University President Defends Catholic Identity

News: Education
by Church Militant  •  •  July 14, 2016   

Head of CUA says academic freedom is not hindered by observance of orthodoxy

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NAPA, Calif. ( - The president of a Catholic university is defending its Catholic identity.

In a speech last week in California, John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., declared that the majority of a college's faculty "must be Catholic" in order for the university to call itself Catholic.

Garvey, who assumed the role of president in 2011, stressed the simplicity of demonstrating a Catholic identity. "I want to make one point. Building a Catholic university is not a complicated thing," he stated July 7 at the Napa Institute.

"The plan was laid out in 1990 by St. John Paul in the apostolic constitution 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae,' a document that runs about 50 pages," he continued. "But the kernel of the argument is in four short lines near the end. Saint John Paul says for a university to be Catholic a majority of its faculty must be Catholic."

The apostolic constitution in question is often seen as a rebuttal of 1967's Land O'Lakes Statement, a document spearheaded by Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, which justified dissent based on so-called academic freedom. "[T]he Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical," the statement read.

It additionally pushed for theological investigation within Catholic colleges to "serve the ecumenical goals of collaboration and unity."

In Article 4 of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," Pope St. John Paul II stresses that the "responsibility for maintaining and strengthening the Catholic identity of the University rests primarily with the University itself" and therefore "calls for the recruitment of adequate university personnel, especially teachers and administrators, who are both willing and able to promote that identity."

Continuing, Pres. Garvey emphasized that demanding dedication to traditional Catholic thought is in no way opposed to academic freedom. "The defense of originality does not demand the rejection of orthodoxy," he declared, noting that there are factions within academia that offer "resistance" to that point.

"Building a Catholic university, building a Catholic faculty is not tribalism," Garvey added. He continued,

It is a recognition that in order to create a distinctive Catholic intellectual culture we need to build an intellectual community that is committed to our Catholic worldview. A shared commitment to Catholic ideas about creation, and providence of human beings, and human beings made in the image of God will spur creativity and the development of a culture that expresses those ideas.

"We can't predict exactly what sort of culture such a community would produce," Garvey concluded. "History suggests it will be something distinctive and wonderful."

Additional speakers at the Napa Institute's conference included Cdl. Timothy Dolan, former Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, Abp. Bernardito Auza, who is permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, and Princeton University scholar Robert George.


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