Should Catholic Universities Support Catholic Teaching?

Should Catholic universities support Catholic teaching?

Secular universities are often seen as teaching anti-Christian, anti-Catholic propaganda along with the rest of the curriculum. One reason many people chose Catholic universities is to avoid this propaganda and attacks on their faith.

So, the question is two-fold. Do Catholic universities have a responsibility to support Catholic teaching? Are they engaging in false advertising when they call themselves “Catholic” and then subject students to the same kind of anti-Catholic propaganda found in secular universities?

Academic freedom is always an issue when dealing with schools at the university level. But how much academic freedom do secular schools, with their group-think mentality about so many issues, actually provide? The word “propaganda” could describe much of what they do. In truth, the word “indoctrination” would also be a good fit. “Academic freedom” in actual practice has often been misused. It can become an excuse for lack of responsibilty, violation of free thought and intolerance for genuine diversity of opinions and fair-play on university campuses.

This often acrimonious debate recently reared its head at the San Diego University. San Diego University is a Catholic university. When the school’s president cancelled the invitation to speak that had been extended to a “Catholic” scholar who opposed core Church teachings, including abortion and gay marriage, she ran into the resistance of many on her faculty, as well as members of the academic community outside her school.

The Catholic Register article describing this situation reads in part:

SAN DIEGO — A textbook case of division over campus Catholic identity is continuing at the University of San Diego, where a significant step undertaken to promote Catholic fidelity has generated fierce controversy.

Earlier this fall, USD’s president, Mary Lyons, denied a British theologian — who is openly at odds with some of the Catholic Church’s most fundamental moral teachings — her upcoming status as a “visiting fellow” at the university. The firestorm of debate over academic freedom that has ensued pits Lyons against many of her own faculty and has now involved the university’s board of trustees, too.

British Catholic theologian Tina Beattie, the director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at Roehampton University in the United Kingdom, was invited by USD’s Frances Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC) to give lectures during the month of November at the university as a “visiting fellow.”

Beattie disagrees with the Church’s teachings on contraception, early-term abortion, same-sex “marriage” and women’s ordination, according to a report posted at the website of the Cardinal Newman Society, a watchdog group dedicated to promoting Catholic identity in higher education.

Beattie’s lectures had been scheduled a year in advance, but days before her scheduled arrival in San Diego, Lyons revoked Beattie’s visiting fellowship in an Oct. 27 letter. Lyons took this action because Beattie signed onto an Aug. 13 public letter, published by The Times of London, opposing the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom on same-sex “marriage.”

In the letter, Beattie identified herself as a Catholic theologian.

President Lyons’ Position

“The issue, for me, is a Catholic theologian using her office as a theologian to advocate that lay Catholics essentially take a position in opposition to the legitimate teaching authority of the Church, namely the bishops,” Lyons told the Register.

The letter signed by Beattie and 26 others stated: “Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully formed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/stand-for-catholic-identity-pits-university-of-san-diego-president-against/#ixzz2FYTBm7YJ

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  • JJ

    Yes, they should stay with Catholic teaching. Good follow is @Newman_Society

    Muslims are starting to avoid secular colleges, universities and are enrolling in Catholic Universities.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/education/muslims-enroll-at-catholic-colleges-in-growing-numbers.html?_r=2&smid=tw-share&

    Merry Christmas and God Bless.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I didn’t know this. Thanks JJ.

  • Bill S

    I read about Tina Beattie. She appears to be a faithful Catholic theologian. I can’t believe that there is a problem with her having her own opinions on things like gay marriage and contraception. Can’t people have their own opinions and still lecture at a Catholic University?

    • vox borealis

      What precisely is a “faithful Catholic theologian”? What does that mean?

      I have little problem with professors at Catholic Universities having their own opinions, provided when they teach they do not contradict Church teachings. That;s the deal, right with working at a Catholic university. Don’t like it, work at one of the hundreds of other institutions of higher learning.

      But let’s get back to that “private opinion” matter. What do you mean by “private”? Do you think it’s entirely OK for a professor at a Catholic University to contradict church teaching outside of the classroom, so long as s/he toes the line inside the classroom? What about attending a pro-gay marriage rally? What about penning an op-ed piece in favor of abortion? Etc? Should the university be able to protect itself against scandal caused by teachers who act, even outside the classroom, in ways manifestly opposed to church teaching?

      Let’s do a thought experiment. Would a secular university be justified in firing a professor who, on his or her private time, made public appearances at KKK rallies or the like?

      • Bill S

        “Do you think it’s entirely OK for a professor at a Catholic University to contradict church teaching outside of the classroom, so long as s/he toes the line inside the classroom?”

        Yes, I do think that. Especially concerning issues like gay marriage and contraception where it is obvious that the Church has painted itself into a corner and where most rational theologians have the independence of thought to disagree with the Pope. The popes have grown in credibility to a point of being gods, themselves. They are human like the rest of us.

        • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

          Bill,
          The Church did not paint itself into a corner. Jesus painted us into a corner. We will follow Jesus, even when the whole world is against us. The teaching about contraception can be traced back all the way to the 1st century (see the Didache) and obviously, the teachings about homosexual acts are quite clear in Romans 1 and elsewhere.

          The Church’s job is not to “get with the times”, it is to faithfully pass on the message and teachings of Jesus Christ. What you call a “rational theologian”, I call a traitor, and someone who does not deserve the title of theologian because they don’t understand the most basic thing about the Church or her relationship to Christ.

        • Ted Seeber

          The Church didn’t invent heterosexuality, God did. Homosexuality is nothing more than disobedience.

      • http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber H. E. Baber

        No a secular university wouldn’t be justified in firing a faculty member who made appearances at KKK rallies. If it’s legal, we’re allowed to do it. That’s academic freedom. That’s why we have tenure.

    • Ted Seeber

      How can you describe a pro-abortionist neo-pagan hippie as a “faithful Catholic Theologian”?

      That’s the problem with this; there’s no thought left on the left.

  • http://backoftheworld.com Ryan M.

    I went to Boston College for grad school. I found there to be a deep tension between the professors who supported the Church’s teaching and those who did not, and frequently the disputes at faculty meetings became widely known among the student body. Petty stuff would happen: for instance, a first year required course that was usually taught by a faithful Catholic prof. was cut from two semesters to one, largely based on the initiative of a very anti-religious prof. and widely known to be done out of spite for the faithful prof.

    I think it would be a very valuable step if, at the very least, the administration would back its faithful professors in those types of situations. I do believe in academic freedom… but I also believe in maintaining some semblance of institutional identity. If universities will not take steps towards supporting their Catholic identity, then they should not self-identity as Catholic. It really is false advertising…

    • vox borealis

      I’m an academic, and the term “academic freedom” is often highly abused by those in the academy. It does *not* entitle a professor to say or do anything in any given course s/he teaches. I agree with you entirely that at the very least theologians whose ideas do not conform to Catholic teaching should not be allowed to advertise themselves as such. Moreover, I think that if a student enrols in a course called “Catholic Theology 101″, the student should expect to learn “official” Catholic teaching, not the contradictory musings of dissident theologians.

      This does not mean the dissident cannot or should not teach at the university, or that those ideas cannot be presented as part of the intellectual discourse at a Catholic university. But it should not be passed off as Catholic.

      • Bill S

        “I think that if a student enrols in a course called “Catholic Theology 101″, the student should expect to learn “official” Catholic teaching, not the contradictory musings of dissident theologians.”

        I believe that they should be given both sides of the argument and choose the right one for them.

        • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

          “I believe that they should be given both sides of the argument and choose the right one for them.”

          There is no difference between what vox said and what you are saying. They should be presented with the teachings of the Catholic Church as passed on from Jesus and the Apostles, and developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then they choose whether to be Catholic or not.

        • Ted Seeber

          There are no “both sides of the argument” One side is right and the other side is wrong. I always find it interesting that people who believe in objective truth in physics are incapable of recognizing objective truth in morality.

  • lethargic

    “Should Catholic universities support Catholic teaching? Are they engaging in false advertising when they call themselves “Catholic” and then subject students to the same kind of anti-Catholic propaganda found in secular universities?”

    Is this a serious question out there in academiastan? I’m just a nobody from flyover, so I’m astonished it is even a question that someone thinks needs “discussion.” Yes and yes. With the great label comes great responsibility. Truth in labeling; truth in advertising; etc. What am I missing?

    And there is a difference between personal beliefs and what is taught/promoted in the classroom/advisorship. Why can’t Catholic university profs be held to the standard of private enterprise … don’t dis the employer or go against company policy ? Seriously …?

    • Bill S

      “Why can’t Catholic university profs be held to the standard of private enterprise … don’t dis the employer or go against company policy ? Seriously …?”

      They are not employed by the Catholic Church and they have as much to offer as the Pope or the Magesterium. Those people do not have a monopoly on the truth. Who do they think they are to act like they do?

      • Ted Seeber

        I fail to understand why anybody who is clearly murderously anti-Catholic would pretend to be Catholic. Abortionists are no different from school killers.

      • T. B.

        Bill S, are you serious or being sarcastic? The absurdity of the so-called progressives is so extreme it’s impossible to tell. The subject matter of Catholicism 101 IS the magisterium of the Church. To say : “Catholic university profs . . . have as much to offer as the Pope or the Magesterium. ” ( if you are referring to theology classes) makes precisely as much sense as saying that an astrologer has’ as much to offer’ in an Astonomy class as does the Science of Astromomy per se” Now if you mean that the professors know as much about calculus as does the Pope; I should hope – more.

  • Josh U

    As a graduate of the University of Notre Dame class of 2009, I have witnessed discussions about this topic frequently: Whether to have The Vagina Monologues presented on campus, to formally a gay-straight alliance as an official student group, or to invite President Obama to give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree. In all of these issues, their supporters claimed to bring them to campus in order to foster dialogue between Catholic teaching and the rest of the world.

    However, as much as they wanted to have their message heard, in those discussions regarding whether to bring these topics, groups, and persons to campus, I rarely got the feeling that the supporters were nearly as open-minded as they expected others to be. To be fair, there were many critics who were equally closed. In discussions that are supposed to be a part of academic freedom, both parties must be open to the other’s arguments. Otherwise, it is not really a dialogue.

  • FW Ken

    There are rules about who can and cannot call themselves a “Catholic theologian”. Fr. Charles Curran lost that right, if memory serves, by espousing positions like those of Tina Beattie. Honest people teach say what they believe to be true. Courageous people say what they believe to be true even when saying go against them. It is neither honest nor courageous to dissent from the Church, then whine because you get called out on it.

    • Bill S

      “Honest people teach say what they believe to be true. Courageous people say what they believe to be true even when saying go against them. It is neither honest nor courageous to dissent from the Church, then whine because you get called out on it.”

      I disagree. I think it is just the opposite and that it is both honest and courageous. Martin Luther was a good example of someone who was honest and courageous in standing up to a corrupt pope.

      • Ted Seeber

        Martin Luther was a priest who wanted to dispense with his morality to marry a nun. I see nothing to emumlate in him at all, just another victim of lust.

  • Manny

    Of course they should. Otherwise what is the rationale for their existence?

  • FW Ken

    So, Bill, just to be clear: you consider it honest to call yourself a “catholic” while promoting doctrines and practices which are against the Catholic Faith?

    • Bill S

      Yes. I am Catholic and I disagree with a lot that the Church teaches. I am American and I don’t always agree with what my government is doing. Catholics need to have more say in how their Church is run. I don’t know how that would ever happen, but crushing dissent isn’t the answer.

      • vox borealis

        If you’re a Catholic who “disagree[s] with a lot of what the Church teaches, “I’m pretty sure that makes you a Protestant.

        And the bit about “crushing dissent.” Seriously? Give e break. The Church is no position to crush dissent these days. Asking profs at a Catholic university to affirm Church teaching is in no real way crushing dissent, not when those profs have myriad opportunities outside of said university to dissent with no fear of meaningful penalty, and in fact the likelihood of celebrity status in the media and the adulation of proti-catholics like yourself.

        • http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber H. E. Baber

          Excuse me. We have NO opportunities outside of the university. The job market is terrible. In my profession only one of 4 phds get jobs. We have no choices

      • savvy

        Bill,

        Why not just find another church then that will accept your views? Why torture yourself?

        • Bill S

          My marriage and my social life both depend on me being Catholic. That’s all I have to do. Be a cultural Catholic. I would imagine that it is similar to the days of Constantine and later Theodosius, when you almost had to be Christian, whether you believed or you didn’t. I have to be Catholic or face consequences that I find no reason to face. It would hurt too many people if I were to tell them what I really believe, so I don’t.

      • BHG

        It’s not the Catholics’ Church. It is Christ’s….just a thought.

  • FW Ken

    Bill, so you consider yourself an honest man, remaining in a Church whose Faith you reject?

    • Bill S

      No, FW Ken. I guess I am not being honest.

      • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

        @Bill
        It’s an unfortunate situation. I mean, I can see that you would like to have the option to be honest about what you believe without having to hurt others by it.
        This reminds me of something related – how many people I know in various religions and churches that do not give a heck about religious teachings when push comes to shove – and the issues where I see that most frequently today are adultery and homosexuality/bisexuality. There IS a lot of parading around in churches.
        I also saw a startling study reporting that 35% (or was it 45%) of people who go to church do not believe in God. They want, however, to have a time to think about things, about morality, and obviously they enjoy the community.

  • Steven Howard

    Catholic universities should promote Catholic teachings. All perspectives should be welcomed in healthy dialoge, but the school shouldn’t invite a speaker who identifies as Catholic to contradict church teaching.

  • http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber H. E. Baber

    I’m a University of San Diego faculty member. This response is just mine and doesn’t represent the position of USD or any USD organization.

    First, please note that Tina Beattie was not “disinvited” for any views about abortion but for a letter in the Times of London which she, along with number of other theologians and RC priests signed indicating that Catholics could, in conscience, support government plans to recognize civil unions between same-sex partners. Secondly, the topic on which she was scheduled to speak was not in any way connected to her views on this issue and was completely uncontroversial and innocuous.

    Finally, and most importantly, while I recognize the frustration of the author and some commentators about the failure of Catholic Colleges to push back against popular contempt for religious belief and practice, this isn’t the way to do it. Most of what we teach has nothing to do with Catholic doctrine: there is no Catholic Calculus or Catholic Chemistry or (my thing) Catholic Logic. As for theology and philosophy, we represent all positions, including the Catholic position, fairly–which is something that secular universities often don’t do. I’m a Christian (though not a Roman Catholic) so I believe that representing our religious position fairly is what matters–because I believe that our theological views are correct and don’t require any special pleading.

    As a Christian, I am pleased and proud to teach at a Catholic college. I wish the general public would recognize that the response to the very real anti-religious bigotry of academics and other members of the upper middle class urban-coastal elite isn’t to retrench, but simply to be fair and impartial. That is what we do: we create a tolerant, decent environment where religious activities are available and students aren’t trashed for participating, and we represent religious claims fairly.


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