Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth. (Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Thursday, April 17, 2008)
With these words the Holy Father peels back the layers of rhetoric that have clouded the primary mission of Catholic education in the United States, and have justified such controversial and often scandalous decisions and policies. A university or school's Catholic identity, says the Holy Father, is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? Are those responsible for Catholic education (clergy, religious and laity) determined to live and promote the Faith handed on to us from the Apostles? Do they genuinely believe in the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and entrusted to His Church? Are they committed to authentically and faithfully passing this gift of Faith on to future generations?
When we consider the example and sacrifices of generations before us who laid the foundation for the educational systems we have today, should we not feel a sense of accountability to them? In his address of 2008, the Holy Father clearly refers to those like Saint Katherine Drexel, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton and numerous Religious Sisters and Brothers who helped establish Catholic education in the United States. He highlights their desire - in spite of tremendous obstacles, moral confusion, societal discord and personal difficulties - to forge systems of scholarship and education grounded in truth and the dignity of the human person. Their legacy did not originate in a vacuum, but rather in a rich culture dedicated to the full integration and formation of the human person - intellect, will, mind and heart - all directed to God.
More recently, the Holy Father again addressed the importance of teaching authentic Catholic doctrine within Catholic education in his address to U.S. Bishops on their ad limina visit just a few weeks ago. Speaking of the importance of sound doctrinal formation for the New Evangelization and the overall impact that this teaching may have upon society, Pope Benedict emphasized that separating the education of students from authentic Catholic identity only sustains the current dilemmas facing American Culture and its moral decay:
[I]n reference to the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church's pastoral leadership: such discord harms the Church's witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom (May 5, 2012, Region XIII, U.S. Bishops).
Catholic educational institutions have a vital role in forming young people in the Faith. The result of a strong and vibrant Catholic education anchors the individual in truth, thus invigorating the culture with life. To offer anything to the contrary is to undermine the very foundation of the human person as revealed in Jesus Christ and reinforce in students the false sense of self-sufficiency and individualism in which they are constantly being "formed" by secular culture. We must promote and cultivate within our parochial catechetical programs, our parochial schools and institutions of higher learning authentic Catholic education. It is our moral obligation to assist future generations in a genuine understanding and lively expression of Catholic Faith.
Many Catholics and non-Catholics were horrified at Notre Dame University's decision in 2008 to honor President Obama with an honorary degree and allow him to address the graduates of this once-strongly Catholic institution. Had he accepted an invitation to a debate about those many issues where he opposes the Church, rather than simply being handed a prestigious award, many would have appreciated both the school and the president's honesty about the real differences separating us and a real exchange of ideas. But that is not what happened. There was no exchange of ideas, simply a (now obviously) dishonest campaign speech about the need to find common ground, and a pledge (later broken) to respect religious freedom.
Sadly, the confusion and scandalous decisions of some Catholic colleges and universities continue. As noted by the Cardinal Newman Society, eleven scandalous commencement speakers at Catholic colleges and universities are scheduled for this year. One of specific case is Georgetown, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, which today honors Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, by giving her a platform to speak during one of its commencement ceremonies. Why would a prominent Catholic university provide such an opportunity for a virulently pro-abortion and anti-religious freedom Catholic to address its students and guests?
Is this the example of authentic Catholicism our Holy Father is calling for in the New Evangelization? Do we truly believe that someone like Kathleen Sebelius with her radical pro-abortion record and her flagrant opposition to the bishops on the subject of religious freedom genuinely represents the teachings of the Church and merits the ability to offer words of wisdom at a Catholic institution?
The scandals must cease! Authentic Catholic education must be protected and cultivated!
There is no easy fix for these ongoing scandals. In communities across the country, we must hold the administrators of these Catholic institutions accountable. Parents, students and the Catholic faithful that support these schools (from elementary education on up to colleges and universities) must ensure that the Faith is being protected and properly taught. I encourage you to pray for these institutions, but also to take action in contacting them directly. May God bless you.
Father Shenan J. Boquet is the President of Human Life International.