Pope Francis Praises Notre Dame, Asks Them to Protect Catholic Moral Teaching

Notre Dame University, said Pope Francis this morning,

“has made an outstanding contribution to the Church in your country through its commitment to the religious education of the young and to serious scholarship inspired by confidence in the harmony of faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and virtue.”

The Pope spoke about the vision of Father Edward Sorin, founder of the university, and the missionary dimension which should be evident in Catholic universities.  He further called for Notre Dame, and all Catholic universities, to be uncompromising in their witness to the Church’s moral teaching.  He said,

“The vision which guided Father Edward Sorin and the first religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross in establishing the University of Notre Dame du Lac remains, in the changed circumstances of the twenty-first century, central to the University’s distinctive identity and its service to the Church and American society. In my recent Apostolic Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to ‘missionary discipleship’ ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities, which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life”.

For this reason, “essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defence of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness”.

The occasion for the Pope’s remarks was an audience January 30 with the Managing Board of the university on the occasion of the founding of the university’s new Rome Center.

The Notre Dame Rome Center at Via Ostilia 15, according to the university’s website, is a recently renovated 32,000-square-foot building located in the San Giovanni neighborhood.  The facility serves as the home to study abroad programs for the School of Architecture and the College of Arts and Letters.  This Global Gateway will serve as the focal point for the University’s academic and cultural endeavors in Rome and, in conjunction with Notre Dame’s Global Gateways in London and Dublin, throughout Europe.

The Holy Father, in his remarks to university leaders, expressed his confidence that

“the new Center will contribute to the University’s mission by exposing students to the unique historical, cultural and spiritual riches of the Eternal City, and by opening their minds and hearts to the impressive continuity between the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, and the confessors and martyrs of every age, and the Catholic faith passed down to them in their families, schools and parishes.”

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I pray that this is true.  Like many Catholics, I’ve watched with concern as controversies swirled around the university in recent years:  the awarding of an honorary degree to America’s pro-abortion president, Barack Obama, which brought criticism from over 80 bishops and thousands of alumni and concerned Catholics; the presentation of The Vagina Monologues and hosting of the Queer Film Festival; the refusal of the authorized student newspaper The Observer to print an explanation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality written by professor emeritus of law Charles Rice.

Among the university’s faculty are some of America’s most esteemed Catholic intellectuals; but Catholics no longer exercise a majority influence at the university.  I pray that the Catholics and others on their faculty will accept their God-given responsibility to teach with the mind of the Church, offering their students the opportunity to learn and to grow in a Christ-centered environment.

That Notre Dame refocuses its attention this week on their mission as a leader in Catholic higher education is a positive step.  Let us pray that fidelity to the Magisterium and a firm commitment to the precepts promugated in John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae will guide their steps as the institution moves into the future.


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