Thursday, 26 September 2013

Academic censorship or proper regulation of theologians?

There is an interesting post today over at Rorate Caeli claiming a case of academic censorship of a Sydney academic and traditionalist, Dr John Lamont.

Now this does seem to be a classic case of one rule for traditionalists, quite another for liberals.

But is it really consistent with traditionalism to privilege academic freedom, as Dr Lamont and Rorate seek to do, over proper ecclesial regulation of theology?

The facts of the case

According to Rorate the facts are as follows.

Dr Lamont had a paper on religious freedom accepted for the journal Novus et Vetera.  The paper passed the usual peer review processes.  But then, according to Rorate, the editors declined to publish it on the grounds that Dr Lamont was not in full communion with the Church.

It seems the editors  - mistakenly - believed that he was formally associated with the SSPX (he has published in The Angelus, arguing for canonical recognition of the SSPX) instead of being incorporated into his diocese; they undertook to publish his paper only once he had become registered in a parish.

As it happens, Dr Lamont is in fact registered in a Sydney Archdiocese parish and has a canonical mandate to teach.

But Dr Lamont felt that the need to demonstrate this was a breach of academic freedom, and so withdrew his paper instead.

Academic freedom?

On the face of it the authors did make a mistake in talking about registration with a parish - as Rorate point out, there is no canonical requirement for Catholics to register with a parish.  Frankly, if they were worried about Dr Lamont's status in the Church, they should instead have inquired about his mandate to teach, or asked what parish he attended Mass at.

But the more fundamental question posed is whether an academic journal - even one that claims to be Catholic - should seek to verify the credentials of its published authors at all.  Shouldn't it be enough, Dr Lamont asks, that the paper passes academic muster?

I'm not altogether convinced of this.

Most of us would surely think that there has been far too much freedom, with liberal Catholic theologians freely publishing heresy even while employed by so-called Catholic institutions, and the set texts at such institutions all too often anything but orthodox.  Surely traditionalists want this 'freedom' to be rejected as a false one?

It seem to me that the Church's traditional view is not to regard academic freedom as an absolute, to be privileged over the good of the Church.  In the past there were two steps that had to be followed in relation to the content of a paper: first its academic merit, and secondly its orthodoxy.  Perhaps a better approach for Novus et Vetera would have been to seek an imprimateur for the paper if they had concerns?

But there is also a legitimate issue about the bona fides of authors I think.  Imagine an academic journal received a paper from someone known previously to have been guilty of plagiarism, or to hold extremist discredited views on some other subject (such as advocating geocentrism for example).  To give airspace to such a person would be to invite ridicule by the academic community.  None of these scenarios actually apply in this case: Dr Lamont is in fact a respected academic with a number of published papers to his credit.  Still, a journal surely has a right to be concerned about its credibility.

The crime of being a traditionalist...

In fact Dr Lamont's only crime seems to be being a traditionalist and arguing in favour of the traditional position on religious freedom.

This is of course a very controversial topic, but one where a number of different approaches do seem to be possible.  One could note that Novus et Vera claim to be committed to 'dialogue' in the spirit of Vatican II, which would surely suggest that allowing non-Catholic (or 'not in full communion Catholics') a chance to contribute, particularly in the form of replies, as Dr Lamont's paper was.  Their website after all, says that:

"We seek to be “at the heart of the Church,” faithful to the Magisterium and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and devoted to the work of true dialogue, both ecumenically and across intellectual disciplines."

It is indeed disappointing that traditionalists, of the SSPX variety or otherwise, continue to be marginalised academically and otherwise by the 'hermeneutic of continuity' crowd.  Ecumenism, it seems, only applies very selectively indeed.

All the same, I think we need to be careful about the arguments we use in these cases.  Though the proper authorities and those associated with them may be getting it wrong more often then they get it right at the moment, we should surely not reject the concept of obedience and regulation of theology for the common good of the Church altogether.  Rather, traditionalist academics should be working to restore such regulation, even while demonstrating that the traditionalist view is in fact the orthodox one!

Let us hope that Dr Lamont is able to publish his paper in some other forum.


John Lamont said...

Thanks for the discussion of my piece. I would note that I explicitly state in it that Catholic theology journals are entitled to refuse papers that are heretical. That is not the issue here, as the editors acknowledge in their description of my paper as 'excellent'. Nor is the parallel with geocentrists a good one, since the reservations expressed by the editors had noting to do with any views I may have expressed elsewhere. I do not think that the positions of the SSPX itself can be equated with a lunatic view like geocentrism, either, since the Holy See saw fit to engage in formal discussions of these views, which implies taking them to be worthy of discussion - not something that is the case with geocentrism. In any case I do not think that it would be right to dismiss a paper simply because it was written by a geocentrist, anyway. Take Fr. Anthony Cekada's book 'Work of Human Hands', on the Missal of Paul VI. Fr. Cekada is a sedevacantist, which is not very far from geocentrism in terms of rationality in my view. His book nonetheless was worth publishing, reading and reviewing, as has been stated by experts like Alcuin Reid. That is because it contains a good deal of useful new information (e.g. on the extent to which the 1970 missal departed from the 1962 one) that is intelligently and reliably presented. It is right to consider this book on its merits independently of the eccentric views expressed by Fr. Cekada elsewhere. This example of course takes a case where an author's views - sedevacantism - can be known to be harmful and mistaken; editors who award themselves the license to refuse to print authors whose other views they think harmful are not likely to restrict themselves to cases where the harmfulness of such views is genuine and unmistakable.

Kate Edwards said...

Dear Dr Lamont,

As I said in my post, I agree that in this particular case, it is a clear case of anti-traddie prejudice without justification, and quite disappointing to see from a journal of this kind. If the debate on religious liberty can't be discussed in a journal that claims to be open even to ecumenical dialogue, where can it be?

My point was a broader one, though, and the examples I gave were intended only to illustrate the general principle that an academic journal has a right to regulate who can publish in it, and are not intended to imply direct parallels to the particular case.

Rather I was trying to suggest that the pre-Vatican II 'traditionalist' view wasn't one that privileged academic freedom and theological debate, or ignored the other views of authors.

The Fr Cedaka case is an interesting one. He published his work as a book, and these days Catholic theologians readily review books from all comers relevant to a field. That's not the traditional approach though!

And regardless, would he have gotten it into a peer reviewed Catholic journal? I suspect not, certainly not in the pre Vatican II era, and for good reasons in my view.

Anonymous said...


I'd be interested to hear from the estimable Dr. Lamont what makes geocentrism a view worthy only of "lunatics" - a nice pun, if nothing else. Perhaps he should engage in good scholarly debate with Dr. Sungenis, or the other scholars who hold this view AND have published in peer-reviewed journals.

In any case, the rationality of geocentrism and sedevacantism is hardly similar, for they are based on separate "spheres" of human knowledge, assuming that St. Thomas was right in I, I. The principles guiding one discussion or the other are quite distinct, something the good Doctor should know if he is able enough to be published in Nova et Vetera.

Anonymous said...

People are upset that insecure NO Catholics are trying to kick people out of the Church for being too faithful to it.. That is the lunatic position.

Kate Edwards said...

Jonathon - In fairness to Dr Lamont, I was the one who raised geocentrism and entirely agree with his characterisation of it. If Dr Sungenis and others holding these eccentric views continues to be published in peer reviewed journals, I'd be curious as to which ones - are they really credible mainstream ones?

Martin S. said...

This is strictly speaking off topic but it goes to how Jesus as traditionalist ought to be understood - meaning - how to live tradition authentically.

Also noted Kate linked to Margaret Barker before re: Biblical Criticism During C20th. The one below may be one she missed.

Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture
St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York, January 28th 2012.

Found it absolutely fascinating and a must read for an appreciation of Jesus' self-understanding and so appreciation of the New Testament/Mass/Eucharist.

(P.s. I have Alfred Edersheim's famous work in front of me but not yet read it)