Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
“As summer plays itself out on the beautiful campus by the lake where the young Holy Cross priest, Edward Sorin, C.S.C., pitched his camp 177 years ago and began his great adventure, we must clarify the situation that so sundered the Church last spring: what it is all about and what it is not about.
“It is not about President Obama. He will do some good things as president and other things with which, as Catholics, we will strongly disagree. It is ever so among presidents, and most political leaders.
“It is not about Democrats versus Republicans, nor was it a replay of the recent general election.
“It is not about whether it is appropriate for the president of the United States to speak at Notre Dame or any great Catholic university on the pressing issues of the day. This is what universities do. No bishop should try to prevent that.
“The response, so intense and widespread, is not about what this journal called ‘sectarian Catholicism.’ Rather, the response of the faithful derives directly from the Gospel. In Matthew’s words, ‘Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your heavenly Father’ (5:13).
“Does a Catholic university have the responsibility to give witness to the Catholic faith and to the consequences of that faith by its actions and decisions—especially by a decision to confer its highest honor? If not, what is the meaning of a life of faith? And how can a Catholic institution expect its students to live by faith in the difficult decisions that will confront them in a culture often opposed to the Gospel?”
Those are the words of Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., the diocesan bishop of the University of Notre Dame, in an article published in the Aug. 31 issue of America magazine. It’s a crucially important article that should be read by everyone concerned about the future of Catholic higher education in America.
Here’s how Bishop D’Arcy concludes his article:
As bishops, we must be teachers and pastors. In that spirit, I would respectfully put these questions to the Catholic universities in the diocese I serve and to other Catholic universities.
Do you consider it a responsibility in your public statements, in your life as a university and in your actions, including your public awards, to give witness to the Catholic faith in all its fullness?
What is your relationship to the Church and, specifically, to the local bishop and his pastoral authority as defined by the Second Vatican Council?
Finally, a more fundamental question: Where will the great Catholic universities search for a guiding light in the years ahead? Will it be the Land O’Lakes Statement or Ex Corde Ecclesiae? The first comes from a frantic time, with finances as the driving force. Its understanding of freedom is defensive, absolutist and narrow. It never mentions Christ and barely mentions the truth. The second text, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, speaks constantly of truth and the pursuit of truth. It speaks of freedom in the broader, Catholic philosophical and theological tradition, as linked to the common good, to the rights of others and always subject to truth. Unlike Land O’Lakes, it is communal, reflective of the developments since Vatican II, and it speaks with a language enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
On these three questions, I respectfully submit, rests the future of Catholic higher education in this country and so much else.