National Organization Seeks Renewal of Catholic Higher Education

Author: The Wanderer


Washington, D.C.—A new voice has entered the nationwide discussion over the role and responsibilities of Catholic colleges and universities.

In a debate dominated by arguments for "academic freedom" and autonomy from the Church, the Cardinal Newman Society for the preservation of Catholic Higher Education seeks to turn the tide against secularization on Catholic campuses and to encourage closer ties with the Church and its teachings.

"We wish to promote the vision for Catholic higher education that was set forth by John Henry Cardinal Newman and further developed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, and to assist students, faculty, and administrators in their efforts to find creative means of retaining a Catholic identity," said Patrick Reilly, executive director of the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS).

The founders of CNS, graduates of Catholic universities who witnessed a variety of problems at their institutions and recognized the value of an authentic Catholic education, are supported by an advisory board of prominent Catholic leaders and academics. Among these are the past and present presidents of two Catholic institutions, including Dr. Warren Carroll, founder and former president of Christendom College; Dr. Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College; and Dr. Thomas Dillon, president of Thomas Aquinas College.

Other advisers represent a variety of Catholic institutions and organizations, including Bishop Austin Vaughan, Msgr. George Kelly, Msgr. William Smith, Msgr. Michael Wrenn, Fr. Joseph Fessio S.J., Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Judie Brown, Dr. Jude Dougherty, Dr. James Hitchcock, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. William May, Dr. Charles Rice, and Michael Schwartz.

CNS will serve as an educational and advisory resource for students, alumni, faculty, and administrators who advocate the model for Catholic universities set forth in the 1990 apostolic constitution, <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> ("From the Heart of the Church").

Contacts and chapters will be set up on individual campuses beginning in the fall, and members will be encouraged to educate their peers on the Church's vision for Catholic higher education and to address problems that may conflict with that vision.

Eventually the founders of CNS plan to build a resource library, including documentation on developments and problems at Catholic institutions throughout the United States. The plans for CNS also include manuals to assist students and faculty with maintaining a Catholic identity from within their colleges and universities, and studies of practical solutions for administrators.

One of the immediate concerns of CNS is the U.S. bishops' implementation of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae,> which includes 11 "norms" that are binding on all Catholic institutions of higher education. Despite a lengthy process of prior discussion with Catholic academics from around the world, many of whom criticized early drafts of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> as too restrictive of academic freedom, the papal document includes such requirements as the hiring of at least 50% Catholic faculty members and a periodic review of each university's commitment to Catholic teaching.

Furthermore, Catholic universities are expected to include the mandates of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> in the governing documents of their institutions.

The Holy Father required that each episcopal conference implement the norms of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> through particular ordinances that are appropriate to each region's cultural and legal environment. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) was expected to issue the final draft of the U.S. ordinances this spring, but college and university administrators and academics have convinced the bishops to conduct a lengthy nationwide discussion that could delay the ordinances for at least another year.

The debate over national ordinances follows years of controversy in the U.S. over the boundaries of "academic freedom," the role of theologians, and the support by many Catholic universities for advocates of abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and other activities condemned by the Catholic Church. Even at such prominent institutions as Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame, the outcries of Catholic students and alumni against what is perceived to be a drifting away of universities from their Catholic foundations have received much attention recently from the media, educators, and the Vatican.

CNS intends to provide a positive response to these problems by bringing nationwide attention to the need for ordinances that promote a renewed devotion to true Catholic education that is both faithful and evangelical.

"Every Catholic college and university should be publicly committed to the Catholic faith and its moral teachings, to the papal <Magisterium,> and to upholding the Pope's authority as head and governor of the whole Church," said Dr. Warren Carroll, the founder of Christendom College and an adviser to CNS. "Such an institutional commitment is not only possible but necessary for the college or university to live up to the designation of Catholic."

An initial draft of the ordinances was proposed several months ago by the NCCB for comment by representatives of Catholic colleges and universities, and about 200 critiques of the draft were submitted to the bishops. The initial draft provided only weak measures to enforce the mandates of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> that Catholic theologians must not dissent from authentic Church teachings and university administrators must accept the authority of their local bishop to determine whether their institutions and policies may be labeled "Catholic." Critics have alleged that the proposed ordinances watered down the strong language of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> and would cause confusion about the Church's authority over Catholic institutions.

Despite the weakness of the initial draft, however, some administrators of Catholic colleges and universities have challenged the ordinances and the stronger language of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> as an unjust infringement on their "institutional autonomy" from the Church. The president of Notre Dame, Fr. Edward Malloy, C.S.C., labeled the draft ordinances "legalistic in tone and hierarchical in orientation," especially regarding the role of theologians in the university.

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), representing the presidents of 28 institutions in the United States, has gone so far as to assert that the draft ordinances proposed by the bishops are "unworkable" and should not be implemented. Arguing that institutions-unlike individuals-cannot make "an act of faith," the Jesuits questioned the right of the American bishops to demand that Catholic colleges and universities pronounce their devotion to the teachings of the Church within the institutions' governing documents or statements of mission.

The AJCU complained that the proposed ordinances "would give the [local] bishop a role in the governance of the institution—and thus a form of control inappropriate to the university's intellectual inquiry." The "cooperation" of the local bishops, the university presidents said, would be "inconsistent with the statutes of our in taken legal steps to be formally autonomous from the Church.

"I think it is strange that an institution that says it is Catholic and is affiliated with a religious order would regard guidance from the legitimate authority of the Church as outside interference," commented Michael Schwartz, Catholic author, commentator, and an adviser to CNS, "and yet that same institution would not regard as outside interference the involvement including federal and state governments, accrediting agencies, and academic associations.

As a new organization, the Cardinal Newman Society is vigorously seeking tax- deductible donations from individuals and foundations supporting the goals of the society. To send a donation or request information about CNS, write: Cardinal Newman Society P.O. Box 75274, Washington, D.C., 20013.

This article was taken from the May 19, 1994 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107.