Thursday, April 17, 2008

Benedict on Academic Freedom

As I personally expected, Pope Benedict's message to Catholic educators and university presidents today was a beautiful, eloquent exposition of the mission of Catholic education. There was no scolding here, no recounting of problems, as plentiful as they might be in Catholic universities in America. But the pope did address the pertinent issues of "academic freedom and Catholic character," the terms of the debate often employed here at ND.

Find below the two paragraphs on this particular issue. I encourage everyone to read the entire message over at Whispers in the Loggia.

In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.

UPDATE: Jenkins' Response, c/o News & Information.

Benedict reaffirmed the “great value of academic freedom” while also saying that “any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.”

Father Jenkins said he appreciated the pope, himself a former university professor, drawing the distinction between “providing a forum where various views can be expressed and promoting views.”

Father Jenkins said that rather than focus on specifics, Benedict spoke at a higher level about the importance of truth and the dangers of moral relativism in our society.

“The talk was about the harmony of faith and reason and how faith that leads to truth can even reinforce a commitment to reason and its pursuit of truth,” Father Jenkins said. “He spoke at that kind of high level.

“He seemed to be worried about the challenges in society: of secularization; of putting religious belief on the margins; of a moral relativism that denies any objective reality. Those seemed to be the deep worries he has, and it is the deep role of Catholic institutions to be a beacon to proclaim the truth and the objectivity to moral claims. That was the thrust of his speech, and it’s our role to uphold those at Catholic institutions.”


Dan Amiri said...

If this university believes it can continue to proceed without taking the time to seriously evaluate the Pope's statements, we will likely face the most difficult time in Notre Dame's history, the crux of which will be the next statement of Fr. Jenkins, which in turn either will take into account that he is acting now for or against the Church as represented by the Pope or will simply overlook the statement, effectively separating this Catholic University from any obligations it has precisely a Catholic university.

The Pope's statements, so clear and vivid, saying everything but "Vagina Monologues," forces this decision upon the University. There truly is no opportunity to ignore it, a bombshell in this beloved world of "academic freedom." Let no one be persuades; the University must respond.

Anonymous said...

A remarkably able comment on the Pope's words. When you contrast the Pope's words with the drivel in the WSJ, apparently cleared with our numbskull trustees, it is apparent that the Pope knows what he is talking about and Notre Dame does not. Father Jenkins inherited a bad hand and one almost feels sorry for his having to be the mouthpiece for that failed policy and playing cards that don't trump anything.