Wednesday, May 9, 2012


There are two types of people in the world; those who divide the world into two types of people and those who don’t.  I am of the first type of people.

For example I believe there are two types of people when it comes to the discussion of Catholic higher education.  There are those who place first emphasis on the “Catholic” and those who place first emphasis on the “higher education.”

Those in the first group believe that such institutions exist to develop the Catholic world view.  Knowing that there is nothing more important than one’s soul they thoroughly believe in having a firm foundation in Catholic thought and teaching before reaching out to explore other avenues of education or, in other words, having a strong place to stand from which to judge all else.  All things are still studied, but as a flowering of a thoroughly Catholic education.

Those in the second group place a greater emphasis on knowledge in general.  The purpose of these institutions is to collect and share information that has to deal with a broad spectrum of people.  It is a big world with lots of things to know and it will enrich Catholic life if it is all explored in these institutions.  Placing too much emphasis on the “Catholic” might color conclusions, stifle academic freedom, and limit experiences.

Because of this, those in the first group are thoroughly disgusted that Georgetown University has invited Kathleen Sebelius to speak at their diploma ceremony.  Those in the second are not.  For those in the first group it marks a distinct betrayal by an institution that wishes to use the term “Catholic” to identify itself and to the second group it marks a fulfillment of its Catholic mission.

Whichever group you find yourself in, you have made a distinct philosophical decision as to why Catholic education exists.  If you are of the first group you wonder why such an institution exists if it is not going to be Catholic first.  If it is not going to at least start with a firm, orthodox immersion in the Catholic world then let’s stop doing it whether it be a university or a grade school.  Instead let us put our emphasis on developing great Newman Centers, Catechism classes, endowing Catholic education chairs, and the like.  Let us save millions and millions of dollars, man power, time, and energy and invest it in truly Catholic endeavors such as taking care of the poor and supporting Catholic art.  This is true whether we are talking about schools or hospitals, social services, or any Catholic work.

If you are of the second group, the philosophy of why we should invest ourselves so deeply is a little bit trickier to justify.  If it is going to be an institution just like all other institution except that there is a Mass on campus instead of the parish located right next door, then why waist our time?  It could be said that education and academic freedom is a value of course – but can it be so for a Catholic institution that unmoors itself from a rock solid Catholic foundation?  What is the philosophical purpose of doing what everyone else does and calling it Catholic – where even teachers of theology are often in opposition to the Church?  Can we justify that through Scripture or Tradition?  Some would say yes – and the fact that there is some Catholic atmosphere present – a chapel, crucifixes (hopefully) – art – justify exploring all things because they take place surrounded by a Catholic presence that supports, nourishes, and is open to these things.  That is why they do not understand why, when Georgetown asks Kathleen Sebelius (or the brouhaha at Notre Dame previously,) that some Catholics get so upset.  A Catholic institution is being honored by a person in a very respected office who thinks it worthy to speak at their ceremony.

It is not about whether one likes such an institution or not, is it about your philosophical reasoning for their existence.  So when debating whether these things are good or not, keep in mind the philosophical underpinnings of the person you are debating (whether they realize it or not) and get them to tease it out and discuss these things rather than the emotional attachment one might have to such Catholic institutions.


Anonymous said...

I understand this is a big issue for many given the current religious rights crisis (HHS mandate) and I was surprised for a moment when I heard that Georgetown, a Catholic, Jesuit institution, had invited Kathleen Sebelius, the major force behind the HHS mandate (and a "Catholic"), to speak at its graduation ceremony...but only for a moment.

When I remembered back to the Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, who famously gave testimony in favor of the HHS mandate and then the months following in which Georgetown University boldy (and rightly), continued their stance against the provisions that the HHS mandate would cover.

In light of this, it seems clear that Georgetown is not flip-flopping on her Catholic beliefs, but perhaps trying to appease some of the "Sandra Flukes", roaming around campus by at least "hearing them out".

--Baby Catholic

Jennifer Fitz said...

I'm not sure I agree with your division of the world, Father.

A Catholic university could exist primarily for the formation of souls, or primarily as a place of learning about the wider world(or some part of it). But in either case, truth is a non-negotiable.

Honoring a government leader whose claim to fame even before the HHS was legalizing late-term abortion? No. I don't care if Georgetown were a Catholic School of Dentistry, and Sibelius had discovered flouride. If she's also complicit in mass murder, and ordered the suppression of human rights? No commencement address for her.

It's not about the meaning of a university. It's about a Catholic institution giving honors of any kind to a person who has committed such tremendous evil.

Fr. V said...

Interesting point Anon.

JF - I'm not saying that both sides are correct necessarily, I'm just saying that whatever side you happen to be on you are making a philisophical decision and that if you are going to counter somebody's position you need to bear this in mind and start the discussion there.

One position, I believe is much more tenable than the other - and in fact, IMHO if an institution is not Catholic first or at least predominantly it has a moral obligation to change its name or close. Instead of sending young Catholics to Catholic schools where parents think they are safely in the arms of the Church and where they lose their faith, send young Catholics to secualr schools where we don't expect a Catholic friendly atmosphere but with great Newmans centers and parishes where they can influence the world.

Jennifer Fitz said...

Agreed on both counts, Father.