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What makes the collaborative work of INSeCT distinctive?

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What makes the collaborative work of INSeCT distinctive from other Catholic and Ecumenical groups of theologians?

In order to answer that question, it is helpful to recall that since the time of the Second Vatican Councils two important international efforts of collaboration among Catholic theologians have taken place and one key ecumenical effort.[1]

The International Theological Commission (ITC) is the first collaborative body to be considered. In 1969, Pope Paul VI responded to a request made at the first postconciliar Synod of Bishops in 1967 to establish an International Theological Commission. This was to establish an institutional forum for collaboration between bishops and theologians addressing doctrinal issues that merited attention. Thirty theologians were commissioned. Individual theologians were recommended by their national Episcopal Conferences and were to represent various schools of theology and various nations. They were intended to be an autonomous body from the Curia, while the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was to be its president. The topics to be addressed and the special work groups were chosen by the commission members, but the Synod of Bishops have also proposed that certain topics be considered. The documents prepared by the ITC have been widely appreciated, but criticisms have been raised, even by former participants for the limitations placed on the commission–for not being able to be more creative or constructive or critical. By contrast Cardinal Ratzinger has understood their achievement in this way: Thirty very different voices have to be brought to speak in harmony: the scholarly pursuits of individuals are not the object of the exercise. The special contribution of the Commission is to gain a hearing for the common voice of theology amid all the diversity that exists. For notwithstanding the legitimate pluralism of theological cultures in the Church, the unity of theology must remain and empower theologians to offer some common account of their subject (International Theological Commission: Texts and Documents 1969-1985, viii).

The Conference of Catholic Theological Institutions (COCTI) is the second body to be considered. During the 9th General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities IFCU (in French FIUC), a group of thirty people gathered to discuss challenges in teaching theology and a number of issues of concerns were raised. It was decided that a second meeting would be held in conjunction with the next IFCU General Assembly in 1973 after four regional meetings held in Notre Dame (USA), Rome (Italy), Louvain (Belgium), and Salamnca (Spain). Over a hundred delegates gathered at the 1973 meeting and they discussed primarily issues concerning teaching and research in theology. In 1975 at the next General Assembly it was proposed to establish the Conference of Catholic Theological Institutions (COCTI), which would bring together the deans and department chairs of theological faculties and departments.[2] COCTI has been concerned primarily with matters of theological education. COCTI intended to convene General Assemblies every three years beginning in 1978 (81, 84, 87, 90, 93, 96). However, after 1996, the General Assemblies were held sporadically for various reasons concerning threats of disease and terrorism. The last General Assembly took place in 2004 and a new president was elected. The first meeting of what would become INSeCT took place at the 1996 COCTI General Assembly held in Sherbrooke University in Québec, Canada.

Mention should also be made of the formation of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), which took place in 1975 in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania, when twenty-two Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, joined by one African American to discuss third world theology. They have convened at conferences (1977, 1979, 1980, 1983) and in General Assemblies (1981, 1986, 1992, 1996, 2001) ever since and have regular publications.

The International Network of Societies of Catholic Theology aims to provide a platform where Catholic theologians can foster Catholic theology worldwide by communication and collaboration in promotion of the work of the theologian from regional societies and theologians around the world as contribution to the collective effort of theology in the Catholic Church.

INSeCT, is different from the efforts of ITC, COCTI, and EATWOT, even though it overlaps with their interests, commitments, and objectives. Unlike the ITC, INSeCT representatives are not chosen by bishops or bishops conferences, but represent groups of regional Catholic theologians in specific pastoral settings. Unlike COCTI, the representatives are not here primarily as deans and chairs promoting theological education as such, but rather as regional theologians. Unlike EATOT, INSeCT represents not only theology in the Southern Hemisphere, but also fosters a constructive exchange between Southern and Northern perspectives. Perhaps in contrast with the ITC, we are not seeking to articulate one Catholic theology, but to promote a constructive and appreciative dialogue and possibly debate at times among representatives of diverse societies and regional centers of Catholic theology. Unlike both ITC and COCTI, representatives of INSeCT are often only serving in a one-year or three-year term as officer or delegate and do not have the continuity of representation offered by either the ITC (5 year terms that can be renewed), and by the COCTI (where Deans and Chairs can stay in the position of leadership for some time).

The colloquium on Catholic Theology Worldwide is distinctive because those who assembled come with no other purpose other than to get to know each other and to enter into a dialogue with each other about that which concerns them and their fellow theologians in regional societies and in regions without societies. Instead of having a group of theologians selected by bishops choosing the topics, instead of choosing topics that are important for administrators, this group of theologians come together as a worldwide body of theologians with a desire to talk with each other about the advancement of theology in the world today by raising the issues that were of concern in their regional settings. They came together to learn from each other about theology, to be open to a new kind of catholicity in theology and to be open to a new kind of communion that is fully reflective of the diversity of the worlds of theology we inhabit.

Bradford Hinze, June 2005


[1]In the postconciliar period, two different groups of Catholic theologians gathered under the banner of two new theological journals: Concilium and Communio. They represent two distinctive focal points during the post-conciliar period. In 1965 a group of theologians, including Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Hans Küng, founded Concilium. From its inception they fostered an international exchange of Catholic theologians on a range of topics, but they also solicited reports on particular issues in theology and pastoral issues in certain regional settings. The journal was published in German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and English. In 1970 some members of the Pontifical Theological Commission, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Razinger, Karl Lehmann, and Henri de DeLubac decided to develop a new international theological journal to address what was perceived as a growing polarization and confusion in the Church and to advance true community in the Catholic Church. In 1972 the first issue of Internationale katholische Zeitschrift Communio appeared and it was soon followed by versions in Italian, Yugoslavian, French and Spanish editions. In 1974 the American, English version Communio: International Catholic Review, appeared.

[2] The International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) [Fédération Internationale Universités Catholiques (FIUC)] has a history that goes back to the 1924. IFCU was fully established with a decree by the Holy See in 1948 and recognized by Pope Pius XII in 1949. IFCU has also been interested in theological studies. And at the 6th General Assembly in 1963, a theology committee submitted a report on the centrality of the science of theology in Catholic universities. Thus a group of deans of theology who attended IFCU assemblies met informally from time to time to review common matters. And in 1970, during IFCU’s 9th General Assembly, some 30 theologians met and the idea of a separate organization emerged (Annual Report, 1970, p.11). By 1973, the group added to IFCU’s administrative report (pp. 77 – 78) an account of its three day meeting in Salamanca which was attended by a hundred of representatives from all parts of the world. A seven person executive committee with Fr Liégé, OP (Paris) as president, and Fr González (Salamanca) as secretary was elected to prepare the next meeting in cooperation with IFCU’s secretariat (AR, 1973, p.38). In 1975, the meeting in New Delhi created a “Permanent Liaison Committee between the Faculties and Departments of Theology” (Annual Report, 1975, p. 41) so that in 1978, prior to 12th General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brasil, this committee presented the main outline of a “Conference of Catholic Theological Institutions” (COCTI) (Annual Report, 1978, p.39). From here on, formal by-laws were drawn up and separate meetings were held every three years. Close cooperation with IFCU in various areas such as bioethics, were maintained and the COCTI reported regularly to the IFCU Council and the General Assembly on its activities (Annual Report 1980, p.41; 1982 p.56; 1985 p.66; 1988 p.65; 1991 p.48).

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