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Precursors to Our Collaborative Research Reports

Before arriving at our present method of developing Collaborative Research Reports we experimented with a number of ways in which Catholic academic opinion could be brought to the attention of Church authorities. We will briefly sketch these here.

The Online Collection of Scholarly Writings

pro_conSince 1999 we began to publish the academic arguments for and against the ordination of women through a website that is still the largest academic online resource on this issue: www.womenpriests.org. Overwhelming scholarly evidence – from scripture, tradition and theology – favours the conclusion that women can and should be admitted to holy orders. To indicate where the majority of scholars stand on this issue, we published a comparative table of scholars pro & con with their texts.

However, though through this method the assessment of scholarship can be clearly seen to favour women’s ordination, there are weaknesses. Are these theologians sufficiently  speaking as a body?

Joint Statement by Theologians

Catholic Scholars in our own days speak out on various occasions. This happens at times when an assembly of a Catholic Theological Association issues a statement on a specific issue. At other times a small group of theologians issues a statement which is subsequently endorsed by other theologians. These statements carry weight because they imply wide support for a particular view. We too followed this path.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in October 2012, we launched the Catholic Scholars’ Declaration on Authority in the Church. It states that reform is required in seven key areas of church governance. Drafted by John Wijngaards and subsequently vetted by a core group of other theologians, it was eventually endorsed by 216 Catholic theologians. These hailed from 127 universities, mainly Catholic, in 34 countries. To underline the weight of their joint assessment, we published the academic credentials of all signatories. This is one of the most representative academic declarations of this nature ever published.

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Statement Drafted in Stages

Similarly in 2014, in preparation for the Synod on the Family, we launched the Catholic Scholars’ Statement on Marriage and the Family. The original document was drafted by Prof Joseph Selling of Louvain University, vetted by a team of moral theologians and then published online. In spite of the short time available before the opening of the Synod in Rome, 87 academics signed the statement. These too hailed from universities in many countries.

Evaluation

These joint statements by theologians carry much weight and retain their value. In the process of drawing up these statements, however, we discovered that there was a lack of interaction. Theologians were called upon to sign a document without their being able to modify its wording, refine the content, add additional comments. There was, therefore, a lack of personal intervention, of discussion, of teasing out the best formulation together. However valuable the joint statements, a crucial element: academic common deliberation was missing. That is why we decided to use a more sophisticated process in the future: the Collaborative Research Report.