Even Sympathisers have difficulty with Bishop Robinson's Song and Dance…

I mentioned Bishop Robinson’s “song and dance” in a previous blog. I recall the title now: “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus“. I have been aided in my recollection by a rather johnny-come-lately review in America by Richard Gaillardetz.

Now as you would expect, Gaillardetz has “substantial sympathy for some of Robinson’s insights and proposals” but even he has “to confess a deep frustration with the shoddy argumentation that is marshaled in defense of many of his proposals, arguments that lead him to unnecessary positions.” He lists three such positions:

First: his concern for “creeping infallibility”–a “quite legitimate concern”–“leads him to question the necessity of the church’s teaching on infallibility itself.”:

His discussion of the First Vatican Council consistently refers to “infallible statements,” when Vatican I never used this expression. Infallibility applied not to propositional statements themselves but to an act of judgment (teaching or believing). Moreover, he presumes that the church’s teaching on infallibility leads to the view that dogmatic statements are “unchanging” and incapable of development, a position the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has explicitly rejected.

The target of Robinson’s reflections is a very real and troubling ahistorical dogmatism that is alive and well in some sectors of the Catholic Church. It seems to me, however, that this is best confronted not by abandoning Catholic teaching on infallibility but by cultivating a more sophisticated understanding of it.

Second: Robinson’s suggestion that the Church dump “elements of the Nicene Creed that are not essential to the faith”, such as “he ascended into heaven.”

His criticism of such a simplistic reading is justifiable, but this hardly means that the Creed’s teaching on the ascension is non-essential; rather, it simply warrants a more theologically sophisticated grasp of the doctrine itself.


while I sympathize with many of his calls for the structural reform of church governance, his appeal to a secular “parliament” as model for church governance overlooks the ways in which the church is not simply a liberal democracy (which of course does not mean that it ought not incorporate democratic elements). A far more fruitful warrant for structural reform would result from the re-appropriation of such neglected ecclesiological concepts as conciliarity, collegiality and synodality.

His final conclusion is that:

One can only wish that Robinson’s work had been subject to more rigorous editing and consultation with experts in ecclesiology and moral theology. The result, I am confident, would have been a more compelling and tightly argued work.

But that would have required the good Bishop to actually think through the logical conclusions of some of his assertions.

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