Government Pressure and College Catholicism: Diamonds from Coal?
If you think God doesn’t work in mysterious ways, consider the increasing scrutiny of “religious” organizations by the American government when it comes to exemptions from various regulations which offend the well-formed conscience. It is a shifting landscape, and it would take an expert to explain the current state of allowable exceptions from regulatory adherence. But there has been a trend toward examining the systemic commitment to religious belief in organizations which seek exemption from laws affecting everything from the firing of employees who publicly dishonor their moral teaching to the avoidance of HHS-mandated insurance coverage.
For example, the Cardinal Newman Society noticed several years ago that Catholic colleges and universities with no clear and consistent Catholic identity were more likely to be treated just like everybody else in the face of government indifference to the natural law than were institutions for which an adverse decision would compromise a religious mission which was demonstrable not only in name but in fact. At the same time, the American bishops were applying very modest pressure of their own by reviewing the implementation of the norms they had promulgated based on the Vatican's guidelines for Catholic higher education in Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
These changing circumstances, along with a slowly growing renewal movement among Catholic institutions, led the Society to establish its Center for the Advancement of Higher Education and to develop a model document for evaluating and strengthening the mission of any Catholic college and university. Published in 2011, Assessing Catholic Identity covers institutional identity, leadership and administration, faculty and academics, and students and campus life. Designed as a checklist for the enhancement of Catholic identity through a university mission clarification process, its provisions are presented by direct quotation from the directives of the Holy See and the American bishops in Canon Law, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States.
God does work in mysterious ways, and even misguided government pressures can sometimes lead to a desired stiffening of the Catholic spine. At the same time, we need to remember that diamonds are not really made from pressurized coal. Diamonds are far older than the plant life from which coal derives. In the same way, the Church is far older than the American government, and can offer better sources of renewal. But the Cardinal Newman Society does have this process covered, and you can keep up with identity development in American Catholic higher education through the Society’s Catholic Education Daily.
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