The Catholic Question
Newman Conference to Address University – Church Relations
By Heather Burke Hoya Staff Writer
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops will prepare a final set of guidelines next month on ways for Catholic colleges and universities to strengthen their religious identity. This weekend, the Cardinal Newman Society for the Renewal of Catholic Higher Education will hold its annual conference at Georgetown Visitation Academy to discuss these issues and the future of Catholic higher education.
“This conference is intended to nurture thought,” Cardinal Newman Society President Manuel A. Miranda (SFS ’82) said. The society, a Catholic lay organization involved in issues of Catholic higher education, was founded in 1993 to act as a vehicle between bishops and universities to discuss issues of Catholic higher education stemming from 1990’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”), a church document describing the relationship of the Church to Catholic universities.
The Cardinal Newman Society’s conference will commence tonight with a keynote address entitled “Preserving for the Church the Highest Places of Culture” by James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C., former provost of Notre Dame and the author of “Dying of the Light.” In the book, he argues that Christian universities have given up their links to their founding churches over time and lost their Christian denominational identities, according to iranda.
Friday night will conclude with a “Grand Rematch Debate on the Future of Catholic Education.” Theology Lecturer John Lucal, S.J., (COL ’50) will debate Richard Alan Gordon (COL ’50), a Law Center professor. Both debated each other last in the finals of the 1950 Philodemic Society Merrick Medal debate.
Saturday will consist of panels addressing the roles of Catholicism in aspects of campus life such as curriculum, hiring and firing and student life. Government Professor James V. Schall, S.J., and Miranda will be among the panel respondents to Loyola University of Chicago’s John Piderit, S.J.’s address on “Facing the Hard Challenges of Catholic Identity.”
Georgetown’s distinguished Research Professor of Psychology Daniel Robinson will present a speech on Catholic identity in curricular reform in “Multiculturalism and the Radio Studiorum: Is There Still Such a Thing as a Catholic Education?” George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, will follow, speaking on the pope’s role in education.
Other panels on Saturday focus on “Probity of Life, Hiring and Firing for Mission: Should Faculty and Staff Reflect Identity?” and on student life in Catholic universities. The student life panel will be led by Elizabeth Fiore (COL ’99) and responded to by theology Professor Thomas King, S.J.
On Sunday, the Apostolic Nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States, will say Mass. Jessica Petersen (COL ’00) will lead a panel of Georgetown students and recent alumni to discuss whether students care about Catholic identity at universities. Alan Koors, author of “The Shadow University,” an atheist and an expert on campus culture issues, will discuss how students need to be more informed of the education they are receiving at universities and how Catholic education is important preserve the republic, according to Miranda.
Ex Corde Ecclesiae
The document that has prompted discussion on Catholic higher education in recent years, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, is an apostolic constitution, the highest form of papal document, in which the pope described how the university as a concept grew out of the Catholic Church. The document outlined fundamental characteristics of Catholic universities and ways to promote and maintain the Catholic identity of these institutions. While Ex Corde Ecclesiae’s guidelines went into effect in 1991, the papacy invited each country’s bishop conference to look at the document and formulate implementation guidelines pertinent to each nation’s own needs and context.
In 1996, the NCCB’s first draft of implementation guidelines was rejected by Rome because it had not included provisions on the judicial link between Catholic universities and the Catholic church, or a legal definition of the relationship between local bishops and the Catholic universities in their individual dioceses.
In November 1998 the NCCB released a second draft of implementation guidelines addressing ways for Catholic colleges and universities to emphasize their religious identity through staff composition, campus ministry and relationships to the Catholic church as a whole and local church officials. These guidelines caused controversy at many American Catholic universities. The heads of Boston College and Fordham University, among others, expressed concern in the press that these guidelines would be detrimental to Catholic higher education by possibly undermining the autonomy of individual schools. (The Hoya, “Proposed Guidelines Spark Controversy at Catholic Schools” ” Jan. 26, 1999, page 1).
In particular, the draft called for professors who teach Catholic theology in a Catholic university to be licensed by church authorities as “within the full communion of the Catholic church,” according to the draft.
“[The controversy over the draft] has been so corrupted in the press in the past year that you think the bishops want to take over the universities,” Miranda said. He said that, according to the draft, local bishops are supposed to license those who teach Catholic theology but do not want to interfere in the hiring process. He said that all of the guidelines are suggestive. “There is nothing obligatory,” he said.
Other guidelines proposed in the draft included that, “as much as possible,” a majority of a university’s board of trustees, faculty and the university president be Catholic.
The NCCB will release its final draft of recommendations on Nov. 15. Miranda said the Cardinal Newman Society is considered a “learned society” by the NCCB and was asked to comment on the implementation guidelines. Catholic universities were also asked to comment.
According to Miranda, these guidelines are “only a start,” another step in the right direction to preserving the special nature of Catholic higher education. “The discussion over the past eight years [since “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” was released] is what matters,” he said. “.The implementation guidelines record these discussions and dialogues for 8 years.”
Georgetown’s Debate Over Catholic Identity
Georgetown has also debated its Catholic and Jesuit identity internally over the past few years. In 1996, a 45-member year-long faculty seminar produced Centered Pluralism, which explored the role of non-Catholic views in light of the university’s Catholic identity. As a result of Centered Pluralism, University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., invited a group of 25 students, faculty and alumni to offer recommendations to increase the role of Catholicism and Jesuits at the university based upon the ideals with which Archbishop John Carroll, S.J., founded the university in 1789.
The Task Force on Catholic Identity released 20 recommendations in October 1998 under the general themes of Jesuit Presence at Georgetown, Intellectual Life, the University Community and Governance and Management, all intended to enhance Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.
Specific recommendations included creating an endowment fund to support academic and non-academic positions for Jesuits on campus, focusing on “mission-centered hiring” to support Georgetown’s Catholic position, committing to full undergraduate need-blind admission, founding a service-oriented scholars program for first-year students and creating a Center for Catholic Social Thought. The report noted that “academic freedom is also essential to the pursuit of higher education” and stated that all of its proposals were in accord with the university’s commitment to this freedom.
O’Donovan moved toward the latter goal this summer by appointing philosophy Professor John Langan, S.J., to the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Chair in Catholic Social Thought, a chair newly endowed by an anonymous donor.
Several debates at Georgetown over the past few years have centered on specific aspects of its Catholic identity. During the 1997-1998 school year, some students and faculty attracted national attention as they fought to have crucifixes hung on the walls of Georgetown classrooms. The crucifixes were hung last year in many classrooms.
Last fall, the Archdiocese of Washington sent a letter to O’Donovan criticizing the university’s demonstration of condoms during freshman Peer Education sessions as a violation of Catholic teaching. As a result, the university removed condom education as a part of the Peer Education program. Several years before, the university, under pressure from the archdiocese, stripped H*yas for Choice, a pro-choice organization, of university funds and recognition.
“Catholic universities are constantly tempted to take a secular view of the world in which God and faith do not matter,” Lucal said.
The Future of the Debate
The Cardinal Newman Society will next focus on “hiring and firing for mission” so that greater attention will be paid in hiring practices to preserving the Catholic identities of universities, according to Miranda. While those hired do not all have to be Catholic, universities must ensure that those who teach and work at the institution are respectful of a school’s Catholic identity, Miranda said.
In addition, Miranda said the society also wants to promote curricular reform in which Catholic identity is more integrated into universities’ academic life, a pursuit which he does not view as a threat to academic freedom. For example, he would like to see the curricula augmented with new types of courses, such as a women’s studies course on Catholic Women Doctors of the Church.
Lucal added that Georgetown’s current curriculum should reflect a more Catholic intellectual tradition and worldview. For example, he doesn’t think Georgetown’s theology requirement is adequate for a Catholic university and that the philosophy requirement could be strengthened as well. Currently, the university’s overall curriculum is “cafeteria-style,” one in which no courses build on one another, Lucal said.
Finally, the society wants to promote Catholic identity in Georgetown’s daily campus student life, calling it “the source of greatest anxiety and controversy,” in order to promote a more ethical, spiritual and moral campus. Citing excess drinking and sexual assaults, Miranda said a campus life with problems of mindless pursuit is not reflective of a Catholic campus.
“A Catholic campus would respect student liberty, the media and freedom of association,” he said.
Lucal concurred student life needs to be improved to reflect Catholic principles. For example, he hopes to see more active discussions of world problems in campus life from a moral, ethical and spiritual perspective.