The editorial draws a parallel to the recent incident at Rome's LaSapienza university, where enraged liberals (leftists) protested the Pope's visit, which he canceled.
Conservative Catholics were quick to point out the irony of this illiberal resort to censorship by those who think of themselves as guardians of rationality and open debate. Surely liberals and conservatives, both within and outside the church, can agree that it is better for opponents to hear one another out than to foreclose a respectful exchange of views. Whatever the content of his address, Benedict never posed a threat to academic freedom.Of course, any Bishop is well within his bounds in taking the action that Bishop Braxton did: it is the duty of a Bishop to take steps to defend the faith.
Regrettably, however, censorship is alive not only among secularists at La Sapienza, but also among some bishops who seem to think the best way to obey Benedict's call to strengthen the boundaries of Catholic identity is to marginalize those who question any magisterial teaching.
That said, I find myself a bit sympathetic with the stance of the editors of Commonweal. The thing is, I wonder often if this is the best way to achieve that end. What message does the dis-invitation of a well-regarded Scripture scholar send? Does it not, yet again, seem to portray the Church as a repressive institution, fearful of open discussion? The arguments and ideas are short-circuited; instead, one gets apologists and opponents of the Bishop's actions.
True, we have seen much -- way too much -- dissent in the past few decades, masquerading under the banner of liberty, progress and creativity. Dissent that has been corrosive to tradition, in the literal sense, of the ability to pass on the faith. (Just take an informal poll of more left-leaning Catholics to see how many of their children still practice Catholicism)
However, reducing fidelity to the Magisterium to some kind of external litmus test to a party-line i.e., to authoritarianism, is not the answer; and, I suspect, that is exactly what these kinds of actions do. The question I ask myself is: how do people come to trust the Church's authority, especially when it seems to contradict their own experience, and flies in the face of a culture that is distrustful of institutional claims to authority to begin with?
Let there be debates! (Johnson and Even Tushnet had a memorable exchange in the pages of Commonweal a little while back, on the vexed question of homosexuality) Let different ideas battle it out! If Johnson was going to speak on subjects where he expresses dissent, find someone else to respond! This was supposed to be a University setting, after all. Let's not appear to be timid about defending what we believe. Ours is, after all, a reasonable faith.
Seeming to shut up the opposition, does not, in the long run, help the cause of truth, or of fidelity to the Magisterium, and seems, at least on the surface, to confirm the fears (expressed mainly in more liberal Catholic circles) that all the rhetoric about the truth being proposed and not imposed is just empty rhetoric.
[Disclaimer: This reflection is based entirely upon what I've read in the Commonweal editorial. I have no other knowledge of the incident.
Additionally, this is not to say that simply any perspective can be tolerated in a Catholic setting, or promoted as Catholic: the question of identity, and boundaries is very important, particularly after decades of so much dissent. For instance, questions about human life, especially abortion, are clearly of a different order of magnitude.
Actually, I would think that in a Catholic setting, inviting only a speaker who is going to speak on a topic and present a dissenting perspective would be inadvisable, and even wrong. Some might say that presenting a debate between a dissenting position and an orthodox position might seem to suggest that both positions have the same claim to authority. This is a valid criticism. However, in some contexts, such discussions and debates are warranted -- a University or college setting might be one of those contexts. In fact, anything that encourages a return to discussion and argument about matters of truth, rather than simply treating everything as a matter of opinion or politics, i.e. power, is to be welcomed, IMO.
Just some initial reflections. Feedback more than welcome.]