John Dunlap, a professor of classics at Santa Clara University, examines the collapse of the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges.
Barely two years after the close of Vatican II, in the summer of 1967, the secularization began in earnest at a meeting of 26 prominent Catholic educators in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. The consequent “Land O’Lakes Statement” declared: “The Catholic university today must be a university in the modern sense of the word…. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
In retrospect, this absurd boilerplate set the college tone for a generation of wrangling between the Vatican and a majority of the 240-odd Catholic colleges in North America. Taken literally, the statement would mean that the Catholic leaders were declaring total independence for their schools: no more pressure from accrediting agencies, donors, federal mandates, state licensing commissions, local fire marshals. We’re autonomous!
Of course, he says, it wasn’t the authority of fire marshals they were throwing off, but of the Catholic Church. They wanted to be free to disagree with whatever Church teaching they wanted in pursuit of the next thing to tickle their fancy. And it continues with even more today, a decade and more following the promulgation of Ex Corde Ecclesia which dared to define what is and is not a Catholic university.
Dunlap quotes Msgr. Ronald Knox who observed that throughout history where cliques of Christians drew themselves apart from their brother and sister Christians as a kind of elite and finally break away altogether. Knox called it the situation where “an excess of charity threatens unity.” And Dunlap sees that same situation today, especially as expressed in the mainly Jesuit higher education realm.
Now ponder this garland of committee prose in the current working paper on Catholic and Jesuit identity: “Jesuit education is distinguished by praxis, or the integration of the intellect and faith with practice and an intelligent foundation for active engagement in the promotion of social justice. It seeks a more just and humane world through personal commitment; whereas Catholic education tends to be more parochial, more doctrine-based, and less actively concerned with change.”
Notice the distinction between that which is Jesuit and that which is Catholic. Jesuit is good, Catholic is bad. And so a new Protestant sect is born.
But it’s no ordinary Protestant sect—it is one steeped in the modern world, rejecting that which makes Christianity what is—Christ himself—while adhering to what it thinks Christianity is—social justice and good works apart from Christ, or otherwise with Christ in name only. Are we seeing the rise of a new schism? What else would you call it when these same Jesuit schools are in open defiance of the bishops by refusing to ask for the mandatum or even refusing to hold to the most basic Catholic doctrines.
The difference with this schism is that it can’t be declared publicly. To do so would be to scare off the Catholic parents who send their little skulls full of mush to them in the hopes the children will receive a Catholic education “in the Jesuit tradition.” Unfortunately, too often that’s what they get, although that tradition is not as old as they think. And being more open about what has really happened would have an even worse consequence: it might scare off the deep-pocketed alumni who send them truckloads of cash in exchange for ivy-covered buildings with their names splashed across them and who keep the Jesuits ensconced in their comfortable quarters.
Perhaps the Scandal has taken so much of the time of our bishops that something like reforming the Catholic higher education system is placed on the permanent backburner. Or perhaps we can hope that with the inevitable(?) reform and housecleaning that must result from the Scandal (to the Holy Spirit, we pray!), that it will sweep up this problem along with it.