Friday, June 06, 2008

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Down in sunny Miami, this weekend's seeing the annual convention of the marquee group for US and Canadian church scholars of all stripes, the Catholic Theological Society of America.

From Rahner to redemption, covering the gathering -- devoted this year to the theme of "Generations" -- is the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen, who relays the flavor from yesterday's opening session:
[Fordham Prof. Maureen] 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.

Davidson proposed that generational differences should be taken seriously alongside other markers of diversity such as race, gender and class in both academic programming and pastoral ministry.

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.”

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.

“Perhaps the greatest service we can provide to the church is serving the more than 600,000 millennial Catholics currently enrolled at more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in America,” she said.
As with seemingly every other major gathering these days, next year's CTSA is heading North -- the group's '09 convention will be held in Halifax.