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Catholic Universities: What's a bishop to do?

I have broached the issue of what it means to be a Catholic University several times. Notre Dame, Villanova, and most recently St. Thomas University have each caused me to question their Catholic identity. This week Zenit posts an interview with Notre Dame's Father John Coughlin entitled The Identity of a Catholic University.

Q: What does it mean that a university is Catholic? What are the ways Catholic identity should manifest itself on a practical level?

Father Coughlin: A Catholic university is a community of scholars and students who are united by the love for truth and the desire to integrate faith and reason. The university is not simply a collection of individuals but a community grounded in Catholic faith.

From an academic perspective, a Catholic university requires a critical mass of committed Catholic scholars who are dedicated to the search for truth. It should be a place of lively and open intellectual discussion, and the discussion ought to be guided by the rules for rigorous intellectual investigation.

It engages the wider culture but always in accord with the truth of Catholic faith. It should not in any way be closed in on itself but should participate in a dialogue with the wider culture.

In particular, it contributes to the dialogue by explaining the great wisdom of the Church's tradition about the value of human life and the need for social justice.

From a liturgical perspective, it also offers ample opportunities for its faculty, staff and students to nourish their spiritual lives through the celebration of the sacraments.

From the perspective of Church's social justice teaching, the Catholic university not only sponsors academic discussion and research but should also afford opportunities for practical implementation of Gospel-centered service, truth and love.

From the perspective of canon law, a Catholic university must exhibit at least seven essential characteristics.

First, according to Canon 807, the Catholic university "promotes the deeper culture and full development of the human person in accord with the Church's teaching office."

Second, the majority of the faculty members consist of practicing Catholics, as explained in "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

Third, Canon 810 states that the president and other officers of a Catholic university have the responsibility to ensure that faculty members are appointed who are "outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and uprightness of life."

Fourth, the president of the Catholic university must make the profession of faith at the start of his or her term of office, according to Canon 833.

Fifth, the bishops' conference and the diocesan bishop have the duty and right of ensuring that the principles of Catholic doctrine are faithfully observed.

Sixth, in line with Canon 812, theology teachers in a Catholic university must have a mandate from the local ordinary.

Finally, the use of the title "Catholic" is only with the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority, as outlined in Canon 808.


Point number five is the one that caught my attention. Just exactly what are the bishops supposed to do? In the case of Notre Dame, Bishop D’Arcy has expressed his disappointment and disagreement with the school’s actions, but it seems he really has no authority to impose any standards. Closer to home, I have never heard Cardinal McCarrick chastise Georgetown, in spite of its defiance of Catholic teachings in so many areas. (Georgetown’s un-Catholic nature is probably worthy of its own blog post!) Bishop Wuerl will replace Cardinal McCarrick on June 22, 2006. There has been no public commentary on how he will interact with Georgetown. In theory it sounds great to say the bishop has a duty and right to oversee a school’s Catholicism. In reality, it is ineffective oversight at best.

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