John Allen took a break from covering such mundane matters as the meeting of George Bush and Pope Benedict XVI to cover the meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He has a series of reports at NCR.
The CTSA was addressed by an ELCA theologian, Michael Root of Southern Seminary, who pointed out what he regards as contradictions within Catholic theology on ecumenism and the ordained ministry. Vatican II said although the church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church, there are elements of sanctification in other churches and “ecclesial communities” (literally, I suppose, “churchly communities”); these “ecclesial communities” are “defective,” though, because they don’t have real bishops or real priests or real deacons, in Catholic teaching, and so no real Eucharist or confirmation or anointing of the sick, etc.
To resolve the paradox, Root argued, Catholicism needs to move away from the concept of “validity” in evaluating ordained ministry, which he said is an “all or nothing” concept, and towards a “more or less” model, meaning one that allows for varying degrees. He suggested that the concept of “ecclesial communities” offers such a tool, because it allows for the real but imperfect presence of the church in varying Christian bodies. Similarly, Root suggested, Catholicism needs a way of acknowledging the real but imperfect presence of ordained ministry in these bodies.
In other talks, the theologians grappled with questions of how to hold bishops accountable (and here), how to keep bishops from shooting themselves in the foot when issuing statements on public policy, and how to keep themselves from similar self-injury when issuing statements criticizing bishops and the Vatican.