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The mysterious rejection of an esteemed theologian.

For your Christmas present, let me introduce you to a new theologian: Silvia Shroer will be your Christmas guest. She is 33, German, and I would say she is pretty if that did not appear condescending to feminists. No one ever calls Hans Kung "ruggedly handsome," though he is.

Shroer is securely married to a Swiss "pastoral worker," Daniel Ammann, who is employed by the Bethlehem Fathers in Zurich. She doesn't have an academic job. She is, indeed, famous for not having a job, or rather for nearly having one.

In the fall of 1990 she topped the list for the chair of Old Testament studies in the prestigious University of Tubingen in Germany. The Catholic faculty of theology, who had drawn up the list, felt very pleased with itself for appointing her. She would be the first woman to be assigned a full chair. Tubingen leads the way. Bravo Tubingen.

However, she still needed episcopal approval. The faculty took this for granted, since Shroer's record of academic work was outstanding, and she had led a blameless life of scholarly industry in Munster, her hometown, and then in Munich and the Catholic University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

Besides, the bishop of Rottenburg-Stugart in which the University of Tubingen lies, is Walter Kasper, a distinguished theologian who until his appointment as bishop in 1989 was himself a professor at Tubingen. Not the sort of misogynist who would be opposed to women becoming professors. It was bound to come.

In Germany, more women have been studying theology for a longer period of time than elsewhere, and this is a country where the professor is seen as the very embodiment of Geist. But, by the same token, the competition is keener. This made her appointment to the chair of Old Testament at Tubingen a newsworthy event.

But -- and herein lies the drama -- Kasper said no. In the spring of 1991 she had several friendly meetings with him, in which there was no hint of what was to come. Things took a turn for the worse after Easter. As protocol demanded, she had written to the bishop of Basel and another Swiss bishop for a testimonial. This was routine.

But after an unconscionable delay, the bishop of Basel not only failed to provide the desired testimonial but, instead, forwarded copies of articles she had written in parish magazines. The other Swiss bishop sent a very negative report, accusing her of being a troublemaking feminist. There is some indication, or at least suspicion, that the objections came from "higher up," which could possibly mean "Rome." Now we don't officially know who the "other Swiss bishop" was. It could just conceivably be the bishop of Chur, Wolfgang Haas, by miles the world's most unpopular bishop, a singular distinction. Nor did Kasper explain the reasons that be turned her down. He did not even admit to pressures from Switzerland. This made the whole affair unintelligible.

Meanwhile, the next academic year in Tubingen began, and the man who was number two on the list started to teach Old Testament.

Shroer had been publicly denounced in Switzerland by a small, right-wing group called Timor Domini. Their fear of the Lord was the end, not the beginning, of wisdom. They slanderously accused her articles in the parish

magazines of unorthodoxy. One of them is "Mary's Foremothers," which you can now read and judge for yourself.

Eighteen months after her, shall we say, disappointment, Dr. Shroer remains cheerful. "I don't want to be a feminist martyr," she says, though a Swiss feminist magazine alarmingly called Brood of Vipers has cast her in this role.

She has talked, perhaps not very seriously, of immigrating to the United States to get an academic post. Meantime, she has her work as head of the Swiss Catholic Biblework and is doing research on the iconography of the Old Testament with a well-disposed Fribourg professor.

Then in October 1992 came the news that Tubingen had actually appointed another woman, Barbara Hallenstein, as professor of the history of doctrine. So the mere fact of "being a woman" was not the problem.

So we still don't know what the 'real problem" was. The Shroer case calls for Maigretlike detection skills. Meantime, Christians may enjoy her article on Jesus' mother as they sing their Christmas carols and test whether their faith is shaken or strengthened, and see what Tubingen has lost.
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Title Annotation:Christmas - Silvia Shroer
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 25, 1992
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