What do these institutions of higher learning all have in common?
- Loyola Marymount University
- Georgetown University
- Fordham University
- Gonzaga University
- Seattle University
They all refer to themselves as “Catholic.” All are run by the Jesuits, and all allow or support activities that seem contra to Catholic teaching. Consider Loyola Marymount University: in spite of his political past and his foundation’s current support of Planned Parenthood, Bill Clinton is being honored by the school as its commencement speaker. Of course, you’d have to be living in a cave without internet access to not have read about or heard about Georgetown University’s giving Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood, the speaking platform to promote her pro-abortion agenda to students. At the same university, the administration covered up the “IHS” for a speech delivered by President Obama in 2009. In March of this year, a law professor at Fordham, Stephanie Toti, was lead counsel for the pro-abortion side of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole on behalf of her firm, the Center for Reproductive Rights. Not to be left out are Gonzaga and Seattle—two Jesuit universities that include campus drag shows on their student events calendars. To keep up their academic rigor, Andrea Fallenstein, a senior lecturer of the University’s sociology department was scheduled to provide the “sociological and historical context to the performance of drag” at Gonzaga. These are just a handful of examples of what has been going on. Many more can be found.
Direction from the Papacy
In Ex Cordiae Ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II defined the essential characteristics of any university calling itself “Catholic,” which included “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church…One consequence of [the Catholic University’s] essential relationship to the Church is that the institutional fidelity of the University to the Christian message includes a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals.”
Catholic World News reported in February 2008 that Pope Benedict XVI told the leaders of the Jesuit order that they should act “in full fidelity to the original charism,” marked by devotion and obedience to the Church and the Roman Pontiff, reminding them that St. Ignatius commanded his followers to work “with the Church and in the Church.” The Pope added that preserving harmony with the Church is an important task today, at a time when there is a “confusion of messages” in society on many fundamental issues. He exhorted the Jesuits to seek “that harmony with the magisterium that avoids causing confusion and uncertainty among the People of God.” All members of the Society of Jesus, he said, should “adhere completely to the Word of God as well as to the magisterium’s charge of conserving the truth and unity of Catholic doctrine in its entirety.” Reading between the lines, alignment with the magisterium apparently is not optional.
Yet today, unfortunately in actions that speak louder than words, many Jesuit institutions seem to not be in harmony with the magisterium and apparently not adhering to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals. Yes, it’s true that the institutions of higher learning should be places where people can seek the “truth,” through open debate and active dialogue, but as Pope St. John Paul II tells us, “… a Catholic University has to be a ‘living union’ of individual organisms dedicated to the search for truth … It is necessary to work towards a higher synthesis of knowledge, in which alone lies the possibility of satisfying that thirst for truth which is profoundly inscribed on the heart of the human person… Aided by the specific contributions of philosophy and theology, university scholars will be engaged in a constant effort to determine the relative place and meaning of each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world that is enlightened by the Gospel, and therefore by a faith in Christ, the Logos, as the center of creation and of human history.’ Call me a skeptic, but I struggle to see how honoring high profile public officials who hold stated opinions antithetical to Catholic moral teaching is an action taken in the light of the Gospel. The same can be said for other egregious activities such as those mentioned earlier.
Choices Should Bring Consequences
In the secular world, and as I was reminded during a recent Spiritual Exercises retreat by Fr. Armando Marsal, DCJM, in our spiritual lives, the choices we make have consequences. For that matter, take a look at scripture: “I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 – Douay-Rheims Bible). If a nominally Catholic institution steps out of alignment with the Church, it seems that there should be consequences if amendment is not made. This becomes complicated, however, when you have a school operated by a religious order within a diocese. Schools operated by religious orders are not actually under the direct control of the local diocese. So meting out any particular consequences for activities such as we see in the present time would seem to be a complex undertaking—requiring consideration of a mixture of canon law, civil law, economic and theological issues.
With that said, it seems that bishops do have some leverage. For example, Canon 808 states that, “Even if it is in fact Catholic, no university is to bear the title or name of Catholic university without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” If that is the case, why doesn’t the Church take a firmer stance when schools run by religious orders carry on as they have been? Responses to such institutional behavior run the full gamut, from ignoring the issue to polite statements suggesting that the schools should not be doing it and that the bishop disagrees with it. According to a canon lawyer with whom I’ve talked, matters have to be extremely egregious—far beyond what we apparently are seeing now—for a bishop to step in and force the issue.
In this day and age of the internet and information glut, more parents hopefully are aware of sites such as The Cardinal Newman Society that evaluate the faithfulness of schools calling themselves Catholic. Thus if the parents are truly concerned about the kind of educational environment their college students will face, it is possible for them to screen the schools accordingly. That might be a big “if” though. This is why, if the governing body of a school wishes to act contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the school should not be able to advertise itself as being “Catholic.” People paying for the benefits of a Catholic education or one founded on Catholic principles should get what they are paying for.
To be fair, it is not only Jesuit schools that seemed to have strayed from the teachings of the Catholic Church. Another prominent example of how not to stand up for Catholic moral teaching is Notre Dame. The school recently honored Vice President Joe Biden, a staunchly pro-abortion politician. Speaking of Notre Dame, one cannot ignore the irony of the school’s bringing in former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis to speak to students on the Feast of the Annunciation about the benefits for women of choosing abortion.
The Sycamore Trust, an organization created in an attempt to protect the Catholic identity of Notre Dame notes that recently, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, (who will be honored by Notre Dame with an honorary degree the day before Mr. Biden receives his Laetare Award and will not be present when Biden receives his award), presided at Mass for Georgetown students who were protesting the appearance of Planned Parenthood’s president at their school. In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl stated “The word ‘choice’ is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away,” and in doing so, fired a shot over the bow of Notre Dame’s award process. While refusing to get involved in another diocese’s business, his office did refer to the statement from Bishop Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a staunch defender of orthodoxy and the patron of the Order of Malta decried Notre Dame’s action and commended Bishop Rhoades’ letter to the school.
Clearly, Notre Dame seems to have a pattern of behavior that begs for action. Jesuit schools as a group seem to as well. Some of the shepherds have spoken out on this issue, but that is where it seems to end. Meanwhile, many of the Catholic laity observing this drama are scratching their heads asking why someone does not do something besides writing letters or press releases. To reiterate an old adage, “when all is said and done, usually more is said than done.”