The Church and Hate Speech

Merriam-Webster provides the following legal definition of hate speech: “speech that is intended to insult, offend, or intimidate a person because of some trait (as race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability).” The American Bar Association says “hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” There seems to be little dispute about what constitutes hate speech.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly claimed that adherents of all other religions are doomed to damnation, i.e., there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. This claim is elaborated in the Syllabus of Errors of 1862, which contains references to earlier declarations of this hateful doctrine (See The Syllabus of Errors, Part II – Ecumenism). Telling someone he is going to hell unless he converts to Catholicism is not only insulting and offensive, it is a blatant attempt at intimidation. But no one calls it hate speech. No one even contemplates holding the Church accountable for its “infallible” proclamations of hate. Instead, even those outside the Church try to suppress awareness of these doctrines.

1862 is hardly ancient history. The Constitution of the United States is significantly older, yet it is still the law of the land. Moreover, as recently as 2000, Pope John Paul II declared that the author of the Syllabus of Errors, Pope Pius IX, was a saint. There is no doubt that the hateful doctrines of his “infallible” papal bull are part of official Church doctrine; the canonization of Pius IX effectively confirms this.

What should we do about the hate crimes of the Catholic Church?

First, the label “hate speech” is inaccurate, as these hateful doctrines are almost never spoken, at least outside Catholic seminaries. Ironically, the first thing to do is convert these “hidden” doctrines to actual hate speech and make people aware of them.

Popes frequently utter ecumenical platitudes while meeting with leaders of other religions. But at the same time they secretly maintain the “infallible” Church doctrine that adherents of these other religions are damned, as there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. We should expose this hypocrisy.

It is up to the Church to resolve conflicts concerning its hateful doctrines. But it is hard to see how the Church can maintain its claim that papal encyclicals and church councils are divinely guided and thus infallible, while at the same time renouncing such claims. Jesus said the truth will set you free. The Catholic Church should give it a try.

It initially occurred to me that there might be legal implications, especially concerning the tax-exempt status of a hate group. But it turns out that lots of hate groups are tax-exempt (here). In general, American courts give precedence to freedom of speech over restriction of hate speech. About the only time hate speech is punished if it is immediately likely to incite violence, like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

In summary, there is a vast difference between the pious and high-minded claims of the Church’s PR machine, and the facts of Church doctrine and practice. Almost all Catholics are unaware of its hateful doctrines. I suspect they would reject them, in much the same way that nearly all Catholics reject the Church’s “infallible” claim that use of contraceptives is a mortal sin. (Eventually, some might even ponder the logical consequences of such discrepancies.) As for non-Catholics, transparency might help them avoid being duped by the bland smiles and propaganda of Church spokesmen.


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