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Lost At Sea: Consensus In Catholic Higher Education

Recently, I came across an announcement that truly troubled me, not only as a Catholic, but also as a grandmother whose grandchildren will one day be attending college. The news was that on November 11, at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California,  legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, also a dissident Catholic,  was scheduled to give the 13th annual Newman C. Eberhardt Lecture.

Lest we have so quickly forgotten, Kmiec is a "Catholic" who argued for months prior to the election that a Catholic could in good conscience vote for Barack Obama. 

He did this much to the chagrin of faithful prelates like Archbishop Charles Chaput,  persisted right up until Election Day and apparently continues the campaign even now.

Kmiec wrote a small tome entitled Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama. The book is simply an extension of his many articles on the subject, in which he repeatedly states, as though he were an authority of sound mind,

Catholics will note that McCain and Huckabee's pro-life postures collapse when it comes to the death penalty . . .  Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural. Anyone seeking “liberty and justice for all” really can't be satisfied with racially segregated public schools that don't teach.

Blah, blah, blah!

Clearly, Kmiec relegates the act of murdering a preborn child in cold blood to nothing more than one of many debate topics that happen to include the death penalty, immigration, poverty and so forth. He does not see Obama's total embrace of aborting real children with real identity as anything more than a different way of approaching this one "issue." Commentaries such as his make me sick, and believe me, Kmiec has received the press to prove that when it comes to undermining Catholic teaching and misleading Catholics in profoundly disturbing ways, Kmiec is the new leader of the “anti-Catholic Catholic” movement in America.

But what is really astounding is that any Catholic college, let alone seminary, would roll out the red carpet for him and feature him and his brand of dissent from Church teaching for one and all to hear. As one immensely popular Catholic leader said to me, "Corrupt the students, corrupt the priests. It's diabolical!" And since that comment came from none other than Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors the state of Catholic higher education and works diligently to keep its institutions authentically Catholic, I really sat up and took notice. He is right, you know, in more ways than one.

Let's face it, the fact of the matter is that regardless of his new place in the sun, Douglas Kmiec is publicly dissenting from Church teaching and should not be rewarded for it by any organization or educational institution. Even though the National Catholic Reporter has suggested that Kmiec could be Obama's Vatican ambassador, the fact remains: Kmiec's brand of Catholicism is an insult to the believing Catholics with whom I rub elbows, not to mention Christ and His teachings.

When I sent the news item about St. John's Seminary to Professor Dianne Irving, she reminded me that this problem of dissenters having center stage at Catholic colleges and universities is really nothing new, but rather a symptom of moral relativism, the cancer that is eating away at the Church in America today in so many ways.

In her article, "Ex Corde Georgiopolitam: The Many or the One?", Irving examined the particular question of Georgetown University's efforts in the late 90s to define the university as a melting pot of ideas rather than a solidly Catholic institution. Her comments can apply, however, to many Catholic institutions today, and they tell us what is wrong with announcements like St. John's, where welcoming dissent appears to be the "Catholic" thing to do! Her analysis of what "Catholic identity" can mean in this era of attempting to elasticize unchangeable Church teachings informs the reader that efforts to democratize the magisterial teachings of the Church

would often seem to place the Jesuit and Catholic “traditions” alongside of the many other “voices,” opinions, traditions and belief systems already defining the relativistic academic melting pot on the GU campus. It would simply [be] allowed to be only one of many “opinions” informing the bright and inquiring students and university community, rather than have the University be defined as specifically and essentially “Catholic,” embracing all academic knowledge under one umbrella of truth informed by faith. They thus fail to see the reason for the fragmentation of learning which this relativism entails, nor “holistic” concerns as really something much deeper than just “social justice.”

Her profound insights apply to the Kmiec lecture at St. John's Seminary in ways that should lead each of us to reexamine what it is our own children and grandchildren are learning in places publicly identified as Catholic, but may actually be something quite different than what we had expected.
My hope is that the fullness of truth makes a comeback in Catholic academia and that it arrives sooner rather than later. For after all, nobody is forced to send a child to a Catholic institution, and by the same token, the institutions that claim to be Catholic should be as advertised and not something quite the opposite.

Academic freedom must not ever be equated with destroying the faith and thus potentially the soul of a young person seeking truth. The core principles of Catholic teaching are the foundation of higher learning in a Catholic institution, or at least they should be. Dr. Irving found at GU, her own alma mater
a major dearth of official Catholic teachings – leaving the students awash in confusion and intimidated by the harsh and sophisticated logic of all the other “isms” with which they were and are surrounded. That is not academic freedom, in any responsible sense of the word.

For a Catholic, truth is undeniably the same today, tomorrow and always. So why would a Catholic seminary in Cardinal Roger Mahony's archdiocese host someone like Kmiec, who is very likely to tell students and seminarians quite the opposite?

The devil is having a heyday! That's why.