Tag Archives: Catholic colleges

Will Georgetown Remain a Catholic University?

While Georgetown University leaders may have said a silent prayer last week for the repose of the soul of one of its most distinguished alums, the best-selling author, William Peter Blatty, it is unlikely that most were mourning his passing. Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, had been making life difficult for Georgetown for more than a decade after he became convinced that the university had abandoned its Catholic mission.  In fact, concluding that his alma mater “takes pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful,” Blatty filed a Canon Law petition with the Vatican in 2013 asking that Georgetown University be denied the right to call itself Catholic.

A Jesuit at Every Table

Calling Georgetown a “Potemkin Village,” Blatty once declared, “Georgetown is the leader of a pack of schools that are failing to live up to their Catholic identity.”  Blatty was especially critical of what he saw as Georgetown’s hypocrisy: “At alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement.”

Blatty’s 200-page papal petition contained more than 480 footnotes, 99 appendices, and 124 witness statements.  It also included a commissioned 120-page institutional audit of Georgetown.  According to Manuel A. Miranda, who served as Blatty’s counsel, “We have documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence—more than 100 scandals in the most recent years alone.”  The petition asked Pope Francis to require that Georgetown implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 papal document requiring all Catholic colleges to teach “in communion” with the Church.  The goal of Blatty’s petition had been to revoke Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic unless it complies with Church teachings.

Georgetown is not alone. Defiant from the earliest days of the release of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, most Catholic college presidents refused to implement the papal document. When it was first released by Pope St. John Paul, Notre Dame’s then-president, Fr. Edward Malloy, along with Fr. Donald Monan, then-chancellor of Boston College, published an article in America magazine calling the document “positively dangerous.”  The faculty senate at Notre Dame voted unanimously for the guidelines to be ignored.

With the exception of a few Catholic colleges and universities (like my own academic home, Franciscan University of Steubenville), most of the 230 Catholic colleges and universities have strayed far from their Catholic roots.  This all began in 1967, when Catholic college leaders gathered in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin to create a manifesto that declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.” Since that time, most Catholic college presidents have ignored attempts by their presiding bishops to bring their schools into communion with the Church.

Workshops on Trans-Health

Ignoring Catholic doctrine on human sexuality and life issues, some faculty members at Georgetown have promoted legislation to provide access to same-sex marriage and to expand reproductive rights. The New York Times lauded Georgetown for its “gay-friendly” campus. Each October Georgetown hosts a 40-day celebration of GLBTQ issues.

The theme for 2016 was “Honoring Our Histories” and focused on legislative pathways to securing rights across the decades for trans and gender nonconforming people; the intersections between faith, sexuality, and disability; stories of coming out and coming together; and journey of transitioning through the constructions of gender.” With workshops like “Trans-Health in the Military,” and “Queer in the Capital,” Georgetown has been long been a leader in lobbying for same-sex marriage and other GLBTQ rights.

An important part of OUTober is Georgetown’s “I AM” Campaign that encourages students, faculty and staff to discuss was I AM” means to them.  Posting videos online Georgetown faculty and staff proudly described their appreciation for Georgetown University’s acceptance of their same-sex marriages and relationships.  This year, several gay and lesbian faculty members spoke about their pride in being part of the GLBTQ community at Georgetown.

‘Not Just Tolerated’

In one of the online videos, Samuel Aronson, Assistant Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, said that for him, the “I AM” campaign means that at Georgetown he is “not just tolerated” as a gay man who is “happily married.” Rather, Dean Aronson says that at Georgetown, “we love you not despite who you love, or your gender expression, but because of who you love.”

Beyond lobbying for same-sex marriage, and transgender rights, some at Georgetown have encouraged undergraduate students to help expand abortion rights as a social justice issue. Collaborating with the dissident Catholics for Choice, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, a student law school organization on several Catholic campuses, aims to produce a new generation of abortion advocates to help “train and mobilize law students and new lawyers across the country to foster legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice.”

As recently as 2015, the LSRJ website listed chapters of  Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown University as well as DePaul, Fordham Law; Loyola, Los Angeles; Loyola Chicago; Santa Clara University; Seattle University; St. Louis University; Detroit Mercy; University of San Diego; University of San Francisco, as well as Loyola, New Orleans and Boston College.   And, although several of these chapters were deleted from the new LSRJ website, the Cardinal Newman Society (an orthodox Catholic higher education resource organization) maintains that there remain 13 active LSRJ chapters on Catholic campuses.

Working with Planned Parenthood

Law Students for Reproductive Justice is still listed among other law student organizations on the Georgetown University law school website, but now there is a disclaimer that the organization “is not funded by the university.” The University attempted to suggest that was also so in 2015—even though public meeting notices on campus listed LSRJ activities as being held on campus at the Tower Green, and in various rooms in McDonough Hall—the main Law School building.

Georgetown’s LSRJ chapter past president was Sandra Fluke who gained fame by publicly criticizing Catholic colleges and other Catholic institutions for their unwillingness to support “reproductive health” for women by paying for contraceptive care—including abortifacients.

Blatty was concerned about the ways undergraduates were being socialized at Georgetown. The Cardinal Newman Society has documented several connections between Planned Parenthood and Georgetown University involving faculty and undergraduate student internship opportunities.

Signs of Life at Georgetown

Blatty was joined in his concerns about Georgetown’s Catholic identity in 2012 by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the presiding bishop of the Washington DC Diocese, when he denounced the University’s decision to invite Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-choice Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Service, and the creator of the controversial contraception mandate, to be the Commencement Speaker. An editorial published in the Catholic Standard, the official Archdiocesan newspaper representing the Cardinal, concluded that “Georgetown has undergone a secularization due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel…they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age.”  

The fact that the Law Students for Reproductive Justice felt the need to change its name and hide its chapters can be viewed as a positive development for Catholic identity at all Catholic colleges and universities. At Georgetown, the student group “Hoyas for Choice” appears to have been encouraged to change its name to “H*yas for Choice.” But, what is even more encouraging is that the campus pro-abortion culture itself may be beginning to change. In a recent op-ed in The Georgetown Voice entitled “H*pocrites for Choice a self-described “liberal feminist Catholic” criticized H*yas for Choice because “they are hypocrites…they must admit that the Catholic Church now has some, although very negligible domain over their lives.”

H*yas for Choice

Complaining about the growing pro-life culture on campus, bloggers at H*yas for Choice believe their pro-abortion group has been unfairly marginalized:

While we receive no funding to promote students’ right to bodily autonomy, Georgetown University Right to Life receives a large budget from the school each year that enables them to fund their efforts to force their own values about behavior and what forms of health care acceptable onto all students’ bodies.

While there has been little change in the faculty culture at Georgetown, the student pro-life culture continues to emerge as the pro-life generation comes of age. While pro-life messages on campus have been vandalized by pro-choice advocates, the fact that pro-life messages have been allowed at all on the campus is a positive development.

Georgetown University will be well represented at the Annual March for Life in Washington DC this week. And, although few faculty will join them, they cannot help but be moved by the growing activism of a growing and vibrant pro-life student campus culture. William Peter Blatty would be proud of these student-led developments at Georgetown.

Diversicrats Take on Catholic Scholar at Catholic College

By Rod Dreher

Many readers will have heard of Anthony Esolen, the robustly orthodox Catholic literature professor at Providence College, the Dominican-run college in Rhode Island. Prof. Esolen is the author of a number of books, including an exquisite translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is one of the three translations I recommend to anyone who asks me which is the best to read. He also writes frequently for orthodox Christian magazines like Touchstone and Crisis.

A couple of essays he published in Crisis this autumn sparked a huge row on his campus. The first criticizes the politics of “diversity” as they play out within a Catholic academic setting. The second poses the question to faithful Catholics (and other Christians): What will you do when the persecution comes?

Naturally, some students and faculty on Esolen’s campus were so outraged by his suggestion that “diversity” as they understand it is misguided and destructive that they have commenced a campaign to punish him, perhaps even to fire him.

Now, Esolen is having to answer the very question he recently posed to his readers in the second essay. Tony Esolen agreed to answer a few questions from me via e-mail. Our conversation is reproduced below.

Rod Dreher: What is happening to you at Providence College? Explain the controversy.

Tony Esolen: It’s a long story — that is, there is a two-year-long back-story that does not involve me, but that does involve five Catholic colleagues who have been treated disgracefully by their secular colleagues or have suffered under the inquests of the “Bias Response Protocol.” I wrote the two articles in Crisis Magazine, one of them in April and the other a few weeks ago, as alerts.

Someone at school then got hold of them and, before I knew it, I was in the middle of outrage, coming mainly from a group of students who I believe have been misled by radical professors who have adopted politics as their god, whether these professors are aware of it or not. The students accused me of racism, despite my explicit statements in the articles that I welcome people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and despite my appeal, at the end of one of the articles, that they and their secular professors should join us in that communion where there is neither Greek nor Jew, etc.

They were angered by my suggestion, in one article, that there was something narcissistic in the common insistence that people should study THEMSELVES rather than people who lived long ago and in cultures far removed from ours by any ordinary criterion, and that there was something totalitarian in the impulse of the secular left, to attempt to subject our curriculum to the demands of a current political aim.

I spoke to one of the students, a friendly fellow whom I like very much, and explained to him that my quarrel was not with the students but rather with anti-Catholic professors and their attempts to hurt or to stifle my colleagues. It was a long and warm conversation, at the end of which I asked him to relay to his group that I was happy, even eager, to meet with them any time to talk about what it is like to be a minority student at Providence College.

I also asked him to relay to our chief Diversity Officer my offer of a year ago, to start up a film series centered on themes of injustice and prejudice; one of the movies I specifically mentioned to him and to the Officer was the devastating One Potato Two Potato, about an interracial marriage.

Since then, though, I have received NO phone calls and NO e-mails from any students; and yet word has spread around campus, possibly originating from the administration itself, that I have “blown off” the students, when exactly the reverse is true, and if anybody has been “blown off,” it has been me.

A week ago last Thursday I was tipped off by a student — not a member of the group in question — that there was going to be a protest on campus. That’s unheard of, at Providence College. About 60 students marched around, while a female student-led them around, shouting slogans through a bullhorn. I think it was “What do we want? Inclusion! When do we want it? Now!”

The noise could be heard all through the three-story building where my office is. I had thought they were going to come down the hall and knock on my door, but then they seem to have turned around and gone to the president’s office, where they demanded a response from him, and of course some of the students demanded that I be fired.

In fact, the president had already met with those students the day before and had heard that particular demand, though  he said that I enjoyed academic freedom. It is likely that he knew of the demonstration beforehand because the Vice President for Student Affairs actually was there.  The Vice President of Student Affairs says that she did not have any prior knowledge of the demonstration.  She says that she was present in her capacity as chief of security.

The president then sent round to all the faculty, all the staff, all undergraduates, and all graduates the following letter:

Dear Members of the Providence College Community:

Yesterday I met with about 60 of our students who marched through campus and eventually came to Harkins Hall. Their primary source of complaint was the content of a pair of articles recently published by a member of our faculty, how it made them feel, and their frustration that there had been no response from the College or me. After dialoging with the students, I believe it is imperative for me to respond to their concerns.

Academic freedom is a bedrock principle of higher education. It allows professors the freedom to teach, write, and lecture without any restraint except the truth as they see it. It also gives them the freedom to express their opinions as citizens so long as it is clear that they do not represent the views of the institution with which they are affiliated. This freedom obviously extends to espousing views critical of their own college or university.

So when one of our professors writes an article accusing Providence College of having “Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult,” he is protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech. But it must be understood that he speaks only for himself. He certainly does not speak for me, my administration, and for many others at Providence College who understand and value diversity in a very different sense from him.

Universities are places where ideas are supposed to be brought into conflict and questioned, so let us robustly debate the meaning of “diversity.” But we must also remember that words have an impact on those who hear or read them. When a professor questions the value of diversity, the impact on many students, faculty, and staff of color is to feel that their presence is not valued and that they are not welcome at Providence College. I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes. When student activists are described as “narcissists,” they understandably feel demeaned and dismissed. We need to be able to disagree with each other’s ideas without attaching labels to them or imputing motives that we cannot know.

At the same time that we value freedom in the pursuit of truth, let us value even more our fundamental imperative on a Catholic campus: to be charitable to one another. We may deeply disagree on any number of topics, but we should do so in such a way that respects those with whom we disagree.

Our Catholic mission at Providence College calls us to embrace people from diverse backgrounds and cultures as a mirror of the universal Church and to seek the unity of that Body in the universal love of Christ. Pope Francis has likened this communion to the weaving of a blanket, “woven with patience and perseverance, one which gradually draws together stitches to make a more extensive and rich cover.” He reminds us as well that what we seek is not “unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.” Finally, Francis reminds us that “plurality of thought and individuality reflect the manifold wisdom of God when we draw nearer to truth with intellectual honesty and rigor, when we draw near to goodness, when we draw near to beauty, in such a way that everyone can be a gift for the benefit of others.” Amen.

Fr. Brian Shanley

My friends were outraged, and I was stunned — basically, I had been singled out and exposed before the whole faculty, very few of whom were probably even aware that there was such a thing as Crisis Magazine; and, of course, they and the students are not my audience when I write for Crisis or whatever. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the President met with faculty on Wednesday afternoon, and all they did for a solid hour was to revile the evil Professor Esolen, with a few old-fashioned liberals defending my right to express my opinions, and several of my stalwart friends from philosophy and theology defending me personally and criticizing the president for his decision and for his handling of related matters. When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.

And it is still not over. The faculty have circulated a “petition,” or a resolution, or something neither flesh nor fowl, to the effect that though we all have academic freedom, it has to be exercised responsibly, and reviling “some part of the PC faculty” that is “unabashed” in publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic. The petition has been signed by various faculty members and students. And STILL I hear that they are not satisfied, but are trying to figure out if they can use my articles to nail me for “bias” and hate, basically asserting that I am not capable of teaching certain categories of students — gay, female, and so forth.

I have been advised by a lawyer friend that that assertion itself is eo ipsodefamatory.

The Good Guys in all this are meeting tonight to draft a stern response. All I want to do is to teach ALL STUDENTS the glories of three thousand years of poetry, art, theology, and philosophy; and NOT to have the campus riven by the politicians….

In your recent essay on persecution, you tell your Catholic readers that “the war is here,” and you identify four kinds of Catholics with regard to the persecution. How does the situation you’re in at Providence College illustrate your argument?

I have seen the soldiers come forth. I can give you the names of some of them; they can add a great deal, too; they have been either the victims or witnesses of recent forays into persecution. Chief among them is Prof. James Keating, who I believe will be eager to correspond with you.

I won’t say anything about Quislings at this time. But the college is peppered with Persecutors. One secular professor tipped his hand at the faculty meeting with the President. When the President asked what could be done to increase the diversity at Providence College — whatever that means; nobody has defined “diversity” — one of the art history professors replied, “Get rid of the response to the mission statement,” the requirement that prospective professors write in response to a statement of our Catholic identity. The crowd cheered.

The dirty not-so-secret is that the same people who for many years have loathed our Development of Western Civilization program — the focus of curricular hostility — also despise the Catholic Church and wish to render the Catholic identity of the college merely nominal.

They are now also gunning for the DWC program, though they are so encapsulated in their secular monoculture, they have no idea what a tsunami of outrage they will bring on from the alumni if that program were ever to be eliminated.

In the other essay that stirred up your critics on campus, you laid into the way “diversity” is handled on your ostensibly Catholic college campus. In particular, you wrote: “But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it.” How have events there since you published that essay just over a month ago affected your views?

As I’ve said to people, authors don’t choose the titles for articles for Crisis Magazine; the editor does that, for the sake of “traffic” on the page. His title was a bit provocative. But everything that has happened since then has shown me, alas, that the editor saw more than I did, or more than I have been willing to admit.

The irony would seem to be obvious: “How DARE you suggest that there is a totalitarian impulse in our behavior? You should be FIRED!” And then, of course, there is the brazen cheering of the faculty when it is proposed that we should not be Catholic after all.
The strange irony of it all is that I’m the one who believes that a wide diversity of cultures and of institutions is a good thing, and they really do not. I do not WANT all colleges and universities to be basically the same; they do.

You have tenure, right? They can’t get rid of you — or can they?

I am told by a friend that I can be fired despite my tenure, though that is very unlikely.

I’ve read your forthcoming book, Out Of The Ashes: Rebuilding America Culture — and it’s terrific. You are particularly hard-hitting about the corruption of college life in America. You say it is “an absolute necessity” for faithful Christians to build new colleges because it is “not enough to reform the old.” What do you mean? Along those lines, what are the lessons of your present trial at Providence College?

Reforming the old schools will take an entire generation at least, if it is even possible; and in most cases, the reform will be spotty. Many schools are beyond reform: they are filled with professors who have disdain for the Church, and their courses in the liberal arts are thoroughly secular, and not particularly impressive intellectually, at that — how can they be, when the greatest concern of human life is systematically ignored or belittled?

Providence College can tip either way. I don’t know. My lawyer friend used to teach at PC and told me that that fight is lost. I believe it is not lost … but if I had money, I would give it straightaway to the real deals: Our Lady Seat of Wisdom (Ontario), Thomas More (NH), Wyoming Catholic, Dallas, Benedictine, etc.

What advice would you give to young Christian academics? To Christian parents preparing to send their kids to college?
It’s long past the time for administrators at Christian colleges to abandon the hiring policies that got us in this fix to begin with. We KNOW that there are plenty of excellent young Christian scholars who have to struggle to find a job. Well, let’s get them and get them right away. WE should be establishing a network for that purpose — so that if a Benedictine College needs a professor of literature, they can get on the phone to Ralph Wood at Baylor or me at Providence or Glenn Arbery at Wyoming Catholic, and say, “Do you have anybody?”

Christian parents — please do not suppose that your child will retain his or her faith after four years of battering at a secular college. Oh, many do — and many colleges have Christian groups that are terrific. But understand that it is going to be a dark time; and that everything on campus will be inimical to the faith, from the blockheaded assumptions of their professors, to the hook-ups, to the ignorance of their fellow students and their unconscious but massive bigotry. Be advised.

What would Dante say about the Christian in the contemporary university?

Fight. Be a cheerful warrior if you can be cheerful; all the better. But be a warrior.

Finally, I don’t know if you’ve read anything about my Benedict Option idea, but I found that Out Of The Ashes resonates strongly with the things I’ve been thinking and writing about. My book The Benedict Option will be out in mid-March. Your book comes out in January. Archbishop Charles Chaput has a great book, Strangers In A Strange Land, coming out in February, which says more or less the same things that you and I are saying, though in his own distinct voice. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these books are emerging independently of each other, at the same time. What’s going on in our culture now? If a Christian wishes to read the signs of the times, what message should he see?

I agree with you entirely, Rod. It is time to rebuild. There can be no more pretense of a culture around us that is Christian or that is even content with Christianity being in its midst. We must be for the world by being against the world: Athanasius contra mundum. The world is leveling every cultural institution in its path — we must save them or rebuild them from the dust, for the world’s own sake, and for God’s.

UPDATE: A reader sends the text of the anti-Esolen petition being circulated on Providence College’s campus, originating with the school’s Black Studies Program faculty:

Please Sign the Petition: Breaking the Silence

PROVIDENCE COLLEGE BLACK STUDIES PROGRAM·SATURDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2016

Breaking the Silence, Faculty Statement

As PC Faculty, we pledge to break the silence around systemic racism and discrimination on Providence College’s campus. While we vigorously support free expression, recent publications on the part of PC faculty have involved racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements. The use of this type of language by people with power over students runs counter to the Catholic mission of Providence College, which aims “to reflect the rich diversity” of our world, and “extend a loving embrace to all.” As a diverse coalition of students have consistently highlighted, such statements are part of a broader pattern of racism, sexism and other forms of hate that are all too common not only on campus, but in the broader public culture. As professors who care deeply about the wellbeing, safety, and growth of our students, we are committed to combating racism and overcoming the hostile learning environment for too many of our students, while creating spaces where all of our students can engage in meaningful ways.

The professor-student relationship is marked by a significant imbalance in power and authority. Conferred by the institutions of which we are a part, professors possess the power and authority over students to determine the content of the syllabi, assign tasks, create supportive or destructive learning environments, and evaluate student performance, and we are able to do so largely free from direct oversight. Such a large degree of academic freedom — especially the power to grade — coupled with the right to free speech comes with professional standards and responsibilities. Some professors have openly, publicly, and unabashedly articulated a disdain for racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and religious inclusion. In contrast, we the undersigned, are committed to ensuring that marginalized groups are not further marginalized in the classroom, especially when many of our students already experience multiple forms of exclusion at Providence College. Furthermore, we commit to addressing anti-immigrant and anti-black racism on campus, creating a more diverse and inclusive community, and implementing student demands (http://www.thedemands.org/).

In a political context marked by renewed attempts to divide us along racial, ethnic, and gender lines, as well as renewed protests to promote equality and justice for all, we as PC faculty think it is vital to respond to these recent examples of hateful speech and actions. Along with PC students and students across the country, we stand on the side of equality and justice, and an inclusive campus for all.

Take a look at the specific “demands” the black faculty, students, and their allies are making of Providence College’s leadership. It is shockingly illiberal, and amounts to a thoroughgoing politicization and racialization of every aspect of campus life. This stuff is Orwellian. Any college or university that yields to these tyrants ceases to be a place where true liberal learning is possible and instead becomes an ideological indoctrination factory.

Reprinted with permission from The American Conservative

Rod Dreher is a prominent conservative, more concerned with culture than with politics, who runs a blog at The American Conservative.

Catholic Colleges Define Down Their Catholic Identity

In an essay on Catholic higher education published in First Things before his death in 2009, Fr. Richard Neuhaus wrote: “When a school is haggling over its mission statement, it is a sure sign that it has already lost its way.”  While Fr. Neuhaus never taught on a Catholic campus, he understood that debating over the mission statement was just the start of the defining down of the Catholic identity itself.

Identifying the strategies that some Catholic colleges have used to redefine themselves, Fr. Neuhaus wrote that describing themselves as having been “shaped” by their “Catholic heritage,” or their “historic Catholic tradition,” was a sign that the institutions were distancing themselves from the Church.  And, he noted that some referred only to the name of the founding religious order rather than the Church itself.

For example, the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, described itself as having been “shaped by the educational mission of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.”  Ohio’s Ursuline College describes itself as offering an education, “within a Catholic tradition marked by the Ursuline heritage of educating women.” And, although the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota maintains that the college has been “dedicated as a campus community to our Roman Catholic heritage and identity,” the College distances itself from that heritage by stating that St. Catherine’s affirms the aspects of the Catholic identity that are “appropriate to higher education,” and claims that the College “values the rich and diverse history of the Church and the vision of Vatican II.”

Related: A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

While the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT describes itself as having been “founded by the Sisters of Mercy in the Roman Catholic tradition,” the “Core Values” section of their website states: “The University of St. Joseph is grounded in its heritage as a Catholic institution expressing the Catholic tradition in an ecumenical and critical manner.” And, although Stonehill College describes itself as a Catholic institution, it reassures potential students and faculty members that the College has a “long tradition of free inquiry.” Likewise, Holy Names University described itself as being “rooted in the Catholic tradition,” but the reference to the lower case spelling of “catholic” is meant to show the university’s inclusiveness—what they call the University’s “universality:”

Rooted in the Catholic tradition, Holy Names demonstrates a respect for others’ values and customs. This is evident in holiday displays that incorporate symbols for Kwanzaa, Muslim, Jewish and Christian celebrations.  Students experience the universality of a catholic education at Holy Names University.”

My own campus—Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, one of a few dozen truly faithful colleges and universities in the country—describes itself on its website and in all promotional materials as “Passionately Catholic.”  In contrast, most Jesuit colleges and universities have historically described themselves as “Jesuit institutions,” rather than Catholic colleges and universities.   But, recently, the Jesuits have defined even that identity down in what a 2014 article in Atlantic Monthly called a “major rebranding.”

The Jesuit Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri removed the word “Jesuit” from the university tagline; and Regis University in Denver, Colorado, launched a new brand campaign deleting both the words “Jesuit” and “Catholic” in the school’s definition or its brand platform. “We hide the word ‘Catholic’ from prospective students,” Regis spokesperson, Traci McBee, told an interviewer for Atlantic Monthly: “We focus on the Jesuit piece rather than the Catholic piece.  We’re able to transform a little quicker because we are not waiting for the archbishop to give us permission. We don’t have to ask the Pope when we want to make changes.”

Related: Marquette’s Reputation at Stake

While such actions may seem to be a drastic departure from the Catholic identity of each of these schools—and a refusal to acknowledge the mission of Catholic higher education as articulated in Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae—the truth is that when one visits the websites of each of these Jesuit institutions, there is no question of their commitment to helping students become “men and women for and with others” in terms of addressing poverty and social justice.

The ideological commitment to social justice has not only become institutionalized on Jesuit campuses, it has also reached far beyond the twenty-eight Jesuit campuses to the majority of the more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Such a commitment can be noble, but sometimes the commitment to social justice can become so distorted that it requires a pro-choice perspective on abortion, or women’s ordination—both counter to Catholic doctrine—to ensure social justice for women.

For example, in an attempt to help create a new generation of Catholic law school graduates who are ready, willing and able to expand access to abortion through shaping public policy, and defend organizations like Planned Parenthood, Law Students for Reproductive Justice now have chapters at the following Catholic University law schools: De Paul, Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola (Los Angeles), Loyola (Chicago), Santa Clara, Seattle, St. Louis University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and Villanova.  The Cardinal Newman Society has also documented that many Catholic colleges and universities provide undergraduate student internship credit for volunteering to function as clinic escorts at Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities.

The movement away from evangelization and toward social justice is reflected in the mission statements on each of the Jesuit campuses and is increasingly part of the mission statement of the more than two hundred non-Jesuit Catholic colleges and universities. Sometimes the social justice mission is reflected in the campus itself. The newest building on the Sacred Heart University campus in Fairfield, CT has been named Jorge Bergoglio Hall.  An enormous residence building in the heart of campus, Bergoglio Hall stands across the street from Angelo Roncalli Hall—a residence for first-year students.  

Neither building has any indication that the buildings are named for the papal leaders of the Catholic Church, and it is likely that some students have no idea who Angelo Roncalli is. But, in a two-sentence explanation on an obscure page on the Sacred Heart website, students can find that “Jorge Bergoglio is the birth name of Pope Francis…his views align perfectly with our mission to instill in our students and other members of the SHU community with a deep sense of the Catholic intellectual tradition and its emphasis on social justice.”

A similar entry on the website reads that “Angelo Roncalli is the birth name of Pope John XXIII, the “Good Pope.”  Crediting him with “radically changing the face of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century by calling the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in 1962,” both men are viewed as social justice advocates. Neither Karl Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) nor Josef Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) have been given such honors on the Sacred Heart campus.

On many Catholic campuses, the mission of social justice is a phrase with the power of a command.  During a public debate at the Jesuit St. Joseph’s College of Philadelphia, the dean of the faculty stated, “a student who did not believe in social justice would not qualify for a degree at this school.” Fairfield University’s mission statement makes the promotion of justice “an absolute requirement.” The problem with mandating a commitment to social justice is that students and faculty are often mandated to agree with the ways in which social justice is defined on campus—and beyond.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Theological Society of America awarded its most prestigious annual award to University of San Diego theologian Orlando Espin, a theologian whose work was lauded by the CTSA as having “wrestled with problems associated with the historical and contemporary legacies of colonization, slavery, racism, and prejudice against LGBT persons.” In accepting his award, Espin thanked his husband of eight years.  Expanding access to marriage for same sex couples is viewed as part of the commitment to social justice on many Catholic campuses—despite Catholic teachings to the contrary.

Still, a commitment to social justice, without a commitment to teaching students about the Church’s natural law foundation for social justice makes a Catholic education no more distinctive than a secular education.  In 2013, concluding that his alma mater “takes pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful,” William Peter Blatty, author of the best-selling book, The Exorcist filed a Canon Law petition with the Vatican asking that Georgetown University be denied the right to call itself Catholic. Calling Georgetown a “Potemkin Village,” Blatty complained that “at alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement.” Others have filed similar lawsuits. Whether the Vatican chooses to respond remains uncertain.