A Great Day for Catholic Higher Education


Pope Benedict XVI’s address to Catholic college presidents yesterday afternoon was brilliant. The pope built upon a generation of Vatican efforts to encourage the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic education. But more than that, he laid out a vision and roadmap for renewal that are ultimately tied to the survival of the West. (We’ll have to leave that analysis for later, though.)
At first blush, the pope’s speech boils down to this:
  1. Catholic colleges must be unwavering in their commitment to Catholic teaching in everything they do, from the classroom to the dorm room; and
  2. Academic freedom at a Catholic college must be informed and tempered by the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church.
Here are some highlights from the address, with a translation provided for those college presidents who haven’t yet realized that yesterday cemented the renewal that has been quietly taking root.
Catholic institutions are in the business of saving souls: “It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?”
Translation: Telling students that your college is “in the Catholic tradition” does not exempt you from the mandate to evangelize; colleges must live and actively witness the faith.
The truth is not relative: “The ‘crisis of truth’ that exists in society is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith'” and Catholic educators have a responsibility to “evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.”
Translation: The truth is not found in moral relativism, the undermining of Catholic teachings, or in faddish academic disciplines; it is found through the marriage of faith and reason.
Catholic identity must be comprehensive: “Each and every aspect of college life must reverberate within the ecclesial life of faith.”
Translation: So, once and for all, a play like The Vagina Monologues serves no academic purpose and is inappropriate for a serious Catholic institution.
Catholic colleges must not waver in their convictions: “We observe today an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth. . . . And particularly disturbing is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.”
Translation: Catholic colleges must take seriously their responsibility to affirmatively foster and promote a campus environment that cherishes chastity.
Academic freedom must be tied to faith:“[A]ny appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission . . . .”
Translation: The “Queer Film Festival” and handing out condoms do not fall under academic freedom.
Students must receive authentic Catholic teachings: Colleges have the duty to “ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity . . . .”
Translation: Three credits in Wiccan Studies is not a substitute for a required Catholic Theology course. Oh, and that Catholic Theology course must teach authentic Catholicism (for reference, please see the Catechism).
There is, of course, much more in the pope’s speech, and it deserves serious reflection and analysis. Thursday was a great day for Catholic higher education, and Pope Benedict XVI deserves our prayers and gratitude for lighting the path of renewal.

Patrick J. Reilly


Patrick J. Reilly is founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization to advocate and support the renewal of genuine Catholic higher education.

  • Deal Hudson

    The great thing about the Holy Father’s comments of academic freedom is this: It ends the bogus practice of college president’s and development staff telling alumni, upset with campus dissent, that it must be accepted in the name of “academic freedom.” If the Pope’s speech at CUA yesterday accomplished anything at all, it was that!

  • Tom Burris

    Deal Hudson wrote: The great thing about the Holy Father’s comments of academic freedom is this: It ends the bogus practice of college president’s and development staff telling alumni, upset with campus dissent, that it must be accepted in the name of “academic freedom.” If the Pope’s speech at CUA yesterday accomplished anything at all, it was that!

    I guess my question again is – who are the police? The same as the communion police?

    Little will change. These schools still have a budget, raise funds and need to enroll students, many who are not Catholic.

    This seems to be the story that really did not get out yesterday considering the Popes meeting with the victims of the abuse scandal. Is there comment or an article regarding that here today?

  • Jason

    Tom Burris wrote: I guess my question again is – who are the police? The same as the communion police?


    The short answer to your question is “the Bishops”, but what we are seeing in both these issues (the denial of Communion and Catholic colleges) is the natural result of the anger and frustration of the laity when the bishops do not do what many of us believe they need to be doing. So the laity become sort of like undeputized enforcers, and since we have no real authority to do anything about it, we blog about it and raise public awareness in the hope that someday, somewhere, a bishop will have the stones to do these unpleasant aspects of his job.

  • dinie

    Should gay/lesbian clubs/organizations be allowed on Catholic colleges? What do readers think! Am I being “intolerant” when I don’t feel they should NOT be allowed to exist(in keeping with Catholic identify). The President of my daughters Catholic College (Duquesne University)feels all sorts of clubs should be allowed in the name of academic freedom, tolerance,etc. I get the feeling this college is no different than the thousands of other secular colleges around the country. Why sell itself then on the “Catholic” identify thing to attract Catholic students? Also, how much authority does the local bishop have over these colleges, e.g. does funding come from the Bishop? If not, that would explain their outright disobedience. Why don’t the Bishops crack down on these colleges?

  • Ryan


    I personally don’t see anything wrong with gay and lesbian clubs on Catholic campuses if done in the appropriate way. Last time I checked, and i may be wrong, but it is not a sin or evil to be gay or lesbian. From my understanding, the sin comes engaging in intercourse outside of marriage.

    So what does the gay and lesbian club do? Is it merely a place for gay and lesbians to meet and discuss what it is like to be Catholic? Or is it a club that promotes gay sexual activity or gay marriage within the Catholic church?

    Personally, I really don’t see much difference between heterosexuals who have sex outside of marriage and homosexuals that do the same thing. Obviously, homosexual intercourse does not have a procreative quality, but neither does intercourse when using birth control.

    Anyone out there that knows my view of being gay in contrary to church teaching, please let me know. I am actually not informed on what the catechism says on this issue, but i would be interested in hearing any quotes from the cathecism.

    What I am trying to say, is if the gay and lesbian club can meet and still promote chastity, then why would it be wrong?

    As for this article, I found it rather enjoyable. Some of the translations were a bit harsh, but not totally inappropriate. (I am not sure what this guy thinks the Vagina Monologues are about. Last time I saw it, it was about promoting positive feelings in women about their gender).

    Also, I think he missed the mark about moral relativism. The pope has it right, faith comes first, then reason from what you have faith in, and then comes truth. I don’t think anyone believes that truth comes from moral relativism. Moral relativism merely recognizes that each person can place “faith” in different principles. Depending on what principles a person “believes” in, different “truths” come to life. In short, truth does not exist because there is no correct principle(s) to believe in.

    What the harm is from learning that I do not know. For me, it has helped me realize why different people, cultures, and religions view the world differently. It has nothing do with their reasoning, it have everything to do with the principles upon which their faith is based. And when I understand where someone is coming from, then we can finally have a conversation.

    Overall, this was a good message and translation to Catholic colleges

  • Ken

    No university can exist without the student. It is my opinion, if a Catholic family wishes their child to receive a Catholic based education, they should investigate the schools and send the child to one which meets the Pope’s directives.
    Alums can and should stop contributions in dollars and children just because their alma mater once was Catholic.
    Without students and alum money, the free thinking schools will wither and those faithful to Catholic Doctrine will thrive and grow. It’s good old American supply and demand.

  • dinie

    Ryan –

    I wasn’t implying that being Gay is wrong. We must “love the person but hate the sin”. What I am pointing out is why just have a club called “Homosexuals & Lesbians”. We don’t have clubs for ” heterosexuals” or “Transgenders”. We have clubs for special interests for different people. I feel if such people have personal problems campus counseling is the setting where they should be discussed in private, just like for heterosxuals. Colleges don’t need to have to have a special club to advertise what their student’s sexuality is.!

  • Tom Burris

    I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the school Presidents who attended the meeting. As I indicated earlier, nothing spectacular came out of this meeting, and nothing is really going to change.

  • DJP

    I agree. The only thing that will change our Catholic universities is to affect them in the wallet. Once donations stop, once we stop sending our children to those schools, then we will be able to accomplish what the bishops did not have the courage to do.

    This is why many university presidents are now addressing their concern with the Cardinal Newman Society. They now know that if word gets out that they aren’t authenically Catholic, then they will have serious financial issues. Most large Catholic donors give primarily for spiritual reasons.

    In time, this conversion will take place in the church. Give it another 20 years, and the hippie generation will have met their maker.