Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Gay Marriage, Academic Freedom, and the Church's Language

Following up on Michael's post, here is more coverage of the controversy sparked by the choice of language used to condemn gay marriage in Pope John Paul II's latest book.  (Thanks to CT for the link.)  The author asserts that:

The Pope condemns the Third Reich for removing the rights of Jews and holding them up to contempt, but in his condemnation of homosexual unions and his associating them with evil, he could be accused of contempt for the civil rights of another community.

The Church, of course, would defend its opposition to full equality for gays within the political sphere on the ground that even notions of political equality must be constrained by an authentic conception of the human person.  But can meaningful distinctions be drawn in non-religious terms between the claims of gays and members of minority religions to full participation in the political life of the community?  Or is the Pope's labeling of gay marriage (and civil unions, I assume) as "evil" akin to Bishop D'Arcy's vision of academic freedom (posted earlier by Rick):

Freedom in the Catholic tradition, and even in the American political tradition, is not the right to do anything. Freedom in the Catholic tradition is not the right to do this rather than that. That would be an entirely superficial idea of freedom. Freedom in the academy is always subject to a particular discipline. It is never an absolute. The parameters of the particular discipline guide research.

Freedom is the capacity to choose the good. In “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” John Paul II makes it clear that a Catholic university “guarantee its members academic freedom, so long as the rights of the individual person and of the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.”. . . It is in opposition to the highest understanding of academic freedom. For freedom which is not linked to truth is soon extinguished.

However appealing this vision of human freedom might be, it certainly is not a vision that is accessible to members of the academic community who do not share in the Church's conception of the human person.  Stated bluntly, the Bishop's explanation amounts to saying, "Of course you're free to explore new ideas, as long as those ideas comport with the Truth."  And exactly who defines the Truth, including every nuance and new application, in a rapidly changing world?  I am not contesting the authority of a Catholic school to limit the freedom of its employees in order to maintain and protect its institutional identity, but I am contesting Bishop D'Arcy's insistence that limiting freedom to the pursuit of Church-defined "Truth" can be equated with "academic freedom."

So both episodes leave me with a sense of skepticism toward the compatibility of the chosen language with the broader accessibility of Catholic social thought.  Can we construct generally accessible portrayals of gay marriage as "evil" without sacrificing the moral anthropology's central grounding in human dignity?  And can we define academic freedom as extending only to the limits defined by a religious conception of reality?  Are these instances where the day-to-day implementation of Catholic social thought has not caught up with the aspirational norms driving the Church's engagement with the world?



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