remark, there were rectories with four priests and five well-attended Masses on Sunday, on the hour from 7 until 11. Some pastors were so worried about clearing the parking lot for the next Mass that they began distributing Communion right after the Consecration.

Snubbing Bishop Kicanas

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Catholics who have long since given up on the U.S. bishops as pastoral leaders with a credible moral voice will not care one way or the other about the unprecedented election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last November. Catholics who take the same bishops seriously will have had a favorable reaction to his election, if they took notice of it at all.

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October 24-November 6, 2014

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