Editor’s note: The following are letters regarding “A renewed mission” (In Focus, July 21) by Gerard V. Bradley and Russell Shaw on the need to reform Church ministerial institutions. Below is Shaw’s response.
As one who has worked for more than 30 years in a variety of positions in three quite different Catholic institutions of higher education, I do not agree with the characterization of Bradley and Shaw.
Certainly, Catholic higher education has changed significantly in the last 50 years — as one would hope when considering a mission that relies on engagement with the world. The society in which our campuses exist and the students, families and Church that they serve all have undergone transformation, and Catholic colleges have responded to this changed world in a way true to their Catholic mission.
Notably, Bradley and Shaw overlook the constructive conversations that have taken place between Catholic campuses and their bishops. This relationship between president and bishop is central to Catholic higher education, as stated explicitly by Blessed John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The 10-year review of the U.S. application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae shows that those relationships are hardly “a tale of tension and conflict,” as the authors describe. The process was thoughtful and respectful, and led the bishops to form a working group into which they have invited Catholic college and university presidents to join with them in building upon recognized progress.
Still, some would suggest that there is no longer a meaningful difference between what is done at a Catholic university campus and the activities of a flagship public university. We invite these skeptics to come closer. Were they to do so, they would see how our campuses employ theology and philosophy as key intellectual tools for Catholic thought. They would see the importance that Catholic higher education attaches to understanding religion — in an era when consideration of this important phenomenon is largely out of bounds in the secular university. They would see the noble efforts of campus ministry teams as they advance personal spirituality, communities of worship and social justice.
Is the abandonment of existing Catholic higher education institutions really wise? The modest success of the new “orthodox Catholic” institutions suggests caution. A number of these new institutions have yet to secure a sound financial footing or regional accreditation, thus calling into question the extent to which they provide an “academically excellent education.”
Those of us who know contemporary Catholic higher education know that it engages — not avoids — the culture of America today. It offers education that fully forms the whole person, and does so with a vibrancy that is truly Catholic and truly forward looking.
— Thomas C. Mans, Ph.D., vice president, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
I have read several OSV Newsweekly articles over the past several months that contained watered down explanations of our Catholic faith, or even left me wondering what viewpoint the reader was expected to draw from a particular comment. When relating the Truth, it should always be an easy task for your writers to express what God has revealed through his Church.
A recent example struck me as a clear attempt to cast doubt into the hearts of your readers. In the In Focus, a reference to historian Charles Morris is dropped without context or footnote. I have never read such an inflammatory statement without any attempt to source or explain in detail.
I have come to expect this type of bomb- throwing statement from the mainstream media, but I was appalled that such a statement was printed with no context or backup. An entire article could be written on that one statement alone.
Please prayerfully consider every word that is printed in your newspaper.
— Mark Faas, via email
Regarding the first letter, Dr. Mans speaks as if “Catholic higher education” were a univocal term — an expression that applied to a single, homogeneous reality, all of whose component parts are essentially alike. In fact, though, “Catholic higher education” is splintered and heterogeneous. Surely, to take extreme cases, Dr. Mans does not imagine that in regard to their relationship to the magisterium, which is the central point, Georgetown University and Boston College, say, are the same as The Catholic University of America and Ave Maria University.
As for the series of conversations between Catholic university presidents and bishops, many serious people fear that in many instances this has been window dressing more than anything else. The issue is the substantive state of affairs that persists on numerous campuses, and here it appears that little or nothing has changed.
In response to the second letter, newspaper journalism is generally not footnoted. However, Bradley and I did the newspaper equivalent of footnoting in citing the source of our remarks about the significant element of deliberate intent in the undoing of the old Catholic subculture: namely, Charles Morris’ richly documented history “American Catholic.”
Our critic needs to consult Morris’ readily available book and see its careful account of what happened. If he takes the trouble to do that, the critic will come away a sadder and wiser man.
— Russell Shaw, OSV contributing editor