The Exorcist author, William Blatty, is spearheading a drive to canonically remove the designation “Catholic” from Georgetown University. His effort is both noble and correct. Unfortunately, the petition will be dead on arrival (DOA).
Blatty and other orthodox Catholics are incensed that Kathleen Sibilius, Health and Human Services Secretary, a pro-abortion politician and a supporter of the Obama Administration’s mandate which forces Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization coverage in their health care plans, was the school’s Commencement speaker. Blatty’s suit will rely on the Vatican document “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (1990) which encourages bishops to be vigilant in protecting the Catholic identity of the colleges and universities in their dioceses. According to the document two steps are critical: Firstly, those bishops should investigate the theological faculties of these schools and provide a “mandatum” or a license to indicate a professor’s orthodoxy. It seems that little or nothing has been done either to enforce the policy or else to make known which professors have passed muster. Secondly, it states that if an institution has strayed from its Catholic mission and remains stubborn in not ameliorating it, the local bishop should lift its designation as “Catholic.” To date, no school has suffered this penalty.
A diocesan bishop has to weigh the cost of such actions. The time, resources (human as well as financial) and the negative publicity which are bound to occur would make their effort at best a Pyrrhic victory. The fact of the matter is that at least half of American Catholics don’t care what the Church teaches (recall 54% of Catholics voted for pro-abortion candidate Obama in the last election) and for the large members of non-Catholics attending these schools, Catholic issues are mute. Furthermore, while many bishops are hopeful that the issue of Religious Liberty, pertaining to the forced Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, will motivate Catholics to circle the wagons, a large number of Catholics now believe that academic freedom trumps Catholic truth. This seems to be the position of Georgetown’s president, John DiGoia.
There is no argument that freedom of expression is vital to any university. Yet at a religiously affiliated school erroneous ideas and policies must be challenged by the school within the context of its Faith tradition. To give a platform without comment to a speaker whose positions are inimical to the school’s mission is both traitoress to the Church and scandalous to those attending a school sponsored event. Recall how Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, felt compelled to chastise Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, before he was allowed to address the students in 2007. No Catholic school leader has made a comparable attempt clarify where their school’s mission disagrees with a questionable speaker.
This being said, a bishop has to take stock as to whether his actions against a school will cause more harm than good. For example, a bishop’s relationship with a college or university may at least be the source of some Catholic equilibrium on campus. Naturally, the celebration of the sacraments can be presumed and perhaps some orthodox Catholic clergy, loyal to the Church and the bishop, can provide a Catholic presence and activities on campus, e.g. retreats, marriage preparation and discussion groups.
Bishops know that the removal of the “Catholic” brand name would not necessarily force errant schools of higher education to change their policies since most of them are now controlled by Boards of Governors and not by the religious communities that founded them. This would effectively be perceived as episcopal impotence and cause a loss of face.
This being the case, there are two other options left to a bishop: Excommunication of those in authority who refuse to comply with Church teaching; or, to place the school under Interdict. Interdict would prohibit priests from exercising their ministry on the campus of discredited schools. However, few bishops have had the intestinal fortitude to pursue either course.
At present, prudence dictates that bishops try to salvage the good they can (and there is some) from these former bastions of the Faith.
Here are some things that bishops, clergy and lay people can do to assuage the crisis:
- Bishops can publically challenge schools on their choice of speakers.
- Bishops can refuse to attend events that feature unsuitable persons as honored guests.
- Alumni can refuse donations to the school and redirect their estate planning to a more orthodox institution.
- Organizations like the Cardinal Newman Society can articulate concern for the direction that some allegedly Catholic schools are taking.
- Catholic groups on campus can protest their disappointment with speakers and programs that violate Catholic principles.
- Catholics can inform their bishops of the scandalous events taking place on campuses in the hope that at least the most egregious ones will not be repeated
For the most part, however, schools that invite such objectionable speakers are already lost to the Church. Our only real hope now is in some of the newly formed schools that are proudly teaching and proclaiming the authentic Catholic brand.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.