“After Ciase, theology must enter into dialogue with the social sciences”

The Ciase report makes the teaching of theology a decisive place for bringing to light “paths of a conscience enlightened by a critical intelligence”. This is a crucial issue for theology today: how to educate in critical intelligence? This implies assuming the fact that theology is a profession, and therefore that the “rendering of faith” that it achieves presupposes a professional and scientific approach, an appeal to rationality, a dialogue with the sciences, in particular with the social sciences of religion.

→ ANALYSIS. Sauvé Report: Opening the Church to Critical Thinking

In France, as in other countries, this dimension is still too hidden, even if, a few years ago, Claude Geffré had published a book-interview under the title: theologian profession. A first reason has to do with the evacuation of theology from the state university – with the exception of the Concordat regions. Theology has less opportunity to confront itself with the other sciences and with university professional practices. All the more so since the model of the seminary combining spiritual formation and intellectual formation, without always making a sufficient distinction, remains significant.

Approximate theology of vocation

An approximate theology of the call and of the vocation could also have led to erasing the importance of the scientific and pedagogical skills to be acquired in order to exercise the profession of theologian, favoring clerical logics which are exercised in particular at the expense of the lay theologians of the more modest backgrounds. This dynamic is currently reinforced by the resurgence of a certain anti-intellectualism, fueled by biased readings of Pope Francis. The pope’s encouragement for more pastorality cannot feed a contempt for rationality. The dialogue with science and society – which is a pastoral work – is called to take place in a dialogue of rationality.

In this perspective, renewed attention to professional ethics in theology appears necessary. This notably requires transparency in the recruitment process, such as the advertising of positions; the establishment of objective criteria for career progression, based on the quality of teaching and research; an effective fight against plagiarism in its various forms. This also implies courageous financial choices allowing those who exercise the profession of theologian to be able to meet their needs. The adoption of a proactive policy of support for the most competent lay students, notably through doctoral contracts, would be a strong signal. The future of French theology and its ability to respond to the challenge of the internationalization of research depends on it.

The distinct mission of theologians

Professionalizing theology also means recognizing more fully the mission of professional theologians in the Church – a mission distinct from that of pastors, but called to be exercised in collaboration with it, listening to the people of God. As the Italian theologian Dario Vitali, who is coordinating the next Synod on synodality, puts it well, theologians have a “intermediate place between the Magisterium and the community of believers, with a connecting and mediating function that goes in both directions (1) ». One can wonder if the forgetting of this mediation function has not been a factor in the crisis of sexual violence that we are going through.

The professionalization of theology therefore represents a major issue of credibility for the Church, in its internal dialogue – synodality – as well as in its dialogue with science and with society.


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