Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Catholic identity and academic freedom

The relationship between these two concepts have been much discussed over the past several weeks on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. The discussion began with a series of addresses on it given by Holy Cross Father John L. Jenkins, the school's president (go here to read the address given to Notre Dame's faculty).

Father Jenkins has now given his closing statement in the discussion. It is a statement in which he lays out principles on how topics that conflict with Catholic teaching will be discussed in a public forum on the campus in a way that promotes a substantive engagement of those who hold the contrary view with the Church.

In particular, Father Jenkins addressed future performances on the campus of the play The Vagina Monologues, which he characterized as promoting "portrayals of sexuality [that] stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, Catholic teaching on human sexuality." He said that future performances would be allowed but must happen in the context of a broad discussion of human sexuality, a discussion that must include the Catholic perspective on this topic.


Some of the individuals I’ve talked with are adamantly opposed to the performance or expression on campus of a work, play, book, or speech that contradicts Catholic teaching. To them, we must say, with all respect: "This is a Catholic university." We are committed to a wide-open, unconstrained search for truth, and we are convinced that Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture.

Others I talked to were appalled that we would raise any question about the content, message, or implications of a work of art, drama, or literature here on campus. To them, we have to say, with the same respect: "This is a Catholic university." It is founded upon our belief that love of God and neighbor are eternal teachings that give context and meaning to our search for truth. As I said, Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture, but we all have something to fear if the wider culture never engages Catholic teaching. That is why the Catholic tradition must not only inspire our worship and our service on campus; it should help shape the intellectual life of the university. Our goal is not to limit discussion or inquiry, but to enrich it; it is not to insulate that faith tradition from criticism, but to foster constructive engagement with critics.

(emphasis in original)

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