Yesterday we discussed the intolerance of the very radicals who are forever calling for tolerance. A couple of people wrote in to indicate that they consider my stance duplicitous, since I likely support Archbishop Cordeleone’s stance requiring Catholic School teachers to demonstrate loyalty to Catholic teachings and promise not to teach to the contrary in Catholic schools. I do in fact support the good Archbishop. But I do not accept the charge of duplicity.
Why? Because, as I hope to teach, tolerance is a virtue, but it is not an absolute virtue. Too many “debates” in our culture hinge on an absolutizing of what is said. Tolerance has limits. In addition, context is important.
Regarding context, I would tolerate certain topics being discussed among adults that I would not tolerate being discussed in the presence of children. I am going to be more tolerant of a dissenter from Catholic teaching speaking in the local park or debate hall than I would be of a Catholic priest dissenting in the pulpit of a Catholic Church.
There are certain contexts in which debate and disagreement are more expected and tolerated than in others. Catholic parents pay a lot of money to send their children to Catholic schools, where they reasonably expect the faith to be handed on, defended, or at the very least not openly opposed. Bishops have a right and duty to meet this expectation and to protect minors from error and dissent. I am more tolerant of even a Catholic university allowing the spirited discussion of various ideas, but I certainly think that at a Catholic university, Catholic answers would at least be vigorously presented (and surely not suppressed as we saw in yesterday’s article). So context matters in terms of how we understand the limits of tolerance.
Second, when tolerance IS extended, we can reasonably protest if certain groups are favored over others. It is one thing to say that certain groups or activities should be tolerated legally or otherwise. But then to declare that opposing groups have no right to the same tolerance or to voice their disagreement in the same matter is unjust. Many people today mistake “tolerance” to mean approval, tacit agreement, or at least feigned indifference. This is a misunderstanding.
Permit me some further thoughts on the issue of tolerance in order to address this misunderstanding. This post is not intended as a systematic treatise on tolerance. Rather, these are just some thoughts on a “virtue” that has too often become detached from reason and justice.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines tolerance and toleration this way:
Toleration—from the Latin tolerare: to put up with, countenance, or suffer—generally refers to the conditional acceptance of or non-interference with beliefs, actions, or practices that one considers to be wrong but still “tolerable,” such that they should not be prohibited or constrained. 
It goes on to make a distinction that is often lost today: