Despite what you may have been lead to believe by the so-called mainstream media, the Pope delivered an address to Catholic college presidents that could be summarized as My Way or The Highway.
The Pope addressed the United Nations in an approach that longtime students of the UN might characterize as one of rapprochement. Nonetheless, his remarks to the college presidents, according to attendees at that meeting were, if not remonstrative, then at least reminders of the need to pass on actual Catholic teaching in universities that bear that designation.
For one thing, Pope Benedict XVI criticized “the endless pursuit of novelty in the guise of academic freedom,” according to Benedictine College president Stephen D. Minnis, who was at the meeting. “Public witness to the life of Christ should inform all aspects of university life,” was the message the Pope conveyed, according to Russell Shaw, also present at the conference.
Veteran journalist Shaw is a consultant to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communication. The Pope “refuted the idea that the Catholic identity of a school consists of no more than the religious affiliation of its students and faculty and insisted that it must inform all that it does,” according to Shaw.
“Teachers and administrators have the duty and privilege to instruct students in Catholic dogma,” Shaw remembers of the Pontifical message. “The Pope was laying out an evangelical framework for Catholic colleges and universities,” Shaw pointed out.
“The choice for Catholic college presidents is between the Pope’s way and the way of American secular education.” Minnis and Shaw spoke at the Heritage Foundation symposium on Academic Freedom in Catholic Higher Education that was co-sponsored by the Cardinal Newman Society.
Indeed, the Pope’s scorn for academic novelties could leave most of America’s 213 Catholic colleges on the hook if they want to retain their religious designation. “We are all familiar with the annual drive to get The Vagina Monologues on as many Catholic college campuses as possible,” Minnis said at Heritage.
Universities such as the University of Dallas could find themselves in a similar bind. At UD, a depiction of the Blessed Mother as a stripper was defended by administrators as fostering academic freedom and critical thinking.
“There are some things that are not debatable and depicting our Mother as a stripper is one of them,” Minnis said. “It is abhorrent.”
“It’s absurd,” Shaw, a longtime columnist for Columbia, the Knights of Columbus magazine, agrees. “Kids are inundated with pornography already.”
Minnis goes to great pains to point out that his college in Kansas is not one that could be considered Catholic In Name Only as does Ken Davison of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. Recently, Belmont Abbey used its religious exemption to resist the North Carolina mandate that health care plans cover abortion, voluntary sterilization and contraception.
The North Carolina Department of Insurance claimed Belmont Abbey did not qualify for the religious exemption. Meanwhile, Christmas of 2007 brought a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint “from a handful of faculty who claim that Belmont Abbey discriminated by dropping the plan,” Davison relates.
“I’m in Development and I got two letters protesting Belmont Abbey’s actions and a thick file in support of them,” Davison observed.
“Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that authentic Catholic education should answer Western secularism,” Candace de Russy, who moderated the panel, noted, and classified Marxism as progressivism as errors. Dr. de Russy served for 12 tumultuous years on the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York.
A devout Catholic, Dr. de Russy urged Bishops to intervene when universities stray from doctrine. Dr. de Russy also suggested publicly calling on the Bishops to do so should they prove reluctant.
In the past, the Bishops have been known to busy themselves by calling for nuclear disarmament and welfare spending increases while trying to suppress complaints of the sexual abuse of boys by mostly homosexual priests. “It’s getting better,” says Shaw, long affiliated with the National Council of Catholic Bishops.
“We’ve got smarter, tougher, stronger, better Bishops,” he avers. “It’s changing, not as fast as I’d like or you’d like but it’s changing.”
“Remember, Fulton Sheen, who will be canonized this year, pointed out that of Christ’s followers, one betrayed Him, one denied Him and one doubted Him so he was only at 75 percent,” Davison notes. “I don’t know that we could expect much more than that.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.