The Church, Censorship and Why Things Should Change

Sophia Maltese

In some parts of the Cleveland area, seminarians must obtain prior approval before providing comment to any media outlet.

This information was confirmed after I reached out to a seminarian for a comment on a story. He informed me that the response might be delayed because the rector of the seminary must approve the statements of seminarians before they speak with any type of press.

This process is sustained despite dozens of scandals that have been covered up, numerous people who have been silenced and negative press the Church has received regarding its lack of transparency, because what we’ve learned from the Church’s dark past is that it’s better to censor dialogue and expression within a hurting and confused community, right?

Servants of the Church, according to the seminarian I spoke with, are meant to be obedient and trust in the larger mission. From their perspective, the Church functions better as a unified body; when division occurs, it becomes weak and cannot act effectively.

Furthermore, the men and women who lead the Church understand its mission better than others, making it acceptable for them to restrict whatever speech they do not find furthers the mission of Christ.

The ancient Greeks maintained a similar philosophy. In fact, they upheld it so vehemently that they executed Socrates on the grounds that he disrespected the gods and corrupted the youth.

Socrates was censored. Socrates was one of the greatest minds in world history. Socrates is studied by every seminarian I have met. 

Censorship has played enough roles in history.

Since Thomas Aquinas, the Church has held the belief that it should not be separated from the greater culture of society. It, however, should also not be conflated with culture. This presents an awkward dichotomy.

 How can you balance an entity comprised, in its earthly form, of beings that are a product of culture with the culture itself? Can you just as readily remove your parents’ teachings from yourself as you can shed environmental ideological influences?

The Church, I know, is trying its best. We are not capable of detaching ourselves from  environmental influences, nor can we even know what those influences are. Still, it is important to recognize that the highest-ranking members of the Church are subject to the world and its whims.

We cannot afford to place our trust in those who say they have the answers — there isn’t the time. 

This is not to say that Church officials conduct themselves improperly or with ill intentions. This is just to say that we cannot know if someone is right or wrong. The only way to decide what is closest to the truth is through open, passionate dialogue. 

Debating current issues brings people together. It is through discussion that we enter understanding. Additionally, it is through discussion that we form relationships.Within the Church, I have met many wonderful people filled with love and hope who continue to inspire me daily. 

These are the voices that I have grown to cherish; however, they are now removed from freely commenting on matters of Church interest in the public sphere.

I cannot comfortably ask questions to the rector of the seminary, with whom I have no rapport. I cannot engage in meaningful dialogue with someone whose mission is to tell me why I am wrong rather than considering that I may have a point.

Furthermore, if the objective of censoring low-ranking individuals is to prevent scandal, whether it stems from a legitmate issue or misunderstanding, perhaps those individuals should not be representing the Church since they lack a basic comprehension of its teachings and goals.

The Church’s arguments, as I have just outlined, are vastly inadequate reasons for limiting speech. The only real reason, that I can see, behind implementing a censorship process is to limit dialogue surrounding matters the Church is afraid to discuss.

If the Church was grounded in its opinions and if there were compelling arguments based on evidence and diligent research, there would be no reason to censor speech. Any refutations could be dissolved  in turn by reasoned arguments.

What is there to hide? The Church could claim that some individuals may be unduly influenced by fictitious or misleading statements. However, I am sure we all understand that every community has its strong and weak members.

As many basic models of communication assert, the public is capable of discerning fact from fiction. We are not persuaded by every infomercial or sales pitch. We are not bumbling idiots.

Censorship is dangerous. It is a hole you can bury speech in day after day, but eventually someone will stumble across it and wipe the dirt off. The only question is how far down you’ve gone.