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Catholicism, Rawlsian political liberalism, and reciprocity: insights from the travails of Bishop Henry of Calgary

Faculty Advisor




liberalism, church and state, same-sex marriages, Canada, Rawls, John 1921-2002, Henry, Frederick, Martin, Paul 1938-

Abstract (summary)

John Rawls contended that an overlapping consensus for “political liberalism” could be found in different ways across the range of comprehensive systems of value in western societies. Three recent conflicts concerning the relationship of church and state in Canada involving the Catholic Bishop of Calgary, Frederick Henry, provide an opportunity to consider Rawls' ideas in a specific societal context. The first of these conflicts — Henry's call for the excommunication of Catholic Prime Minister Paul Martin for legalizing same-sex marriage — suggests that the resources for a Rawlsian overlapping consensus may be difficult to find in Catholicism. The refusal of the Calgary Catholic School Board to obey Henry's order to end the use of gambling related school fund-raising, the second of the Bishop's “travails,” undercuts that conclusion, but the moral emptiness of the vocabulary of cultural liberalism, which the Board deployed in its self-justifications, suggests that too much liberalism might be almost as regrettable as too little. Henry's third travail — a call before the Human Rights Commission to answer charges of “discriminatory public speech” for his public criticisms of homosexuality — suggests the merit of recognizing an alternative to overlapping consensus as the source of Catholic recognition of Rawlsian political liberalism: reciprocity.

Publication Information

Soroski, J. “Catholicism, Rawlsian Political Liberalism, and Reciprocity: Insights from the Travails of Bishop Henry of Calgary.” Politics and Religion 4(3) (Dec. 2011): 448-475.


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