Catholic Universities: Steps on the Way Back
Three news reports concerning Catholic universities in recent days alert us once again to the depth of their fall from grace. The problems illustrate three aspects of corruption: lack of Catholic commitment among faculty; lack of identity in dealing with the State; and unwillingness to be institutionally responsive to the Church’s authority.
Yesterday we learned that Villanova University is sponsoring a “workshop” by gay activist Tim Miller which promises to take the students “through an intimate process of self-discovery”. Of course such presentations are always cloaked in verbiage about self-discovery, as if this is the purpose of a university education, or as if self-discovery somehow results from deliberately programming students to discover urges they have never had or to indulge fantasies that well-integrated people would ordinarily reject.
We were reminded recently by the Cardinal Newman Society that the staging of the V*-Monologues has declined dramatically on Catholic college campuses over the past few years, through a combination of superior leadership and the relentless pressure of the Society. This suggests that even more can be done to hasten the decline of sexual self-discovery programs and other moral horrors. It may not be too late to achieve the cancellation of Tim Miller’s invitation to “perform” at Villanova. But in any case, the pandemic lack of Catholic fidelity among educators at Catholic colleges and universities has begun, at last, to be treatable to some extent through public opinion. That’s an important part of the way back.
Today we learned that both the University of Notre Dame and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities have lukewarmly embraced the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion mandate in its revised form. In this they have at the very least failed to echo the stronger stance of the bishops. More importantly, they have failed significantly in their role, precisely as academic institutions, to articulate a clear and compelling explanation for why even the accommodated mandate is, in fact, grossly immoral. This case could be articulated on at least five levels: the role of government, the nature of medical care, an understanding of American Constitutional law, the requirements of the natural law, and the significance of Catholic moral teaching.
One would think that universities would shine in precisely this sort of situation; they should, after all, be outstanding sources for the reasoned expression of the truth. That this is very seldom the case just now in the Catholic world tells us something about the lack of identity in Catholic universities (and, indeed, in universities in general). They have sacrificed not only their Catholic identity but even their academic identity to programs, funding and politics. The re-establishment of a strong intellectual identity (which necessarily involves seriousness in addressing such things as government, medicine, law, nature and Revelation) is a critical step along the way back. Situations like this can be used to make such a point, even in non-religious ways.
We come finally to the battle raging between the Pontifical University of Peru and the Holy See. It seems the University now refuses to acknowledge the authority of the Holy See in bringing the school into compliance with Church guidelines, and refuses even to seat the Archbishop of Lima on the board of directors. The rector has been summoned to Rome to give an account of himself.
There is an interesting twist in this case, in that the original donor of the land on which the University is built had stipulated that, if the pontifical character of the school were lost, the land would pass to the Lima archdiocese. This is a weapon that the Church seldom any longer has in her arsenal, and one wonders whether it would be better for her to press this point in the hope of a grudging reform or simply to strip the school of its pontifical status and let the chips fall where they may.
Either way, this example speaks to the enormous role the wealthy can play—and have always played—in strengthening the authority of the Church by reserving funds and bequests to authentically Catholic organizations, and then doing their best to tie this support to minimal Catholic performance as determined by the competent ecclesiastical authority. It is worth noting that bishops typically have enormous influence over major Catholic donors and major Catholic bequests. As the episcopate continues to improve, grants and bequests will become more focused. Given the chronic need of universities for major funding, this is another step along the way back.
Finally, this last example throws into sharp relief a key ecclesiastical fact of life. When the Church in Rome exercises her authority both decisively and consistently in support of the Church’s mission, it creates a chain reaction which puts enormous pressure on those who lack fidelity. They must either get back on track or cease to claim the Catholic name. I would hope that the Pontifical University of Peru will go down as a textbook case of effective leadership in the Roman Curia.
For this too is an important step along the way back to education in the light of Christ.
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