Time and again, I have been approached by concerned Catholic parents regarding the religious education of their children in Catholic schools and universities. Especially notorious were the cases of a number of theology professors in a Catholic University in Manila who openly declared that they were atheists, and of those professors in another Catholic University in Quezon City who were in open support of the Reproductive Rights Bill, which had been publicly denounced by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines as patently opposed to the teachings of the Church on sexual morality. In both cases, the university authorities declared that the university had to respect the academic freedom of the professors. The question is: Doesn’t Canon Law provide for the protection of the integrity of Catholic Doctrine, as taught in officially Catholic educational institutions?
Canon Law indeed has enough provisions to protect the integrity of Catholic doctrine and identity of officially Catholic educational institutions. Among other means, anybody who teaches theology at the tertiary level is obligated by Canon Law to make a Profession of Faith and to take an Oath of Fidelity to teach in the name of the Church.
Three Categories of Truths
On 9.I.1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published new formulas for the Professio Fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis in suscipiendo officio nomine Ecclesiae exercendo (AAS 81, 104 106), to replace the previous formula of 1967. These formulas were approved by the Roman Pontiff in a special Rescript dated, 19.IX.1989 (in AAS 81 , 1169). An attentive reading of the pertinent paragraphs of the Profession Fidei shows that there are three categories of truths, enunciated as follows:
1st Category: “[E]verything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed." These are truths found immediately in Revelation, which the Church vouches for as contained in Revelation. This are supposed to be held “with firm faith”, because their certainty has a twofold basis: the authority of God Revealing (fides divina) and the infallible teaching authority of the Church (fides catholica). These are commonly referred to in Dogmatic Theology as De fide Divina et Catholica or simply dogmas. Examples of these truths are (1) the Three Persons in One God, (2) the two natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ, (3) the Immaculate Conception, (4) the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in body and soul to Heaven.
2nd Category: “[E]verything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.” These constitute what Dogmatic Theology has always referred to as Catholic truths or Church doctrines, which are to be accepted with a faith based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). Even if the Profession fidei did not expressly state it, these are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.
3rd Category: “[T]he teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act." These are the teachings for which the CIC stipulates “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith” (c.752).
Source of Confusion
While the 1st and 3rd Categories of truth had their corresponding provisions in the Code of Canon Law, there was no expressed provision for the 2nd Category. Thus, cc.750 & 752 described the 1st and 3rd Categories respectively, and c.1371 provided for the penal sanction for their violation. This has given rise to not a few cases of open dissent, perhaps emboldened by a seeming lacuna in Canon Law, especially as regards the penal provisions.
A more attentive reading of the Profession fidei, however, coupled with a solid grounding in Dogmatic Theology, shows that there was really no lacuna. As a Ott would affirm, the 2nd Category are “as infallibly certain as dogmas proper”—i.e., the norm for the 1st Category should hole also for the 2nd. Hence, when the CIC expressly provided for the 1st and 3rd Categories, it tacitly provided also for the 2nd Category of truths.
Nevertheless, since abuses have arisen, and such may be legally defended against sanction with the principle of “nulla poena sine lege”, the Supreme Church Authority came up with new legislation in 1998 to fill up that seeming lacuna, in the following way: c.750 of the Code of Canon Law will now consist of two paragraphs; the first will present the text of the existing canon; the second will contain a new text. Thus c.750, in its complete form, will read:
Canon 750 − §1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ's faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.
§2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held, namely those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Canon 1371, n.1 of the Code of Canon Law, consequently, will receive an appropriate reference to c.750, §2, so that it will now read:
Canon 1371 -- The following are to be punished with a just penalty:
1° a person who, apart from the case mentioned in c.1364, §1, teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff, or by an Ecumenical Council, or obstinately rejects the teachings mentioned in c.750, §2 or in c.752 and, when warned by the Apostolic See or by the Ordinary, does not retract;
2° a person who in any other way does not obey the lawful command or prohibition of the Apostolic See or the Ordinary or Superior and, after being warned, persists in disobedience.
Ordinary and Universal Magisterium
It is fitting to note also that almost all infallible teachings in the field of morality are contained not in solemn definitions (so called definitive acts or definitively proposed in the language of the Profession fidei and in the CIC), but precisely in the teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This has led some to think that there are no infallible teachings in the field of morality, inasmuch as, in fact, there are no texts in which such infallibility is explicitly claimed. This assertion fails to recognize, however, that the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which by nature does not adopt such solemn expressions, is precisely the normal way in which the infallibility of the Church is exercised.
As Pope John Paul II affirms, “The Magisterium (...) includes the charism of infallibility, which is present not only in the solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Councils, but also in the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which can be considered the usual expression of the infallibility of the Church.”
Practically all concrete and absolute moral norms that are under debate today (e.g., abortion, contraception, homosexual acts, premarital relations, euthanasia, divorce, masturbation), have been taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium and are hence infallible.
Reach of “religious respect (obsequium) of intellect and will”
A final observation regarding the so-called religious submission of the intellect and will. This means more than the usual obedience required for the legitimate command of the hierarchical authority of the Church. Specifically, it means:
1) The ordinary response will be a sincere adherence not only of the will but also of the intelligence. In an exceptional case, a teaching might not be intellectually convincing. Then the first duty is to doubt oneself, giving credibility to the Magisterium. This does not mean that one must stop working on research and presenting the authorities—in a private way—one’s own reasons and the possible formulations that one might suggest as being better suited for expressing the truth.
2) In any case, religious submission implies the obligation to avoid every dissent; the only thing admissible is to suspend or withhold assent. If dissent is made publicly and obstinately, opportune sanctions would be in order (c.1371).