Academic Freedom at a Catholic University

Should a professor who teaches at a Catholic university advocate abortion rights? That’s easy. The answer is “yes” if she or he wishes to do so.

Should a professor who is Roman Catholic who teaches Roman Catholic theology have the right to support the continued legalisation of abortion? Academic freedom does not differentiate on the basis of discipline. Theologians should not be singled out for special treatment or have unique liabilities that other professors may not have. Certainly a theologian is obligated in the classroom, as are other professors, to teach with accuracy and knowledge. A theologian should accurately reflect the position of the church on such matters but is not obligated to agree with it or to prevent students from engaging in critical thinking about the subject. In fact a theologian in my view should encourage it. Theology, like other disciplines, is evolving, subject to interpretation and revisionism. A university is not a church and that has to be repeatedly emphasised.

I think professors who teach at a Catholic university should respect the Roman Catholic religion, and others as well, and accept the fact that there will be a certain religiosity on campus that secular or other nominally religious universities may not have. However, respecting the Roman Catholic faith does not require acceptance of its views and certainly should not trigger self-censorship.

I support abortion rights.
I support the option of priestly celibacy.
I do not believe that one’s gender should preclude one’s capacity to become a priest.
I support the right of a person to use contraception.
I believe gays and lesbians should be accorded the same rights and privileges within the Catholic religion as other adherents.
I support stem cell research as a means to cure debilitating and crippling diseases.

Generally, I embrace the Vatican’s position on peace, poverty, the death penalty and its critique against unbridled materialism.

I believe the Roman Catholic religion is majestic in its capacity to exist over millennia and its impact on world culture. Much of my peace witness and work in that area has come from priests and nuns and papal and bishop pastorals and other documents that promote conflict resolution.

Yet Catholic universities must have the same degree of academic freedom as non-Catholic universities and that includes those who teach Roman Catholic theology. The reputation of Catholic colleges and universities and the achievement of academic excellence is dependent upon that. Non-Catholics, such as myself, are not a fifth column but represent an ecumenical and interfaith or merely a different perspective that can enrich and broaden the conversation and the scope of inquiry.

Catholic universities should be Catholic and catholic.

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