Father Thomas Reese, S.J., ubiquitous media commentator on all things Catholic, took an interesting slant on Pope Benedict XVI's address to Catholic college and university presidents in which he said teaching contrary to the doctrine of the Catholic Church has no place on a Catholic campus: "He's exercising his own academic freedom to criticize people he disagrees with, and that's fine." In other words, the Pope is entitled to his opinion like everybody else.
During a panel at the Heritage Foundation yesterday afternoon, sponsored by Heritage and the Cardinal Newman Society, I took a somewhat different slant. Here's part of what I said:
"The Pope was presenting what I'd call an 'evangelical' model of Catholic education, including Catholic higher education: the role of the Catholic school is ultimately to form people in the light of the truth naturally accessible to the human intellect and also the truth revealed by God, most fully in and by Jesus Christ. It hardly needs saying that this is at odds with the American secular model, which many American Catholic educators support. Draw your own conclusions from that.
"As has been mentioned, Ex Corde Ecclesiae [Pope John Paul II's 1990 document on Catholic identity in Catholic colleges and universities] doesn't appear in Pope Benedict's text. It is much more in the manner of the John Paul II of Fides et Ratio.
"But especially it's in the manner of the Papa Ratzinger of the Regensburg address and the talk he would have given early this year at La Sapienza University if threatened protests by some students hadn't caused its cancellation. These are documents in which the Pope presents a lofty vision of the intellectual and academic life, of truth and the capacity of the human mind to know it, of the inroads and dangers of the famous 'dictatorship of relativism,' and of the relationship of revelation and religious faith to all of these things.
"But this project of his does not involve the repudiation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. It's still there, in the background, still alive and well. And, truth to tell, much closer to the foreground in the Pope's remarks last night than in his Regensburg and La Sapienza talks.
"How that will go over in American Catholic college and university circles, I leave to others to say. But I will say this. Catholic educators in the United States have now been presented with a clear choice--the Pope's way or the way of American secular education. Do they want to have Catholic identity or not? 'I have no way of coercing you,' the Pope is telling them. 'But if you go the way of secular education, you will no longer be truly Catholic. The choice is yours.'"
-- Russell Shaw