Thursday, April 06, 2006

Catholic Universities: Are they losing faith?

I'm in both a mood for politics and religion, so I think I'll write today about Catholic universities and the crisis between maintaining a Catholic identity or an open atmosphere. This Catholic Online article talks about the problems that arise when school administrators make tolerance their guiding principle instead of doctrine. This is the case at places like DePaul University where the guiding principle seems to be "Don't argue with the non-white students." Thomas Klocek's ongoing case in arguing with a Palestinian student group should be enough evidence of DePaul worried more about looking "intolerant" than "engaging." Why shouldn't the students be engaged in argument about their positions, especially when those positions contradict Catholic teaching? Many of the conservative positions I hold on use of military force, economics and religion were held in contempt at Southern Illinois, but arguing with my teachers gave me a chance to defend my positions and reinforce my own knowledge of the subjects. Some of my positions were changed to becoming more conservative than they were prior to attending SIU thanks to those teachers.

Regardless of my opinions, what are Catholic schools to do? Do they ignore the non-Catholics in their midst and go to a position where they conform completely to Catholic doctrine, or is there wiggle room? Notre Dame would find that it was a shadow of its former self if the party atmosphere was removed. DePaul would have difficulty maintaining its reputation for tolerance if it started kicking socialists out of the faculty. DePaul even has a "Queer Studies" minor. Considering that the GLBT community is considered disordered according to the Catechism, it's very surprising to see such a thing in a Catholic university catalog. Ultimately, though, those who teach these classes should ask themselves if they're offering it as an alternative view or giving support against Church teachings. If it's the first, how the classes are presented are going to be very important. The second option then creates a problem where a Catholic university is standing in opposition of the Church. At what point is that position enough to remove a university from its status as a Catholic school?

I would like to see more Catholic schools reassert their identity by coming more in line with the Catechism and with the ideals presented in Pope John Paul II's letter Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but it's very difficult to do that and make sure you can keep a steady flow of students. Less money means fewer teachers and fewer ideas to toss around. Finding groups on campus who are at odds with Catholic teaching, such as Communists or pro-abortion groups, could lead people to believe that the faculty and administration have given their blessing to said groups. When that happens, those who oppose such groups also believe that the groups in question are given some kind of insulation from criticism. This is how it appears to me at DePaul in the Klocek case.

At the same time, I don't think that the schools need to remove all traces of heterodoxy from the campus. Exposing the students to people and ideas they never encountered prior to attending college is a good thing. Such exposure may reinforce their previously-held beliefs, and some beliefs may change. The students must also be allowed to make judgments about what they've seen, even if said judgments go against what the college has in mind. Catholic school administrators and faculty must be clearer in presenting material that may contradict Church teaching. The viewpoints that contradict Church teaching should be taught in such a way to clearly explain where it differs and why, even to the point of making the teachers uncomfortable. If you teach at a Catholic university, shouldn't you at least present the Catholic viewpoint as a valid one worthy of supporting above others? Doing otherwise would seem like biting the hand that feeds you. Showing mercy and charity in the academic world does not mean always allowing sanctuary for those who oppose the Catholic Church. It is high time Catholic administrators remember that. Expose students to heterodox ideas, but do not place them on the same moral level as Catholic teaching. Doing that only leads to replacing God with whatever is convenient.

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