The elevation of Pope Benedict XVI to the Papal Suite at the Vatican might give some of America’s Catholic colleges and universities the chance to be more than Catholic in Name Only (CINO).
“Catholic theology is not individual reflection but thinking with the faith of the Church,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in a 1999 U. S. visit. “If you will do other things and have other ideas of what God could be or could not be, there is the freedom of the person to do it, clearly.”
“But one should not say this is Catholic theology.”
When Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze thought out loud with the faith of the Church in a 2003 commencement address at Georgetown University, 70 professors at the Catholic school sent the dean a letter of protest. One theology professor actually walked off the stage.
“In many parts of the world, the family is under siege,” Cardinal Arinze had said. “It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.”
“It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.”
Many Catholic professors viewed this as cognitive dissonance. Many other Catholics saw in it the old-time religion, mainly those of the denomination who still attend Mass.
Contrast the Cardinal’s clarion call with a letter sent by a Gonzaga University Professor of Religious Studies to his colleagues in the faculty at that Jesuit College. Professor Robert J. Eagen sought to clarify the Church’s position on homosexuality.
“It is true that the current official Vatican teaching forbids any genital expression of these feelings on moral grounds,” Professor Eagen wrote, “but this is disputed by many distinguished Catholic theologians and other intellectuals and scholars.”
“I myself believe it is the result of continuing to make judgments based on an obsolete paradigm.”
In his 1999 Menlo Park, California appearance, Cardinal Ratzinger made clear the responsibilities of Catholic institutions of higher learning. On matters of faith and morals, Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, Church teaching is beyond dispute:
“It is the great responsibility we have to give, on the one hand, the authentic witness of the faith, because Catholic people have the right to know what is Catholic and what is not Catholic, to defend Catholic identity, but also it is the great responsibility to not impose obligations and limitations of thinking where Catholic identity does not depend on these limitations.”
Ironically, it is in this latter realm that some Catholic colleges actually are trying to set limits. Too many Catholic colleges and universities are adopting an approach to academic freedom that mirrors the policies and practices of their secular counterparts.
Early last semester, at an activities fair at [Catholic] De Paul University, adjunct professor Thomas Klocek visited a table manned by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). He made the mistake of engaging SJP members in conversation.
“One of the SJP members said that the Israeli treatment of ‘Palestinians’ is as bad as the way Hitler treated the Jews,” Klocek remembers. “I took vast umbrage with this scurrilous statement and pointed out that there is a qualitative difference between [Hitler and] Israeli military forces seeking out known terrorists and people strapping on bombs and blowing themselves and others up in buses, cafes and Seder dinners.”
Klocek, a Catholic, was suspended. Could his predicament cry out for papal intervention?
A final note, to the talking heads who treated the election of the new pontiff as they would an American presidential contest and predicted that he will “grow in office”: The smoke that signaled the election of Pope Benedict XVI came from the Vatican, not the Washington Post recycling plant.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.