Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 28, 2015: Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Pope Francis offered his thoughts about the tragic event. His widely reported remarks appeared to be extemporaneous.
However, in a piece titled "Pope Francis vs. Free Speech?" posted online at RealClearReligion and dated January 28, 2015, Patrick Callahan, professor emeritus of political science at DePaul University, a Roman Catholic university in Chicago, Illinois, undertakes to show that Pope Francis's seemingly off-the-cuff remarks are based on his church's official social teachings. It is not exactly surprising that the pope's remarks would reflect official church teaching.
However, certain non-Catholic Americans might be surprised to learn that "the teachings of the church offers little direct support for any of the civil liberties -- other than freedom of religion -- and much of the support it provides is contingent and therefore tepid," as Callahan points out.
Moreover, Callahan says, "what the church considers false civil freedom -- an exercise of one's autonomy -- is exactly what most Westerners mean by freedom."
Even though the two statements made by Callahan may sound like criticisms of church teachings, he is not writing an editorial criticizing the church's teachings. Instead, he is writing an explanation and clarification of the church's teachings for the benefit of people who might not already be familiar with those teachings.
However, in the present essay I am writing an editorial criticizing the church's teachings that Callahan discusses.
Callahan has already introduced us to the church's either-or thinking about false civil freedom and true civil freedom.
For example, in the church's view, it is false civil freedom for the civil government to legalize abortion in the first trimester, as the 1973 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court did in Roe v. Wade.
In effect, in the church's view, true civil freedom exists only when the civil laws consider lawful only what the bishops consider to be in accord with their tradition of natural-law moral theory.
Now, in the church's either-or thinking, autonomy and reciprocal bonds are thought to be opposites and therefore mutually exclusive.
Just to be clear, the church's either-or thinking starts with the either-or premise of good and evil, which are thought of as opposites that are mutually exclusive.
Callahan quotes The Catechism of the Catholic Church as saying the following: "'The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."'"
So the false civil freedom mentioned above is not in the service of what is good and just. But what is in the service of what is good and just? Only what the Catholic tradition of natural-law moral theory says is good and just.
However, American society today is pluralistic. Not all Americans are practicing Roman Catholics. Not all Americans would agree with the claims of Catholic natural-law moral theory. (This moral theory is referred to as natural-law moral theory because everybody is supposed to be capable of understanding the so-called natural law.)
Basically, as Callahan explains, one is supposed to be "able to behave according to one's fundamental nature." And the bishops have figured out our fundamental nature.
Callahan says, "Our basic inclination is to seek God, and freedom must be understood in that light. If we exercise our free will to obey the moral law and grow closer to God, then we are free; if we exercise our free will to sin, then we are not free."