STATUS ENVY: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education

by Anne Hendershott

Transaction Publishers, 2009

256 pages, $39.95

To order:

(888) 999-6778

In 1987 Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

And according to Anne Hendershott, a professor at The King’s College in New York City, Catholic higher education in the main has joined in with this view, this “indoctrination,” as Bloom calls it, of students partly driven by the envy some Catholic professors felt in the 1950s toward their secular counterparts.

Driven at least partly by such envy, these professors over the years have dismantled the Catholic identity of their universities. Hendershott has the data to prove it. What began as a quest for academic freedom and scholarly excellence became, in the end, a revolt against all authority (except their own), and especially against the authority of the Church’s hierarchy and the magisterium. It is a terribly sad and frustrating story for Catholics who believe what the Church teaches is the truth. And sometimes, as the author catalogues the abuses, a numbing, even boring, one.

Hendershott details the demise of Catholic higher education in chapters devoted to the history of the conflict, the acceptance of defining down the meaning of Catholicism and the resultant secularization of Catholic colleges. She shows how many Catholic academics, especially the Jesuits (to whom she devotes a whole chapter), have persisted in waiting for a new progressive pope, and how liberation theology, which began as a concern for the poor, infected the women’s and homosexual liberation movements with its Marxist ideology.

Discussing the 1975 meeting of the General Congregation of the Jesuits, Hendershott writes: “It was a time when the message of the Gospel became so politicized that evangelization was no longer the goal. Rather than saving souls, this was a time when the Jesuits began to believe that the best way to help individuals was to redistribute society’s wealth, creating an egalitarian society. This redefined social gospel has moved beyond the twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and has been embraced by Catholic campus leaders whose goals have moved from helping others get into heaven to creating heaven on earth.”

The result has been the deterioration of Catholic campuses into rubber stamps for the causes of abortion and homosexual rights. DePaul University, for instance, has hosted a Queer Kiss-In. The methods progressives used to get their agenda in place have often been dishonest and coercive. Universities tout their Catholic “tradition” in order to attract students and donors, but misrepresent their secular agendas, and contrary to the idea of academic freedom, opposing voices are often not allowed.

But Hendershott concludes Status Envy with guarded optimism. A new wave of committed orthodox students and faculty, as well as new Catholic universities and a few courageous bishops, have begun to change things so that, once again, as Cardinal Newman wrote, the Catholic university may be “the seat of wisdom, the light of the world, and the minister of faith.”

Franklin Freeman writes

from Saco, Maine.