Monday, April 14, 2008

The first of two parts.

At the Catholic University of America in Northeast Washington, students and employees are excitedly preparing for Thursday’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI, who has invited Catholic college leaders and diocesan officials to hear what many hope will be a call to strengthen the spiritual emphasis of Catholic education.

Pope Benedict’s speech will be given against a backdrop of two competing approaches to Catholic higher education.

What may be called the JPII class of faithful students, young academics and Catholic college leaders who have embraced the enthusiasm and moral courage of Pope John Paul II are the future of the Catholic Church in America. But the still-dominant educators who embrace the mindset of the 1960s generation are for the moment clinging to a decades-long failed experiment that is in desperate need of reform.

For 40 years, the ‘60s-style educators have diluted or abandoned such hallmarks of Catholic higher education as strong core curricula emphasizing theology and philosophy, fidelity to Catholic teaching in Catholic theology courses, respect for the authority of the bishops in overseeing colleges’ Catholic identity, and campus dorms and activities that encourage spirituality and chaste lifestyles that causes the Vatican much concern.

So, although Pope Benedict’s address on Thursday will undoubtedly be forward-looking and positive, it will be so with an eye to reform.

The nation’s oldest Catholic university, Georgetown, provides ready examples of the problems at too many of America’s largest Catholic universities that have been slow to reverse their drift from authentic Catholic education.

Under other circumstances the pope might have honored such an historic university as Georgetown with a papal visit. But given that the university has not developed much of a reputation for openness to Vatican officials, it’s not a surprise that he isn’t doing that.

A search of the university Web site turns up just one Vatican cardinal who has lectured at Georgetown since the Vatican’s Cardinal Francis Arinze delivered a commencement address there five years ago.

When Cardinal Arinze, who many speculated could be the next pope, spoke about threats to the family — including abortion, pornography, adultery and homosexuality — a Georgetown theologian led a walkout from the commencement ceremony. About 70 professors later signed a letter protesting the address. A Georgetown dean apologized to the graduates and their families — not for the faculty actions, but for the cardinal’s remarks.

Few church officials are counted among the myriad lecturers at Georgetown. Whereas Cardinal Arinze and other bishops and Catholic lay leaders are frequently invited to Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. — and will headline Christendom’s 30th anniversary gala on Saturday — Georgetown’s lecturers are typically left-of-center politicians or activists. Former President Bill Clinton (no friend of Catholic moral teaching) has lectured there at least 18 times.

Ex corde Ecclesiae is the 1990 document issued by Pope John Paul II that spells out the Vatican’s vision for Catholic higher education. Pope Benedict will almost certainly refer to it on Thursday, including its mandate that “any official actions or commitment of the university is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”

One must wonder how the nation’s oldest Catholic university justifies funding student clubs which since 2002 have performed the vile play “The Vagina Monologues.” In the midst of obscenities and lesbian-themed anecdotes, the play celebrates the lesbian seduction of a 16-year-old girl as her “salvation” that “raised her into a kind of heaven.”

Several bishops and Catholic college presidents have panned the play with CUA President Father David O’Connell calling it “crude, ugly, vulgar and unworthy of staging or performing” and “a symbol each year of the desire of some folks to push Catholic campuses over the edge of good and decent judgment.”

Georgetown is over the edge. Last week, the club H*yas for Choice celebrated “Choice Week” by camping out on campus in the unfortunately titled “Red Square” and promoting condom use and abortion rights. In 1992, under pressure from the Vatican and angry alumni, Georgetown repealed university funding for the club and enforced the trademark on its mascot (thus the asterisk in “H*yas”). But the club continues to function on campus with few restrictions, and Mr. DiGioia, who as dean of students, approved the original funding for the abortion-rights club, was rewarded with Georgetown’s presidency.

Adding insult to injury, last year Georgetown’s law school announced that it would provide funding for student internships with advocacy groups including Planned Parenthood and NARAL. There’s simply no excuse.

So, while the Vatican continues its investigation of Georgetown theologian Father Peter Phan’s writings, which the U.S. bishops have already condemned… and Georgetown’s full-time coordinator of homosexual resources develops programming that celebrates homosexual “culture”… and several Georgetown professors publicly oppose the Church on matters ranging from marriage to assisted suicide, Pope Benedict will be calling for authentic Catholic education.

Welcoming the pope’s call will be the JPII educators who have already begun to reinvigorate the church and their campuses with an infectious and joyful fidelity to Catholic teachings. The ‘60s-style educators could learn a thing or two from their colleagues.

Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of the Cardinal Newman Society.

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