Theologians respond to NCReporter criticism

Jesuit journal submitted to “a higher authority,” but not before peer review

Yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter posted an article on the alleged “pressuring” of the Jesuit theological journal Theological Studies by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Citing “theologians not connected to the journal or to the Jesuit order” (the Jesuits publish Theological Studies), the NCR reports that the CDF forced the journal to publish an article defending Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in its June 2011 edition. That article, by Father Peter Ryan, S.J. and Dr. Germain Grisez, was a response to an article published in TS in September 2004 by Fathers James Coriden and Kenneth Himes, in which the authors argued that the Church should change its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. According to the NCR, “The Vatican aim is to weed out dissenting voices and force the journal to stick more closely to official church teachings.”

Critical to the NCR report is the claim that the Vatican pressured TS to publish the Ryan/Grisez article “unedited and without undergoing normal peer review.” The assertion is apparently backed up by the allegations of the anonymous “theologians not connected to the journal” and by the unusual editorial note included at the top of the Ryan/Grisez article in TS, which states, “Except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received.”

In a statement responding to the NCR story, Ryan and Grisez indicate that their article did in fact go through a process of peer review, and was submitted to a group of TS-assigned readers, who offered criticisms that the authors took into account in a revised version of the article. These readers are thanked for their comments in the final note of the Ryan/Grisez article as it was published by TS, a fact unmentioned by the NCR.

Ryan and Grisez state that the editor of TS, Father David G. Schultenover, indicated that he was willing to publish the revised version of the article, but only “in a substantially reduced form.” The reduced version, according to Ryan and Grisez, “excised our arguments showing that much of Himes and Coriden’s case is unsound and that Piet Fransen’s interpretation of Trent on marriage, on which they rely, is based on false factual claims.”

While acknowledging that TS “submitt[ed] to a higher authority” in publishing the untrimmed version of their article, Ryan and Grisez object to the TS editorial statement that the article was “submitted as it was received,” leaving the impression – for its regular readers and for NCR reporters, apparently – that the article underwent no peer review or vetting process by the journal prior to publication.

Father Ryan and Dr. Grisez’s full statement can be read below. A PDF of their article as it appears in Theological Studies can be read here. This article is Copyright © Theological Studies, Inc. 2011, all rights reserved. A PDF of the Himes-Coriden article to which they were responding can be read here.  This article is Copyright © Theological Studies, Inc. 2004, all rights reserved. Instructions for obtaining rights to either or both articles, including the right to download a single copy for one’s own use, may be found on the Theological Studies website


Ryan and Grisez Statement

When Theological Studies, submitting to higher authority, agreed to publish the complete and final version of our article making the case for the absolute indissolubility of covenantal marriage, the editor requested and we provided the abstract that usually appears just before the beginning of the text. The page proofs we received, however, replaced our abstract with an unusual editor’s note: “The article is a reply to one by Kenneth Himes and James Coriden published in our September 2004 issue. Except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received.”

In our next note to the editor, we said: “We’re concerned that the second sentence of what appears instead is misleading, for we did a great deal of work to respond to the criticisms proposed by the first group of readers assigned by TS, and we thank them in the final note of our article. If the reason for the change is to suggest that the article is being published under duress, we think it would be well to say that straightforwardly.”

The editor replied: “As to the abstract, I decided on this briefer form because what you said in your abstract is repeated at the beginning of article, and I wanted to save space. I don’t think the abstract as it stands is at all misleading.” What concerned us was that the editor’s rejection of the first draft of the article, in May 2009, was accompanied by his “lightly edited summary of the [three] referees’ reports.”

In August 2010, having received our final draft, the editor wrote: “I am pleased to report that my editorial consultants have recommended that we publish your manuscript, but in a substantially reduced form.” That letter included comments from two referees along with the editor’s proposed “trimmed version,” from which were excised our arguments showing that much of Himes and Coriden’s case is unsound and that Piet Fransen’s interpretation of Trent on marriage, on which they rely, is based on false factual claims.

Had Theological Studies published, without a mandate from higher authority, the unexpurgated final version of our reply to Himes and Coriden, its doing so would have contributed to its credibility as a forum for fair and thorough treatment of vital theological controversies. As for the quality of our scholarship, we ask only that readers of the two articles set aside the fact that higher authority had to mandate publication of the unexpurgated version of our article and judge for themselves.

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About Catherine Harmon 578 Articles
Catherine Harmon works in the marketing department for Ignatius Press.