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Sunday, November 25, 2012

What to Do with Dissenting Catholic Schools?

What to Do with
Dissenting Catholic Schools?

It’s no secret that there are a number of Catholic institutions – schools, hospitals, charities – that have some problem with being Catholic.  They’re often happy to have the name, prestige and money that come from Church support, but they want nothing to do with actually operating by Catholic principles.
This is why Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix is one of my heroes.  When St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix’s ethics committee approved an abortion and persisted in defending that decision, which clearly violated the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Bishop Olmsted severed the hospital’s ties with the Church and declared that it can no longer be considered a Catholic facility.
The problem is far worse in Catholic education.  Professors in Catholic higher education, particularly theology professors, are supposed to receive a mandatum, an assurance that they are teaching in accord with Catholic religious and moral teaching.  However, especially since the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” in 1967, at which many Catholic institutions of higher education declared academic freedom as an excuse to ignore Church teaching, the mandatum requirement is often ignored.
In many cases, Catholic universities refuse to disclose which theology professors have received the mandatum from their bishop, leaving parents and students completely in the dark regarding the authenticity of the “Catholic education” for which they are spending tens of thousands of dollars, or more.  (Note: The Cardinal Newman Society produces great information about which universities (and even high schools) are authentically Catholic.  More on that later in the week.)
My natural inclination would be to do what Bishop Olmsted did at St. Joseph’s.  If it is impossible to completely clean house, then cut the ties between the university and the Church.  No more masquerading as Catholic, and violating the Second Commandment in doing so; no more deceiving Catholic families that place their trust in these schools.
But I heard an interesting opinion on the other side, most notably argued by Catholic writer Phil Lawler.  He suggests that we should not sever the relationship between Church and dissident school because as long as the Church still has the school, there is hope for reform and renewal.  If we can return these schools to their Catholic heritage, they can be a force for cultural change.  If we cut ties, they become secular wastelands.
It is an interesting point that caused me to rethink my position and give the issue more consideration.  However, while I still see the merits in the argument, I have personally returned to my original opinion.
A look at the news this past year gives indication as to why.  Barack Obama has launched an attack on religious freedom, specifically aimed at the Church.  As the bishops have fought for our liberties, and millions of Catholics have stood up to be heard, we have been fed statistics meant to make the issue seem like a non-issue, and make the bishops look like a bunch of stodgy men totally out of touch with everyday Catholics.
We are told how many Catholics use contraception or disagree with Church teaching on the issue.  We hear that abortion and sterilization are not major issues for most Catholics.  And we are treated to statements from dissenting “theologians” that seem to support those “facts.”
As Catholics, we are not taken seriously in the United States – not by the government, not by our fellow Christians, not by unbelievers, not even by ourselves.  We have blended in.  We vote like everyone else, we live like everyone else, and we sin like everyone else.  “Catholic” is a box we check on demographic surveys, but it is not considered a characteristic that can predict who we really are.
This has to change.  We are members of the Body of Christ; we are His bride; we have been blessed with His Faith.  And we have become a joke. 
I heard (faithful) Catholic professor Michael Barber encourage a group of people not to feel hopeless about our culture because 2,000 years ago the Roman Empire was mired in the Culture of Death more than the United States is now, and it was transformed by the Catholic Church.  He made a good point, but in the first few Christian centuries, the Church spoke with one voice.  It still does, as far as her teachings go, but we now have a cacophony of dissenting voices drowning out the Lord, whereas the earliest Catholics literally died to be faithful.
That is why I think the pretenders need to go.  There are certainly wonderful professors, priests and administrators at all these schools, but it is the theology professor who expends his energy undermining Humanae Vitae that makes the HHS mandate possible.  It is the school president who schedules pro-homosexual marriage plays that is leading the charge to redefine marriage.  It is the Catholic authors who knowingly attack the Church’s position on human life that have the blood of millions on their hands.
If we want to be relevant, we don’t have to be bigger; we have to be consistent.  If Catholic schools don’t want to be Catholic, let them go.  When we stand together for something, for Christ, then we will be able to make a difference.  Until then, there is no “Catholic voice” in the United States.  It’s just noise.  At least that’s my opinion.
Thank God for our courageous bishops who have not backed down in the face of this most urgent threat.  And as always, my position about cutting loose non-Catholic Catholic schools is a matter of responding to the sin, not judging the sinner.  Regardless of what one thinks we should do about dissenting universities, the one thing we can all agree on is that we must pray for them.  

God of truth, convert the hearts of dissenting theologians, give clarity to the minds of Catholics who refuse to listen to the teaching You have given Your Church, turn all Catholic institutions into lights that can lead our culture back to You, and convert my own stubborn heart so that I might never contradict the Truth I believe with my life.  Amen.