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:
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.