by Patrick Reilly
Pope Benedict's address to Catholic college presidents yesterday afternoon was brilliant. The Pope built upon a generation of Vatican efforts to encourage the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic education. But more than that, he laid out a vision and roadmap for renewal that is ultimately tied to the survival of the West. (We'll have to leave that analysis for later, though.)
At first blush, the pope's speech boils down to this:
1 Catholic colleges must be unwavering in their commitment to Catholic teaching in everything they do, from the classroom to the dorm room; and
2 Academic freedom at a Catholic college must be informed and tempered by the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church.
Here are some highlights from the address, with a translation provided for those college presidents who haven't yet realized that yesterday cemented the renewal that has been quietly taking root:
Catholic institutions are in the business of saving souls: "It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church's primary mission of evangelization?"
Translation: Telling students that your college is "in the Catholic tradition" does not exempt you from the mandate to evangelize; colleges must live and actively witness the faith.
The truth is not relative: "The 'crisis of truth' that exists in society is rooted in a 'crisis of faith'" and Catholic educators have a responsibility to "evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief."
Translation: The truth is not found in moral relativism, the undermining of Catholic teachings or in faddish academic disciplines; it is found through the marriage of faith and reason.
Catholic identity must be comprehensive: "Each and every aspect of college life must reverberate within the ecclesial life of faith."
Translation: So, once and for all, a play like The Vagina Monologues serves no academic purpose and is inappropriate for a serious Catholic institution.
Catholic colleges must not waver in their convictions: "We observe today an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth. …And particularly disturbing is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of 'risk', bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love."
Translation: Catholic colleges must take seriously their responsibility to affirmatively foster and promote a campus environment that cherishes chastity.
Academic freedom must be tied to faith:"[A]ny appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission…."
Translation: The "Queer Film Festival" and handing out condoms do not fall under academic freedom.
Students must receive authentic Catholic teachings: Colleges have the duty to "ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity…."
Translation: Three credits in Wiccan Studies is not a substitute for a required Catholic Theology course. Oh, and that Catholic Theology course must teach authentic Catholicism (for reference, please see the Catechism).
There is, of course, much more in the Pope's speech, and it deserves serious reflection and analysis. Thursday was a great day for Catholic higher education, and Pope Benedict XVI deserves our prayers and gratitude for lighting the path of renewal.
Patrick J. Reilly is president of The Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization that works to renew and strengthen Catholic higher education.
The Cardinal Newman Society is the organization that annually reports on the number of Catholic colleges and universities that have received the "Mandatum" from their bishop, certifying that their theology department teaches in accord with Catholic beliefs. The number currently is 20, out of 200 "nominally Catholic" colleges and universities in the United States.
- Stella Lundquist