Why can’t Catholic schools act Catholic?

3 mins read
Catholic colleges

Question: Why are “Catholic” universities, colleges and high schools allowed to bestow honors on pro-abortionists? Does this not violate Church directives?

Richard Carey, via email

Answer: While there are surely a good many Catholic colleges and universities that are faithfully teaching the Faith and instilling virtues in the students, it is also clear that a good many have set themselves against Church teaching by tolerating, advocating and even honoring and promoting what is contrary to the Faith and Christian moral virtue. How this developed is rooted in both historical circumstances and jurisdictional complexities in the Church.

Historically, as the cultural revolution of the 1960s reached its peak in the later part of that decade, many leaders at Catholic colleges took the view that, if Catholic education did not make adaptations to the new ways, they were doomed to irrelevance and failure in the modern academic world. Others advanced the notion that academic freedom could not exist in situations where Catholic prelates had power to limit the curriculum or guide discussions that impacted Church teaching. The “Land O’Lakes” gathering of many Catholic college leaders in July 1967 adopted a stance that amounted to a declaration of independence of Catholic universities from the magisterium of the Church:

“To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities” (Land O’Lakes, No. 1)

This view was largely adopted in most Catholic centers of higher learning over the years that followed. The bishops, focused more on conflicts over Humanae Vitae, the changing liturgy and other Church matters in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, largely ceded this ground. While bishops remained on the boards of most Catholic colleges, their presence was more ceremonial, and their interventions were largely ignored. Critics noted that the Land O’Lakes document tethered Catholic colleges more to the world and the culture than to the Church from which they sprung. However, the revolutionary qualities of the time caused the Land O’Lakes approach to dominate, and critics were not able to resist the tide. Over the decades, many Catholic colleges and universities became increasingly secular in focus, even as the culture departed more radically from the biblical and ecclesial vision of life. In response, new Catholic colleges and universities have been founded that seek to be more deeply rooted in Catholic teaching and practice such that, today, there are substantial alternatives for Catholics parents and students.

Your question is also why many Catholic colleges are allowed to openly defy Church teaching by their academic offerings and honors bestowed. This problem has jurisdictional roots and the temperament of bishops. Many of the largest Catholic universities are often run by religious orders. Many bishops in whose dioceses these colleges exist are reticent to involve themselves in the affairs of these colleges. While the local ordinary (bishop) of a diocese has a lot of juridical power, religious orders are not without rights under canon law, as well. Navigating all of this is juridically complex and often pits the bishop against powerful alumni and universities with widespread influence and billions of dollars in endowments. Though many might wish a more vigorous intervention by bishops in many cases, they are, by nature, cautious men who largely consider major fights imprudent, and a fight they will likely lose.

Laity, such as you, who have concerns that are often quite legitimate, are not powerless. They do well to support and send their children to Catholic colleges that they see upholding the Catholic education they seek to provide, one that integrates academic freedom and strong Catholic faith.

Noah’s knowledge

Question: Did Noah know all about creation, the garden and the Fall, etc.?

Steve De Jong, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

Answer: Noah lived at a time that was likely prior to written accounts such as we have today, and long before the call of Abram and the establishment of the Jewish people, whose Scriptures are the source for us today. Most likely, he was aware of such stories by way of an oral tradition that was carefully transmitted and is the basis for the written records we have in Genesis. This is the best that we can surmise.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.