Thursday, May 29, 2008
I'm in Seattle at the third annual meeting of the Conference of Catholic Legal Thought, along with fellow-MOJ'ers Russ Powelll, Michael Scaperlanda, Steve Shiffrin and Lisa Schiltz (and, via video this morning, Amy Uelmen).
As with the prior conferences, the first day of the conference (yesterday) was devoted to deepening our understanding of the some of the theological principles relevent to our consideration of the intersection of Catholic thought and the law. In the first morning session, Professor William Buckley of Seattle University gave an introduction to Catholic Social Thought that was very useful for some of the newer members of our group. The two afternoon sessions featured Frank Sullivan, S.J., from Boston College, a leading authroity on church authority and the role of the role of the Magisterium.
The focus of his talk was on the teaching authority of the church, in one session speaking about the definitive exercise of that authority and in the other on the non-definitive exercise of that authority. I don't have the time this morning to do a full summary of his two talks, but there were a number of points that raised some interesting discussion and warrant further consideration.
The one I'll raise here (for perhaps obvious reasons) has to do with public expression of dissent from the teachings of the Church. Having talked about what the church has said about expressions of dissent from teachings by theologians, Sulliavan was asked about expressions of dissent by lay persons and given the example of a lay person writing an editorial or blogging against the church position on things like homosexuality or contraception. He expressed the view that how one evaluates such expressions of dissent depend on a couple of things. First, how diligently the writer has tried to reach assent to the teaching? Has the person proceeded from an attitude of obsequium religiousum (which Sullivan thinks is best translated as religious docility rather than religious submission or loyal submission), which includes an openness to a deeper examination of the issue and respect for the authority of the Church, and despite efforts be unable to give intellectual assent to the Church teaching? Second, he also thought relevant what reasons the person has for expressing the opinion? Re the last, he did not explore what reasons might justify public dissent and what would be considered improper reasons.
I hope others at the conference will chime in either expanding on Sullivan's comments of yesterday or in regard to today's sessions, which will begin shortly.