Volume > Issue > "Catholic Studies": The New Catholic Ghetto

“Catholic Studies”: The New Catholic Ghetto


By Nino Langiulli | December 1998
Nino Langiulli is Professor of Philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

What makes a Catholic school Catholic? We have arrived at a most fascinating and perhaps pivotal moment in a controversy that has been growing for three decades, since the 1960s shook up all of American higher education. The great public universities surrendered their task of introducing students to the pursuit of knowledge and truth; instead they reorganized themselves as therapeutic institutions promoting a kind of illiberal millennialism and serving a clientele in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation. The great private universities followed suit, abandoning along the way their connections to the mainline Protestantism of their foundations; they converted (in George Marsden’s perfect phrase) from “Protestant establishment to established unbelief.”

The Catholic universities (apparently unaware that the schools marching so bravely forward were actually slipping sidewise off their foundations) quickly got into step. The 1967 Land O’Lakes statement (entitled “The Nature of the Catholic University”) declared the intention of the American Catholic university to pattern itself on the secular university in matters of academic freedom and governance, and to liberate itself from juridic attachment to its Catholic character.

Other important statements have followed steadily from all sides of the debate, from educators, American bishops, and the Vatican, with consultations, conferences, drafts, and revised drafts proliferating. In 1990 a papal encyclical in preparation for several years was issued under the title Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which directs that Catholic universities are to behave as follows: They are to declare publicly their Catholic identity; to make Catholic doctrine and discipline normative in their activities; to defend academic freedom and freedom of conscience within the context of Catholic teaching and the public good; to maintain solidarity with the Church and obtain consent from Church authority to employ the name “Catholic”; to require Catholics in those Catholic institutions to be loyal to, and non-Catholics to respect, Catholic doctrine and morality; to ensure the appointment of instructors with “integrity of doctrine” and “probity of life” (and to provide for the removal of instructors who are contemptuous of such criteria); to require instructors in theology to have ecclesiastical certification; and to ensure that the majority of faculty and administrators be Catholic.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae also states that these General Norms are to be promulgated concretely by the episcopal conferences in conformity with the Code of Canon Law; that is to say, the bishops are to implement the encyclical in their dioceses.

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