"Generations" of Catholic theologians Print
Saturday, 07 June 2008 12:33

Written by Joe Waters

Fr Mike and Sherry are on their way to Wisconsin this afternoon to gear up for Making Disciples, which starts tomorrow evening. Barbara Elliot and I will follow them to the Badger State tomorrow morning. I, for one, am looking forward to a lower elevation and temperatures more in my summer comfort zone (Colorado is a little cool for a South Carolinian!).
John Allen has a fascinating piece this week on the opening session of the Catholic Theological Society of America annual convention going on this weekend in Miami. This year's convention theme is "Generations" and in her opening address Prof. Maureen O'Connell (Ph.D., Boston College) of Fordham University reflected on the gaps between four generations of Catholic theologians (and American Catholics generally). The sociological data she worked with was provided by a study done by James Davidson of Purdue University.
Highlights:
“O’Connell had been asked to reflect theologically on a presentation from Catholic sociologist James Davidson of Purdue University, reviewed data from surveys of what he identified as four distinct generations of American Catholics, grouped with respect to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65):?
• Pre-Vatican Catholics, meaning those born before 1941, representing 17 percent of American Catholics;
• Vatican II Catholics, born between 1941 and 1960, at 35 percent;
• Post-Vatican II Catholics, born between 1961 and 1982, at 40 percent;?
• Millennial Catholics, born since 1983, at 8 percent.”
Snip
“Davidson argued that the results of surveys from 1987, 1993, 1999 and 2005 show a clear trend, amplified in each succeeding generation, away from what Catholic writer Eugene Kennedy calls “Culture One Catholicism,” with a high emphasis on religious practice, clerical authority and doctrinal conformity, towards “Culture Two Catholicism,” emphasizing lay autonomy and the individual conscience.

Asserting that church leaders are today attempting to return the church to a “culture one” model, Davidson said that because the socio-economic status of American Catholics is not in decline and because “laity are not willing to grant control” to the hierarchy, “the percentage of Catholics who are culture one will continue to decline.”

If older liberal Catholics are over-represented in reform groups such as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful, Davidson said, younger conservative Catholics are equally over-represented among new priests, seminarians, and even theologians.

Speaking specifically about theologians, Davidson said that a growing tendency for younger theologians to reflect a “culture one” mentality reflects “a larger pattern of separation between the laity and the leaders of the institutional church.”

O’Connell largely agreed, saying that one distinguishing feature of her generation of theologians is that it came of age in an era of a “near-total disconnect between a culture one hierarchy and a culture two laity.”

Facing that situation, O’Connell said, many younger theologians today feel a need to try to be of pastoral service to the church – working with disparate movements such as Voice of the Faithful, the Focolare and Sant’Egidio, for example, or writing for non-specialized audiences outside the academy. Those activities, she said, represent an attempt to “fill in the pastoral gaps.””
Snip
“In that light, O’Connell proposed that amid today’s tensions over Catholic identity, perhaps a defining characteristic of what constitutes a “good Catholic theologian” ought to be what she called “pedagogical excellence” – meaning a commitment to teaching and formation.”
Complete story here.
This is interesting stuff and not all that surprising given the broad landscape of American Catholicism today. I am truly grateful for her insight about the excellence of a theologian being constituted by a commitment to "teaching and formation." Theological work is not worth much if it does nothing to serve the Church, help bring people to Jesus Christ, and form disciples. However, I am disappointed to see this data strictly interpreted through lens of the culture one v. culture two Catholicism. I really do think the positions of theologians young and old are far more nuanced than such a hard and fast distinction allows.