Freedom of Speech

So, my friend and I got into a small argument about the “Index Librorum Prohibitorum” which is a list of books banned by the Catholic Church from Paul IV (1559) until Paul VI (1966) abolished it from ecclesiastical law (the moral responsibilities were then put upon the individual Christian to be aware of materials damaging to faith and morals).

My friend then proceeded to say that it was probably a good thing to do this. I looked at him funny and asked why it was a good thing. His response was that censorship is wrong because it restrains the person from their natural right to freedom of speech. I then responded that Freedom of speech is not a natural right and that I had thought I read somewhere that freedom of speech is actually contradictory to the Catholic church.

Now, either I’m mistaken, or he is mistaken (or maybe there is the possibility that there is a middle ground) but can someone please provide evidence for either side or what the Church teaches on Freedom of Speech?

Thank you,


I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do think that your friend’s premise is wrong. A list of banned books doesn’t step on anyone’s freedom of speech. For the books to be banned, they have to be published. Choosing not to read something isn’t the same as not letting someone write. What do you think?

God gave mankind Freedom. We are free to make our own choices.

Yet total freedom is chaos.

Christ gave us the two great commandments: Love God. Love others.

Christ also gave us the Lord’s prayer, in part: “They will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

St Pope John Paul told us that the Pope is NOT against freedom; the Pope is FOR the GOOD USE of Freedom.

Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church until He returns. If the Catholic Church tells me that there are certain writings I should not read, I will trust the Holy Spirit and avoid it.

Otherwise what does “Thy Will be done” really mean to us?

Well, I’d say it was a good thing too–not because of freedom of speech, but because some books that would be occasions of sin for some might not be for others.

That’s a good point. I think that he’s trying to say that censorship (whether it be in music, movies, books, etc.) falls under the category of freedom of speech. I do like the bolded point that you made. I’ll have to tell him about that one.

How would total freedom be chaos?

If a band sends some music to the radio station,and the radio station does not like it, they won’t play it.

If a band sends in some music that contains violent themes and insults and lies, then when the radio station refuses to play it, the band cries ‘censorship’ and the band gets popular.

Same with books.

Pope St. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, in its list of rights, does declare a right to free speech–however, it is limited by the moral order and common good:

[quote=Pope St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris]12. Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events.

Note, in the same encyclical, he explains how measures to ensure the common good must take into account man’s spiritual well-being:

[quote=St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris]57. In this connection, We would draw the attention of Our own sons to the fact that the common good is something which affects the needs of the whole man, body and soul. That, then, is the sort of good which rulers of States must take suitable measure to ensure. They must respect the hierarchy of values, and aim at achieving the spiritual as well as the material prosperity of their subjects.(42)

  1. These principles are clearly contained in that passage in Our encyclical Mater et Magistra where We emphasized that the common good "must take account of all those social conditions which favor the full development of human personality.(43)

  2. Consisting, as he does, of body and immortal soul, man cannot in this mortal life satisfy his needs or attain perfect happiness. Thus, the measures that are taken to implement the common good must not jeopardize his eternal salvation; indeed, they must even help him to obtain it.(44)

Note also, this regards the State. The Church, as guardian of divine revelation, has a broader power to suppress heresy among her members, which is why most Bishops’ conferences have censors and why books need an imprimatur and nihil obstat.

I think there is a misunderstanding here. The Church doesn’t have any desire, nor does it have the ability, to stop the books from being written. The list is just a list of books that may cause grave spiritual risk to The Faithful.

Thanks for the response. This is excellent information and I will read up on the document some more.

I’m not sure of its ultimate origin, but I have a quote that might guide you.

With regards to the Church’s definition of freedom, this is what I was told in religious class, age 9, very succintly:

—>“Freedom is the right to do what you ought to do”.<—

This pearl of wisdom has educated me in more ways than I can recall.


When I was young, it was considered a crime to throw a book or to destroy a book. Books had rights. And this was in the catholic school. Even books that certainly did not have catholic or moral themes had rights. The problem with Hitler was that he went about destroying books ie. he was destroying others’ ideas and their ability to express them.

eg. the Church (or other religions) have not forbidden the publishing of Fifty Shades of Grey nor forbidden catholics etc. to read it. The Church can advise catholics who seek Her advice.

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