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Catholics/Religion and academic freedom.


I have read religion and academic freedom do not mix. What are your feelings on this problem?

I have updated my answer and fixed some of the typos.  My answer has not changed--I just cleaned it up a bit in terms of grammar, etc.  

The answer to the question from my view is going to depend on how the theologian understands his or her role.  The answer is ALSO going to depend on how the university sees its role.

Most theologians today understand their roles as analogous to a Scientist.  This goes for many Catholic theologians as well.  They approach their research with an "objective" standpoint and only want to see where their research takes them.  They then "objectively" report their findings like a scientist and expect their denomination to change doctrine accordingly, if their results have been verified and peer reviewed, etc.  

Most universities today whether Catholic or Protestant do not see their role as being a place where faith can be nurtured and cultivated.  Catholic and Protestant theologians tend to see the university as a place where they research theological issues, report their findings, have them peer reviewed and verified, etc.  Once they have established the credibility of their claims they report them to their denomination and expect doctrine to change accordingly.

In Protestant universities, especially liberal Protestant universities this is not going to cause issues.  The Protestant sects do not have a "Magesterium" in the sense that the Catholic Church does, nor do Protestant sects speak with a unified voice on anything. A Lutheran might believe one thing, a Presbyterian something else.  Two churches that bear the name "Baptist" may be worlds apart on theology and doctrine having in common only the name "Baptist."  In fact in my inter-seminary seminar one of the Baptists said "Rule number one of a Baptist is that we never speak for another Baptist."  A theologian's credentials and "authority" to teach tend to depend more on his or her academic credentials and peer acceptance rather than their ordination or commissioning.  

For example: the "latest" research in liberal Protestantism shows that Gay Marriage is compatible with Scripture.  Hence Liberal Protestant churches are slowly changing their doctrine so that their doctrine is in harmony with the "latest" most "up to date" research. (As an aside I believe what is really happening is that the theologians in an effort to look more trendy and enlightened are trying to read the Bible through the trends of pop culture rather than the other way around. It goes without saying that I disagree with the conclusions of these scholars)

In any case this attitude WILL tend to cause problems in Catholic circles because theologians tend to be at odds with the Church on what exactly their role is.  

In the Catholic Church teaching is not based on academic "research" or the latest trends in theology.  Church teaching is based on what has been handed on in the Scriptures and Tradition as taught by the bishops in communion with the pope.  In the Catholic Church one BELIEVES PRIOR TO UNDERSTANDING, one makes an act of Faith and ACCEPTS at face value what the Church proposes as her teaching before one understands it.  

In the Catholic Church theology is Faith seeking understanding, not understanding seeking Faith.  The role of the Catholic theologian therefore is threefold:

1) To show how what the Church teaches is contained in the sources of revelation

2) To defend Catholic teaching

3) To explain Church teaching

The bishops are the teachers of the Faith, theologians teach in the name of the bishops and thus their role is to support the teaching of the bishops and defend it.

You can see the issue here: in the Catholic Church, Church teaching is always presumed correct.  The goal of research is to PROVE the teaching correct, not to try to DISPROVE the teaching.  The purpose of a Catholic university is to hand on the Faith and provide an environment where the students can learn their secular subjects in a way that is conducive to cultivating and handing on the Catholic Faith.  

Many Catholic universities have lost their way in this regard.  I see the role of "academic freedom" in a Catholic university differently then in a secular or Protestant university.  If a theologian has a degree in Catholic theology, especially if they have a pontifical degree (which is their "license" to teach) they should be teaching what the Church teaches and defending it.  They should be nurturing the Faith of the Catholic students in their classes.  They should be respectfully challenging the non-Catholics to consider the Catholic position.

If a Catholic theologian wants to research and "objectively" report their findings, and if the theologian does not care what the Catholic Church teaches--than a teaching position in a CATHOLIC university isn't for them.  They should work at a Protestant or secular university that holds the views they hold and wants them to teach those views.  

I believe students should be exposed to contrary views at a Catholic university for sure--but only so the students are aware of the challenges to the Catholic Faith and they can be prepared to meet them. Example: if a Catholic University wants to host a scholar who claims that the Bible does not condemn gay marriage and allow him to present his arguments and evidence, that is fine--so long as the students are exposed to the other side of the issue--that is the Catholic side.  Viewpoints that oppose church teaching in other words should not be gone unanswered.


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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