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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Catholic Church and Intellectual Freedom"

This is the title of Sandy Levinson's post, over at Balkinization, reacting to (the New York Times' typically not-exactly-right presentation of) Pope Benedict XVI's recent dealings with several formerly-schismatic Catholic bishops, including one who is clearly a loathesome Holocaust denier.  Sandy writes:

But I also confess to having very mixed views on reading that the "Vatican Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson 'must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Shoah.'" . . .

"Recantation" or "distancing" would not only raise the most severe questions about Bishop Williamson's own intellectual integrity (assuming one can use such terms with regard to a Holocaust denier); it would also reinforce the view that the Church--especially under the current Pope?--does not intend to be friendly to anyone who fails to toe a given Vatican line.

The "under the current Pope . . . toe a given Vatican line" jab aside (this jab reflects, it seems to me, an understandable misunderstanding of this Pope's views and record), I'm not sure why the Secretariat's demand should necessarily be seen as demanding what Sandy (and I) regard as pretty-near impossible, i.e., willing away one's mistaken beliefs, or as threatening his "intellectual freedom." 

Williamson is a Catholic bishop (albeit, it seems to me, a very bad one).  Part of being a bishop, I would think, is avoiding scandalizing one's flock and refraining from teaching error.  It is, as it happens, entirely orthodox Catholic teaching that one's beliefs are, and can only be, one's own (see, e.g., Dignitatis humanae); but it does not strike me as remotely authoritarian or "[un]friendly" to say -- if one is, well, the Pope -- to a bishop, "given that you are a successor to the Apostles, charged with caring for the spiritual welfare of Christians, do not say and teach things, as bishop, that are grossly wrong and hateful, to say nothing of un-Christian."  The Pope (I would have thought this was obvious) was not telling Williamson to change his beliefs; but to stop teaching error and creating a scandal.

One's role constrains what one is supposed to say, in the context of that role, all the time.  This fact does not strike me as being in tension with "intellectual freedom."  (I assume that Sandy, like me, would not be moved by a public-school science teacher's argument that his "intellectual freedom" required that he be permitted not only to believe, but to teach in class, young-Earth creationism?)


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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