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.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Academic Freedom and the Pope's Address to Catholic Educators

As Patrick has noted, the Pope’s message to Catholic educators contains this passage: “In regard to faculty members at Catholic . . . universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.” I read this passage as qualifying the doctrine of academic freedom, rather than manifesting a claim that a prohibition on contradicting Catholic teachings is consistent with academic freedom. This is said to be necessary to protect truth on Catholic campuses.

 The standard view of academic freedom, however, is that such freedom serves truth and that censorship does not. I am reminded of a passage in Charles Taylor’s learned and brilliant book, A Secular Age 466 (2007) where he observes that the vision of a church “tightly held together with strong hierarchical authority, which will nonetheless be filled with practitioners of heartfelt devotion” is filled with tension. “There are, of course, people whose devotional life is enhanced by the sense that they live under this kind of authority, but for the masses who do not respond this way the choices are either to knuckle under, or leave, or live a semi-clandestine life. The irreversible aspect of Vatican II is that it brought this contradiction to the surface.” 


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