Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can this school be saved part 4: Mission Control

Below is the last installment of the story I wrote for Creative Minority Report about Seton Hall University. Comments are now open. I link to the newspaper articles I used for sources. Here are parts one, two, and three.

At the beginning of this series, I said that there seems to be a battle going on for the university’s soul: a battle between Catholic thought and values and those of the secular world. It’s human nature to want to draw clear lines and assign parts in this drama: “liberal” faculty forces vs. a “conservative” archbishop, or the money a Division 1 sports program can bring in vs. goodness and integrity. I’m not so sure that accurately depicts what’s going on here.

The university has a lot going for it in terms of “orthodoxy cred.” The Office of Mission and Ministry at the University seems to be trying to do a lot of good things, overseeing: The Catholic Center for Family Life and Spirituality, The G.K. Chesteron Institute for Faith and Culture, the Institute for Christian Spirituality, and others.

What I think we have at Seton Hall is a split-personality disorder. There seems to be a culture there that doesn’t recognize that to be intellectually honest and rigorous and truly Catholic are not mutually exclusive things. The Seminary and the Mission and Identity haven’t been successful in permeating the entire culture at Seton Hall.

What Seton Hall needs to do, and it is not too far gone to do, is to examine itself through the lens of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education (In its press packet, the Cardinal Newman Society has a good breakdown of the guidelines and analysis of what has happened at Catholic colleges in the United States in the 20 years since Ex Corde was published.). Seton Hall doesn’t seem to have truly embraced the following:

“A Catholic university, as Catholic, informs and carries out its research,
teaching, and all other activities with Catholic ideals, principles and
attitudes. …Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university
activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully
respected. Any official action or commitment of the university is to be in
accord with its Catholic identity.”

Catholic ideals, principles, and attitudes are not being reflected across the board at Seton Hall. Catholic attitudes and principles were not on display during the coaching tenure of Bobby Gonzalez. Having a priest sit on your bench during games (like the team chaplain, Msgr. Liddy does) doesn’t mean that your coach and his or her players are living Catholic attitudes and principles, and it doesn’t make up for distinctly un-Christian behavior.

Can a course on gay marriage be offered at a Catholic university that is living up to Catholic ideals, principles, and actions? Can such a course be offered in a completely balanced way, showing how the Church teaches that people who self-identify as gay must be treated with dignity and respect and are called, just like every other human being, to live a chaste life within God’s ordered creation and that the Church teaches that gay marriage goes against the natural law? It’s hard to imagine that an openly gay professor who has advocated for the gay lifestyle would be able to accomplish this.

This struggle between the secular forces and Catholic mission forces is very evident in the failed search for a replacement for Msgr. Robert Sheeran this past year. Based on Msgr. Swetland’s background and his involvement with EWTN’s “Catholicism on Campus,” one might conclude that Msgr. Swetland might try to guide Seton Hall into a place where it resides more firmly within Ex Corde’s guidelines. Some have seen in Swetland’s candidacy the hand of Archbishop Myers trying to bring Seton Hall closer to Ex Corde.

What can the Archbishop do about Seton Hall University? The truth is, Archbishop Myers can do very little in an overt way, so there is no smackdown on the way. The Archdiocese does not own Seton Hall, even though it is a diocesan university. Archbishop Myers does sit on two very important boards, but he doesn’t have absolute control over them. He can advocate and he can preach, but he does not have direct control over the daily happenings at the University. That is the job of the President.

What can we, Jane and Joe Catholic sitting in the pews, do to save not just this Catholic university, but all Catholic colleges and universities in danger of losing their souls? First, we must pray. We must ask the intercession of the saints in whose names these schools were founded for the conversion of the campuses. We must pray for the clergy and religious who are running these schools. We must pray for those who are trying to effect positive change at these schools. We must pray for lukewarm souls to be set on fire for Christ once again.

If we are alumni of these Catholic colleges in trouble, we must make our feelings known and vote with our wallets. We need to show the people on the boards and the presidents of these colleges that following the guidelines of Ex Corde means something to us and that we will either give or withhold giving based on how well they do that.

We also need to understand what following the guidelines established by Ex Corde means. People tend to focus on the mandatum oath, whose theology professors have taken it and whose haven’t (From Ex Corde: Catholic theologians “are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.” Every professor of Catholic theology must have a “mandate” (mandatum) from the local bishop, as required in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.”). While the mandatum is crucial, it’s only one part of the guidelines and isn’t a guarantee of a holistically Catholic college. The National Catholic Register/Faith and Family Magazine College survey is an excellent resource which asks the colleges to self- report on all of the guidelines established by Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The Newman Guide is indispensable in helping Catholic families choose a Catholic College.

Finally, we need to support the bishops who are working to clean these colleges up. We need to encourage them with cards, letters and emails, and we especially need to pray for them. Our bishops need to know that we think that Catholic colleges and universities are important to all the faithful, to our country, and to the world. Our bishops need to know that we believe that the colleges and universities who would call themselves Catholic need to project a strong Catholic identity for the world to see.

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