Friday, September 19, 2008

Part of the problem, perhaps?

I'm perusing Fr. Jenkins 2008 Address to the Faculty, which he delivered on Tuesday. (Full text available here) I have plenty of thoughts, questions, and comments...but was curiously struck by this point he made towards the end, introducing his comments on ND's initiatives regarding energy sustainability, especially the upcoming ND Forum:

The proper activity of a Catholic University, wrote Pope John Paul II, is: (and I quote): “Learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better.” Our ability to serve humanity is magnified many times over by the knowledge and discovery that comes with scholarly and educational excellence. And we serve humanity better, when we make a point of engaging humanity’s deepest problems.

Fr. Jenkins is here quoting
Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities that is often referenced by critics of the administration on issues such as academic freedom and Catholic faculty hiring. It's promising that the University President is citing it. But it's probably helpful to put Fr. Jenkins' selective quote of Pope John Paul II in context. The Holy Father wrote:

For many years I myself was deeply enriched by the beneficial experience of university life: the ardent search for truth and its unselfish transmission to youth and to all those learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better.

It is clear to me that the Holy Father did not regard "learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better" as
the proper activity of a Catholic university, as Fr. Jenkins said. In this sentence, "learning to think rigorously" doesn't even stand alone as an activity--it is a modifier, describing "youth" and "all those" who are part of a university community. More importantly, John Paul II puts truth first in his account of what he finds to be most beneficial in Catholic university life. Indeed, the ardent search for truth is stressed in this part of the introduction to Ex Corde, and it remains the focus of the document.

The mission of a Catholic university is not to attempt vaguely to "serve humanity better," but to transmit the truth to the whole world, and thereby "serve humanity"! Every university these days is trying to solve humanity's deepest problems, but as a Catholic university--as the truly great Catholic university Jenkins would have us be--we must make a
unique contribution as we offer solutions to these issues.

Perhaps this portion of
Ex Corde is most relevant in speaking about how ND might make a unique contribution to the raging scientific debates of our day:

In the world today, characterized by such rapid developments in science and technology, the tasks of a Catholic University assume an ever greater importance and urgency. Scientific and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that the new discoveries be used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole. If it is the responsibility of every University to search for such meaning, a Catholic University is called in a particular way to respond to this need: its Christian inspiration enables it to include the moral, spiritual and religious dimension in its research, and to evaluate the attainments of science and technology in the perspective of the totality of the human person.

In this context, Catholic Universities are called to a continuous renewal, both as "Universities" and as "Catholic". For, "What is at stake is the very meaning of scientific and technological research, of social life and of culture, but, on an even more profound level, what is at stake is the very meaning of the human person"(10). Such renewal requires a clear awareness that, by its Catholic character, a University is made more capable of conducting an impartial search for truth, a search that is neither subordinated to nor conditioned by particular interests of any kind.

It seems to me that the ND Forum--among many other things--would take shape very differently if we honestly strove to follow the guidelines set forth by Pope John Paul II regarding the proper activity of a Catholic university.

And it also strikes me as very indicative of the state we are in that the "ardent search for truth" is seen as
secondary in importance to thinking rigorously, acting rightly, and serving humanity better--or taken out of the equation altogether.



Dan Amiri said...

I want to hear Fr. Jenkin's respond to this. He really needs to stop distorting Church teaching. He did it with Benedict too, when he came to the United States.

Ben said...

Looks like another groundbreaking ND forum where ND gets a bunch of people who all agree with each other to have a "dialogue" on the fashionable issue of the day so we can all pat ourselves on the back and feel important.

And how can you have an energy forum without T. Boone Pickens? Seriously.

Darragh said...

After I read this post, I had another jenkins dream. He was saying mass for Gaudete Sunday (the vestments were pink) and in the middle of mass he started taking candy from the children. I forgot how he justified it.