Many commentators refer to a tendency towards ‘creeping infallibility’ with regard to the exercise of magisterial authority in the Catholic Church today. The traditional distinction between the revealed truths of revelation enshrined in doctrine, and the  ethical and social aspects of the Church’s teaching which are open to reasoned debate, is being corroded. This diminishes the capacity for Catholics to enter into intelligent dialogue and debate with different cultural and religious perspectives, and it has a negative impact on the internal diversity and intellectual vitality of the Church. As a result, the vast and vibrant tradition of Catholic Christianity risks becoming a narrowly-defined and exclusive cult, increasingly out of touch with and irrelevant to the profound questions that people ask today with regard to meaning, truth and existential hope.

This raises complex questions that are of fundamental concern to all Catholics who seek an intelligent and informed engagement with Church teaching, and who wish to remain open to debate with regard to social values, the responsibilities of good citizenship and the vocation of faithful Christian discipleship.The Digby Stuart Research Centre is committed to holding open a space for this kind of reflection and enquiry, in which academic theologians in conversation with colleagues in other disciplines and with those in the wider community are free to explore – responsibly and reasonably – issues of shared concern and interest.

The British academic system may be almost unique, insofar as it accommodates theology as a discipline capable of being taught from different confessional and non-confessional perspectives, within the secular, publicly-funded university system. This constitutes a space of academic freedom for theologians, insofar as their jobs are not vulnerable to pressure from Church authorities. However, it also brings with it significant responsibilities to both the academic community and the Church, which sometimes make quite different demands upon those who seek to navigate the choppy waters between the Scylla of potentially unrestrained and irresponsible academic freedom (fuelled by government demands for demonstrable ‘impact’) and the Charybdis of excessively zealous and narrow interpretations of Catholic doctrine (fuelled by magisterial demands for obedience and conformity).

We hope that this forum will become a resource for cultivating high quality theological debate, for celebrating the rich intellectual life of the Catholic tradition, and for nurturing dialogue and debate among academics and the wider community concerning the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary culture, society and politics. Here you will find articles and contributions from a range of contributors, as well as a moderated space for comments and discussion. If you are aware of articles or books that you think would be valuable to recommend for users of the forum, or if you would like to make a theological contribution to the debate, please contact Thomas Lynch at thomas.lynch@roehampton.ac.uk.

The purpose of this forum is to contribute to a high level of theological debate concerning appropriate freedoms and restraints which might apply to lay theologians working within the Catholic tradition. While we welcome broad participation and contributions from a range of different perspectives, all comments will be vetted before being posted. Those which make an informed contribution to the discussion and which are expressed with courtesy and reason will be accepted. Those which make unsubstantiated claims or which are expressed without due regard for proper academic debate or in offensive or derogatory language will be rejected.

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