When the Vatican recently informed officials of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PCUP) that the institution could no longer be called either “Pontifical” or “Catholic,” many wondered whether this action was a “signal” intended to get other Catholic universities and colleges in line soon or face similar consequences.
For those who would hope that the edict is a signal, the Vatican didn’t issue the edict precipitously. Decades of listening and discussing the issues proved fruitless. In the end, the Vatican acted decisively, leaving the door open to reconciliation on the Vatican’s terms.
In the weeks following the announcement, many observers of U.S. Catholic higher education who would hope that the edict is a signal have mused about whether and what it would take for the Vatican to strip an institution’s status as a Catholic university or college.
What interests The Motley Monk isn’t all of that speculation, but the fear expressed by some of those observers about the consequences—the fall out—of the Vatican decision to strip one institution of its status as Pontifical and Catholic.
For example, of those U.S. Catholic universities and colleges that appear to be “Catholic in Name Only,” the editor of Catholic World News, Phil Lawler, recently wrote:
We could easily supply a long list of colleges and universities that should no longer be allowed to parade as “Catholic” institutions—if only for the sake of truth in advertising. But before indulging that daydream too long, stop and consider the possible consequences. If a bishop were to take the bold step of declaring that, say, Georgetown (or Boston College or Fordham or Loyola—take your pick) is no longer a Catholic institution, would the Church be forfeiting a valuable resource?
At one time all these universities were genuinely Catholic. Built up by the contributions of loyal Catholics, they nourished generations of students in the faith before something went terribly wrong. These schools exist because faithful Catholics wanted a solid Catholic education for young people. The campus, the buildings, the proud traditions: these are all part of a patrimony, handed down by our forefathers in the faith. Are we willing to give them all away now?
Yes, I know; these institutions already largely controlled by professors and administrators who are at best indifferent to the Catholic faith, and at worst hostile. But that could change. Just as the culture of dissent took over the schools in the late 20th century, a resurgence of orthodoxy could recapture them in the 21st. If the schools were officially stamped as non-Catholic, it would be much more difficult to reclaim them.
Lawler raises issues that many have been discussing for a very, very long time.
But, The Motley Monk asks:
- If a Catholic institution isn’t providing students a distinctively Catholic educational experience as the Church defines that, what “valuable” resource would the Church be losing?
- If that institution’s campus, building, and proud traditions—the “patrimony”—are nothing but mausoleums testifying to a dead past and which the majority of its administrators and faculty wish would disappear into the dustbin of history, what “valuable” resource would the Church be losing?
- And what evidence is there that those who control most of these institutions today have in place succession plans to ensure they will be replaced by authentically Catholic academics—that so-called “resurgence of orthodoxy”?
Speculating about the answers to these questions isn’t necessary. After all, the answers are already in.
Consider George M. Marsden’s “The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.”
- All of those once eminent Protestant universities and colleges in the United States he studied are now abundantly-endowed, nonsectarian, and secular institutions.
- The patrimony has been eviscerated from their institutional cultures.
- Any hoped-for resurgence of orthodoxy hasn’t happened for 100+ years and, quite likely, won’t happen any time soon, given the state of U.S. Protestantism.
The Motley Monk is wondering whether the fear of losing a “valuable” resource is a chimera, one engendering cowardice in those who bear a moral responsibility for U.S. Catholic higher education.
What’s at stake?
The soul of U.S. Catholic higher education, what may have once been a valuable resource.
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