Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The "Second Case"

Note: This is a continuation of "How do you change a subculture? Three cases" (January 3, 2006). I'm posting the Second Case separately below, since posting all three together became too long. Again, I'm soliciting your considered reflections on the question of the roles of Church and state on these questions, if you're interested in offering comments.

Second case: How do you reform a seditious educational subculture of religious dissent within Catholic colleges and universities while respecting the rights of students and scholars to free inquiry?

There is little question that American Catholic colleges have significantly lost their Catholic identity over the past decades. One nominally Catholic institution would be about as examplary as another. I remember visiting Georgetown University a few years ago and being hardpressed to find a Catholic chapel anywhere. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, also a Jesuit institution, naturally likes to pick on Jesuit institutions, and says there are two kinds of Catholic schools -- those that are Jesuit, and those that are Christian. The undisputed flagship Catholic university of the United States, Notre Dame, has theologians on staff that regularly and loudly dissent from Church teaching in the media, and has also been in the news -- controversially -- for having hosted the Vagina Monologues and a gay/lesbian day on campus.

This drift toward dissent picked up momentum precipitously, I believe, in the late 1960s in response to Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae (1968), defending the traditional Catholic teaching against contraception. The response of liberal Catholics, who had been led by liberal theologians and clerics to expect that Vatican accommodation to modern changes in contraceptive technologies was imminent, was open outrage. Charles Curran, a popular liberal professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, formed a coalition of dissenters who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times expressing defiant rejection of Rome's instruction. Curran's case soon became a cause celebre and was championed by leftists, as it was derided by rightists. Curran himself was eventually dismissed from the Catholic University of America in 1986 after the Vatican declared him unfit to teach Catholic theology because of his heterodox positions on such social issues as contraception, homosexuality, and abortion (see William W. May's 1987 book, Vatican Authority and American Catholic Dissent: The Curran Case and Its Consequences, as well as Larry Witham's 1991 study, which has been greeted by nearly all sides as "fair,"Curran vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict).

The Vatican response to the deterioration of Catholic identity at Catholic institutions of higher learning was the document, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on Catholic Universities), issued August 15, 1990. On the one hand, many if not most mainline universities continued to carry on with business as usual, settling for cosmetic changes at most and ignoring the more substantial demands of the document, mandating that professors of Catholic theology must profess theology that is in fact Catholic as understood by the Catholic Church and requiring Catholics who teach the theological disciplines in a Catholic university to have a mandatum granted by competent ecclesiastical authority (i.e., bishop).

On the other hand, others have responded more supportively. The Cardinal Newman Society, a national intercollegiate organization of more than 16,000 college leaders, educators, students, alumni and others dedicated to the renewal of Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States in keeping with the principles of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, has been surveying developments in Catholic higher education for some time. For example, it has noted cases of historically Catholic institutions that are no longer recognized by the Church as Catholic: "We know of four colleges that have are no longer recognized as Catholic by the bishops since Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, was issued in 1990: Marist College (NY), Marymount Manhattan College (NY), Nazareth College (NY) and Saint John Fisher College (NY). THESE ARE NOT CATHOLIC!" (Cardinal Newman Society, "Catholic Colleges"). More importantly, however, it has produced critiques of the curricula and course content and events conducted at colleges and universities that are still recognized as Catholic across the country, and the results are not encouraging. The following is a sampling:

Times and cultures, of course, change; which raises sticking points in identifying the institutional identity and mission of academic institutions. A case in point is one of England's most prestigious religious colleges, St. Philip's Sixth Form College in Birmingham, England, founded by Cardinal Newman and proudly counting J.R.R. Tolkien among its alumni. In October of 1992 The Times (Oct. 5, 1992) carried an article announcing a plan by the administration to turn the institution into a nonsectarian school on the ground that more than two-thirds of the students were now non-Catholic. In fact, as a result of an increased multicultural and non-Christian student population, the Lord's Prayer and Sign of the Cross have been "deemed inappropriate" at the college.

The problem raised by the trustees and dissenting parents, however, was that the terms of the college trust deed state that buildings are to be provided for "the performance of public worship according to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion" and that the college is to be operated "in accordance with the principles of the Roman Catholic faith" -- which seemed to leave no legal means of implementing the proposed changes. But the administration argued that the mitigating circumstances of a changed cultural climate now permitted it to redirect the original terms of the trust deed by way of the legal doctrine of "cy pres" (or "nearest equivalent"), alleging that the secular multiculturalism of the late 20th-century made a strictly Catholic education, as envisaged by the original grantors, unrealistic. Since "cy pres" applies only where it is impossible to carry out the purposes of the trust, and since benefactors who explicitly give their property for a defined purpose have an inviolable right to have their property used for that purpose if there is any reasonable way in which this can still be done, the relevant question is this: Does having a multicultural student body prevent St. Philip's, a traditionally Catholic college, from teaching its voluntarily enrolled students the Catholic Faith? To pose the question is to reveal its absurdity.

Some Catholic schools, of course, are pontifical institutions whose Vatican affiliation ties them ineluctably to the Catholic Church. Others have varying forms of governance, some being affiliated with religious orders, others with governance shared between administration and faculty under a board of trustees, offering considrably more fluidity. Catholic college presidents used invariably to be clerics. This is no longer so. Even trustees now may be Catholic or non-Catholic, often with little if any idea of what they, in principle, hold in trust.

It is hard, therefore, to generalize about the precise rights of faculty in terms of academic freedom in Catholic academic institutions across the board. Situations may vary legally from one school to another. What remains clear is that just as individual faculty members are entitled by the nature of their profession to free academic inquiry within the parameters specified by law and by the religious mandates of their academic institutions, so Catholic colleges and universities are entitled by the nature of their institutional purpose to mandate what instructional content is consistent with their religious mission. The leftist National Catholic Reporter (February 25, 2005), as part of a cover story about Vatican "repression" under the pontificate of John Paul II, compiled a list of 24 individuals censured worldwide by the Vatican during the past 26 years as "evidence" (The List) . Karl Keating, of the Catholic Answers apologetics organization, in his e-letter of March 9, 2005, comments on this list but draws the opposite conclusion: that the Vatican has been almost laughably lenient! Obviously, it is a question of perspective.

Again, what think ye?

No comments: