Patrick Reilly on the Identity of Church-Affiliated
FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, 30 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).
A number of actively pro-abortion speakers have been invited this
year to give commencement addresses at Catholic colleges and
universities causing scandal and protest, not least from the Cardinal
Patrick Reilly, president of the society,
shared with ZENIT why a college's choice of graduation speakers is an
indicator about how it understands its own Catholic identity.
Q: What is the mission of the Cardinal Newman Society? Why does the
society bear this name?
Reilly: Cardinal Newman Society, which is celebrating its 10th
anniversary, seeks renewal of the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges
and universities in the United States.
Our inspiration comes from the 19th-century convert John Henry Newman,
whose writings most notably, "Idea of a University"
explain how the union of academe with the Church is not only possible
but essential to the free exploration of truth. Newman exposed the
fallacy of a university education that excludes the fundamental truths
of faith, as taught and explored by genuine Catholic theology.
"Ex Corde Ecclesiae" which means "born from the heart
of the Church," referring to the first great universities sponsored
by the Church is the motto of Cardinal Newman Society.
We strive to ensure that Catholic colleges and universities conform to
the guidelines of " Ex
Corde Ecclesiae," in both letter and spirit.
Necessarily, this begins with prompting our Church leaders and educators
to recognize where colleges and universities conflict with Catholic
teaching and the nature of Catholic institutions.
Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. have made progress, and
several have embraced "Ex Corde Ecclesiae." But for the most
part Cardinal Newman Society is still focused on getting Catholic
educators to admit that the concerns of Catholic parents and students
about false theological instruction and wayward campus culture require
Meanwhile, programs such as our campaign to establish eucharistic
adoration on campuses and our Campus Culture of Life Initiative to help
colleges address concerns about pregnancy and abortion are drawing
attention to simple, practical ways of living the faith institutionally.
Q: Is a pro-life and Catholic commencement speaker necessary to maintain
Catholic identity on campuses?
Reilly: No, I wouldn't go that far. A non-Catholic who has a personal
conflict with Catholic teaching a conflict that has not led to
public advocacy could give an excellent commencement address without
causing scandal, although a pro-life Catholic could be more
Our concern is that many Catholic colleges and universities are inviting
and honoring commencement speakers who are publicly and often stridently
in opposition to clear, fundamental Catholic teaching. Most often we
protest the selection of abortion-rights advocates, not because we are
obsessed with this one issue, but because for some reason Catholic
educators repeatedly invite speakers who are outspokenly
Our concern is the scandal that results from a Catholic institution
holding up such individuals for special recognition. It can confuse the
public about the seriousness of the Church's teaching when a Catholic
institution overlooks public dissent as unimportant in the selection of
And it can reinforce the confusion of many wayward Catholics, when
Catholic institutions echo their claim to full communion with the Church
even while diminishing the importance of certain Church teachings that
may prove difficult to live out in American culture.
For example, the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, this
year invited political commentator and abortion-rights advocate Chris
Matthews to give its commencement address. The college's president told
a local newspaper that Matthews' personal opposition to abortion but
support for keeping it legal were consistent with Catholic teaching.
Holy Cross students and others in the community may have been led astray
by such false and careless words. Yet Matthews' invitation to be honored
by a Catholic college already implied comfort with his public advocacy,
and that implication can be almost as damaging as false teaching.
Q: Critics of your speaker condemnations claim the primary purpose of
the commencement speaker is to inspire students. How would you respond?
Reilly: Too many Catholic educators fail to appreciate the impact of
their actions on students' spiritual development whether in
selecting commencement speakers, counseling students on moral and health
issues, developing campus ministry programs, etc. Whatever the primary
purpose of any action, it should not bring scandal.
But certainly it is desirable that a commencement speaker inspire
students. My question is this: Are those who argue for inspiring
students making the claim that the only inspirational speakers are those
who have a record of strident abortion advocacy? Or are there not
hundreds, even thousands of inspirational Catholics who also deserve the
special honor of commencement speaker? To what are we inspiring
Q: What is necessary to maintain Catholic identity on Catholic college
campuses? Are there any key elements?
Reilly: The elements are outlined in "Ex Corde Ecclesiae." We
offer a printed version and also have the text posted on our Web site.
But in brief, Catholic identity requires not only a historical
relationship with the Church but also a living inspiration that carries
through every official action and policy of the college or university.
Nothing a Catholic college or university officially does, says, funds,
or otherwise formally sponsors should contradict its Catholic mission.
In no way does this interfere with the free dialogue of students and
faculty when not in a formal teaching capacity on all issues and
their ability to express any viewpoint, as long as the institution's
fidelity to Catholic teaching is evident and the dialogue's participants
demonstrate respect for the truth and the common good.
I think that it is one of the under-appreciated legacies of Pope John
Paul II's pontificate that the concept of a Catholic institution
whether a Catholic college, school, hospital, social service agency,
etc. is finally being clarified in the wake of Vatican II.
At the risk of over-simplification, I would say that the Church has
called Catholic institutions to a relationship in many ways similar to
that of Catholic individuals: a sacramental relationship including
active participation in the life of the Church and lived fidelity to the
In recent decades, many Catholic institutions in the U.S. have sought
complete autonomy from the "institutional" Church, a
separation from the Body of Christ that is just as damaging to the
Catholic identity of an institution as it is to the spiritual health of
Whether or not institutions that have sought greater distance from the
"institutional" Church will fully embrace a more genuine
relationship with the Body of Christ remains to be seen.
Q: Do you see Catholic colleges making an effort to reclaim their
Reilly: I know of almost no Catholic college or university in the United
States that is not making strides in the right direction. For many, the
improvements are not well coordinated and fail to confront prevailing
trends in American higher education that are inconsistent with the
Catholic educational mission.
But after more than a decade since "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" was
issued, the momentum toward renewal has not waned, as many opponents of
reform had hoped it would. Instead, the recent priest-sex scandals have
only heightened concern about the culture of dissent and lack of
spiritual formation among American Catholics, thereby increasing
interest in the renewal of Catholic higher education.
For American Catholics looking for signs of encouragement and the
potential for positive change in the Church, our efforts are exciting
and tremendously uplifting. ZE03053022