Catholic Identity at Catholic Universities

I’ve been keeping only one eye on the blog for the last several days because of a sudden uptick in the demands of my day job. As a result, I have not even made it through all the comments on the subject of Catholic identity at Catholic universities. However, it appears we have moved well beyond the original scope of my little blurb last week about Greg Kalscheur. Accordingly, I’m invoking editorial control to move Tim Peach’s latest comment in that thread into a new thread, here. I’m pasting Tim’s article in below, and I hope that Tim will comment first by telling us where the article came from.

Then I have to go back to my day job, but I’ll be very interested to look back in on the discussion in a day or three. Comments on the other thread, by the way, will be closed momentarily. Now: Carry on.

Bishop Crossed
Holy Cross College Continues With Planned Parenthood Event
by Gail Besse

WORCESTER, Mass. — A clash over whether Holy Cross College deserves to be called Catholic intensified when its president defied the bishop’s call to stop a Planned Parenthood/NARAL-affiliated “Preventing Teen Pregnancy” conference on campus. In spite of the college president’s assurances that the school has no affiliation with the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and that the location of the conference on campus does not mean the college was participating in it, the Register learned that the college is referring students to Planned Parenthood.

The controversial forum went on as scheduled Oct. 24 despite a forceful Oct. 10 warning from Worcester Bishop Robert McManus that the Jesuit-run school risked losing the right to “continue to be recognized as a Catholic institution.” The forum for health care professionals was held in space rented by the Alliance. It included workshops by Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, an advocate of abortion, same-sex “marriage,” cloning and tax-funded human embryonic stem-cell research, received its leadership award.

Jesuit Father Michael McFarland, the college president, said in refusing to revoke the contract, “The location of the conference in no way indicates participation by the college in the event.” He cited the school’s “mission of engaging with the larger culture.”

But Bishop McManus pointed out a Catholic institution “conducts its mission and ministry in accord with Catholic Church teaching, especially in cases of faith and morals.” The complicity of letting the event occur on campus created scandal as it fostered the perception that the administration “supports positions contrary to the fundamental moral teaching of the Church,” he added.

“To deny Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice a forum in which to present their morally unacceptable positions is not an infringement of the exercise of academic freedom but a defensible attempt to make unambiguously clear the Catholic identity and mission of the College of the Holy Cross,” said the bishop.

He made clear the stakes were high, saying “it is my pastoral and canonical responsibility to determine what institutions can properly call themselves ‘Catholic.’” According to Canon 808 of the Code of Canon Law, a diocesan bishop has that obligation: “No university, even if it is in fact Catholic, may bear the title ‘Catholic university’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.” And integral to a college’s Catholic identity is “fidelity to the Christian message in conformity with the Magisterium of the Church,” according to Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities).

Holy Cross spokeswoman Ellen Ryder said Oct. 22 that the majority of reactions the college has received supported the president’s decision.

Wheat and Weeds
But more than 800 people wrote opposing it, according to, a website organized by concerned alumni. One who swung into action was philanthropist Raymond Ruddy, who offered to pick up the $10,000 cost and all legal fees involved in canceling the event. Ruddy, a 1965 graduate who now heads the Gerard Health Foundation in Natick, Mass., made the offer in an Oct. 1 letter he sent to Fr. McFarland and Bishop McManus.

Because Catholic Charities of Boston belongs to the Alliance, Ruddy also shared this letter outlining his concerns with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other archdiocesan and agency officials. Asked whether there were plans for Catholic Charities to resign its Alliance membership, spokesmen for both the agency and Cardinal O’Malley declined to respond.

Alliance spokeswoman Patricia Quinn said Holy Cross has held the forum in past years. She speculated that more attention might have been paid to it this year because of the consortium’s “higher profile.” The Alliance actively lobbied against abstinence education in public schools, and with Patrick’s help, defeated the state’s chance to receive a $700,000 federal grant. Quinn was “surprised by the controversy.”

Emily Turner, co-chairwoman of Holy Cross Students for Life, didn’t buy that claim. “We’re talking about human lives here,” she said in an Oct. 8 e-mail to Father McFarland. “It’s not by accident that Planned Parenthood will be here — and what a triumph it will be for them to be able to say, once again, that they made it on to supposed pro-life territory.”

In his Oct. 8 response, Father McFarland said Turner was viewing the Alliance “simplistically” and cited Catholic Charities’ affiliation with it.

The 19-year-old Louisville, Ky., sophomore and a small band of her peers displayed a “cemetery of the innocents” near the forum. She said in an interview, “It’s one thing to say, ‘Don’t pull up the wheat with the weeds.’ It’s another thing to invite a poisonous vine to infiltrate your field and strangle the fruits of your labor.”

Although Holy Cross denies any affiliation with Planned Parenthood, the school’s website does list that agency’s Worcester phone number as a referral for testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The U.S. bishops’ 2001 Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States says, “It is important for Catholic universities to implement in practical terms their commitment to the essential elements of Catholic identity, including the commitment to provide health care in conformity with the Church’s ethical and religious teaching and directives.”

Jesuit Superior General Peter Hans Kolvenbach was once quoted by Father Richard John Neuhaus as saying “For some [Jesuit] universities, it is probably too late to restore their Catholic character.” The campus newspaper barred an advertisement about an Oct. 23 counter-forum held at Worcester’s St. Paul Cathedral. That forum, “Preventing Teen Pregnancy: the Catholic Approach,” was organized by alumni, the diocese and the Cardinal Newman Society, which seeks to renew Catholic higher education. Dawn Eden, director of the Newman Society’s Love & Responsibility Program, detailed how chastity offers a better solution than condoms. She outlined steps Catholic colleges should take to promote Catholic values on sexuality.

“Obviously, bringing Planned Parenthood and a pro-abortion politician to campus is not the way to do this,” Eden said. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities declined comment on the controversy, but the Massachusetts Catholic Action League labeled the event “a callous insult to faithful pro-life Catholics struggling to protect the unborn.” League Director C.J. Doyle said it “remains to be seen what action” the bishop and cardinal with take. “It seems that the leadership of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts is in for a time of testing.”

19 Responses to “Catholic Identity at Catholic Universities”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    Sorry about that — it’s out of the National Catholic Register.

  2. David Fitzgerald Says:

    I took the liberty of purusing the course offerings in Holy Cross’ Department of Religious Studies course catalogue and came across this offering, Religious Studies 229 – Paul the Apostle,

    Click to access religious_studies.pdf

    Fortunately for Fr. McFarland and Bishop McManus (there really is nothing like a good ol’ Irish clan dust up for galactic stupidity) this course is offered in the Spring which means its going on now. Suggest they take a stroll over to the seminar when they cover this text:

    Assuming the National Catholic Register has its reporting right (probably a big assumption), they both need a refresher on Christian charity, especially as exercised by those in authority. The article posted by Tim really gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s great to see Christians drawing lines and being self-reverential and overly protective of their own rights and prerogatives. When Holy Cross offers the course on unlove, perhaps the President and His Excellency can team teach it?

    While I’m recommending this seminar as a form of adult education, perhaps Director Doyle (another Irishman spoiling for a fight, God preserve us) can join the President and the Bishop when the professor covers this:, particularly verses 4-7.

    It most certainly has to be the Lord’s Church or it NEVER would have lasted this long.

  3. Timothy Peach Says:

    David, any chance you might be on hand when they cover this?:

    Until we try to leave the extreme endpoints of this domain, we’re not really having a rational discussion. The answer to every complaint about university behavior can’t be that we must tolerate everything in the name of civility and charity.

    Christian charity never meant turning a blind eye to immorality and apostasy, any more than loving your children ever meant letting them eat chocolates and destroy the furniture all day long.

    The Worcester bishop is simply doing his job. How do you expect him to react? If my boss came out to the desk and I had my pants down and an open bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand, it’d be great if he found a way to get me into a closed office before he ripped my head off, but does Christian charity really require him to give me a hug and find a way to fit my behavior into the employee handbook?

    How, as an example, do you reconcile the story of Christ’s dealing with the moneychangers in the temple with your position here?

    Or is that it? Catholic Universities can countenance any direct affront to Church doctrine on the grounds that we must love each other? Would you be saying this if the chair in theology at BC had been offered to a fascist?

  4. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Back to Corinthians in a moment.

    You say, “the answer to every complaint….can’t be that we must tolerate everything in the the name of … charity.” One could argue that this is precisely what the Christian life demands. I guess it depends on what you mean by “tolerate.” Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that a Christian must view every circumstance through the prism of charity. The Christian, when evaluating the actions of another, is called to assume the best about their motives, give them the benfit of the doubt, view their actions in the best possible light, all the while with a rigorous eye for pride, prejudice and unlove in their own conduct and attitude. After that exacting and generous evaluation, if sin is found, the Christian is further called to approach the sinner with compassion and with a view toward redemption and reconciliation, rather than punishment. Recall, if you will, the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son.

    I admit to a bit of a disadvantage around the current situation at Holy Cross, as the only facts I have are the one’s you posted. It seems to me, from that meager report, that no one in authority seems to have taken the approach outlined above towards the other. This Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy appears to be an umbrella organization dedicated to addressing that particular ill. Apparently, both Catholic Charities and Planned Parenthood deem it worthwhile to both support and draw support from The Alliance in furtherance of their work. Setting the PP connection aside just for a second, CC is perhaps the finest charitable organization in the world with an almost unimpeachable reputation for doing good without scandal. Given their support for the Alliance, that body must be doing some good to prevent and improve the lot of those who fall victim to teen pregnancy.

    Would it not have been better perhaps, for Bishop McManus to start there? To presume that Holy Cross, along with CC, was working to sow the seeds of the Gospel as widely as possible? I note that Cardinal O’Malley has not yet weighed in on the controversy or CC’s role in it, perhaps a bit of silence here is golden until all the facts are in? Of course, Fr. McFarland is also to blame. Perhaps he should have had an eye for the scandal he might cause the faithful, especially the young and impressionable faithful at his college givewn the close affiliation of the Alliance with PP? Were their steps he could have taken to minimize that scandal, while at the same time furthering the charitable purpose of the event? Further, was it really helpful to throw up a positively Clintonian defense that holding the event did not equal support for it? Was it necessary to antagonize the bishop with the knowingly provocative “engaging the larger culture” soundbite? Then there are the purer than snow HC alumni, with Mr. Ruddy in the lead, who determined that the Catholic response was to fund a competing conference. Is it so hard to detect the stench of self-satisfaction in that action? I would have been far more impressed if Mr. Ruddy met with CC in secret and asked how his ten grand could be used to ease the plight of Worcester’s teenage mothers. Instead, he grabbed a headline.

    Which brings us back nicely to the passage you cite in Corinthians. What Paul is really on about is the fact that the church in Corinth has become so very satisfied with itself. “Look how much better and purer we are than the pagans around us,” seems to be their attitude. Paul, as only he can, cuts them off at the knees. “What are you so puffed up about? I hear that one of you is sleeping with his stepmother! I never heard of a pagan doing that! Clean up your own act before you look down your noses at the pagans.” Yes, he does deal briefly with how to treat the sinner in question, he needs to be expelled from the community. However, Paul offers that as a necessary step to the sinner’s redemption. It is, imperfectly yes, Paul is only human, an attempt at an act of love. To focus on that however, I think misses the larger point of the chapter.

  5. Timothy Peach Says:

    A few quick retorts:

    – The Prodigal Son, upon his return, was repentant. The wayward in this case are the polar opposite: defiant. No fatted calf would have been killed had the Prodigal Son behaved that way on his return.

    – Catholic Charities of Boston withdrew from the conference (or so my Googling indicates). They may not have liked it, but they are at least respectful of the Magisterium.

    – I agree with you that the two (or three) of them should have sat down and talked the thing out. But we don’t know what the precursors were to this blowup.

    – We’re all free to take from Paul what we will, and some filter is required to divide through by the cultural climate of the day. But for me, there is a clear message there that is echoed elsewhere in scripture: the faithful have a duty to police themselves, and correcting an errant Catholic is a solemn duty of other Catholics. When it’s about using the wrong fork for the salad, the correction should be rather gentle. When it’s about providing a forum for those who want to advocate an unspeakable evil, I think you can feel comfortable getting right to the point.

    I’d really like to hear the thoughts of some others now. David and I have created some pretty wide goal posts for you to kick your stuff through.

  6. Mark Grannis Says:

    I’ll have more to say about Catholic identity later, but for now I just have to say that I am shocked by Fitz’s reading of the scripture cited by Tim. If I understand Fitz correctly, he is implying that words in Chapter 5 of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth have to be understood in the context of other words that appear in Chapter 4. In fact, my brief inquiry into the matter suggests that Fitz’s interpretation has roots in Chapters 1, 2, and 3 as well. As any orthodox Catholic worshiper knows, Chapters 1 through 5 are much too long to be read all together just after the Psalm on any given Sunday, so I find it very hard to believe that I am supposed to interpret them all together. In fact, I am scandalized and outraged by the claim that the way the Church’s lectionary presents them to us is not the best of all possible ways to understand them. What next? Riots in the streets? Dogs and cats living together? Catholics against teen pregnancy?

  7. Timothy Peach Says:

    Congratulations! You have created a completely new discipline — Digital Scriptural Interpretation.

    Here’s how it works. You take a section of scripture, and you try to find the single message it contains. Because each section contains, by definition, only one message. Once that message is identified, all other potential messages in that section are invalidated.

    An example: You should be nice to everyone, and show up for Church on Sundays.

    Clearly it’s important to be nice to everyone. That, in fact, has to be more important than showing up for Church on Sundays. As a result, there is no need to show up for Church on Sundays.

    I mean, come on, there’s no way Paul was trying to say two things at one time. That would be a direct violation of Digital Scriptural Interpretation.

    We should all be on guard against the temptation of the use of scripture as backfill to our personal conclusions, unless we’re pretty sure that our motivations are reasonably pure. In my case, the conclusions aren’t personal — I’m deferring to authority.

  8. Mark E. Says:

    It’s not new. Fundamentalist protestants have been doing Digital Scriptural Interpretation for years – with Bibles and their index fingers.

  9. Mark Grannis Says:

    It’s always dicey coming back to a comment thread after everyone else has been silent for a while, because one wonders whether anyone still cares. But I do feel moved to add my thoughts. The topic is important to me for purely autobiographical reasons, but it obviously elicits strong feelings in others as well. That makes it an interesting topic for a blog devoted to civility in the discussion of public controversies. Furthermore, I disagree pretty strongly with some of the assumptions that are implicit in the charges of “apostasy” here, and I would like to think that if we uncover these assumptions most of us will reject them. And if not, well, maybe something else will happen, just as good or better.

    Regarding the Holy Cross case, I confess that I still don’t get it. As far as I can tell, Holy Cross rented space to an alliance of Catholic and non-Catholic groups who wanted to come together for the purpose of holding a conference to end teen pregnancy. As far as I can tell, the focus really was teen pregnancy, and there is no reason to think that NARAL or Planned Parenthood corrupted Catholic youth; at least there is no more reason to think that than there is to think that Holy Cross or Catholic Charities converted some non-Catholics from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. So if those are the facts, I would like to know exactly where Holy Cross went wrong. Is the claim really that a Catholic university should not rent space to groups who reject Catholic teaching on abortion? Or is it just that, regardless of the underlying merits, a Catholic university should do whatever the local bishop says, even when it comes to more or less administrative functions like facility rental? If it’s the former, is there anything that Catholics and non-Catholics can tackle together, or is there always something wrong with joint action where non-Catholics are involved? Or is there just some unwritten per se rule about cooperating with NARAL and Planned Parenthood?

    I’m also wondering about the alternative event by the Newman Society: Was it really about teen pregnancy? If so, was that something the Newman Society was doing before they saw the opportunity to stick it to Holy Cross? Were the people who attended the Newman Society event trying to fight teen pregnancy, or were they mostly just fighting Holy Cross? Was it effective? What would have been more attractive to a skeptical onlooker with questions about the Christian faith: the doctrinal fervor at the Newman Society event, or the openness and toleration at the Alliance event? It seems to me we should want to know some of these things before we make any judgments about which response is the more authentically Catholic one. Otherwise, we’re judging the two approaches not by what they do, but by what they condemn; not by what they say, but by what they refuse to listen to.

    And that, really, is my biggest problem with the perennial question whether this or that Catholic university is “Catholic enough” — it always seems to me to imply that one can’t be sufficiently Catholic without condemning — loudly — an awful lot of what other people do and say. Even worse, the criticism generally focuses on the black marks while paying no attention whatsoever to the good things that are happening on those campuses. Even on this blog, in fact, unambiguously good news about the vitality of Catholic teaching at one Catholic university became the occasion for charges of “apostasy.” Think about that: apostasy! A renunciation of the faith! We could overlook the word choice as inexact or hyperbolic, except that the word actually means exactly what the factions I (uncharitably — mea culpa) describe as Uber-Catholics really mean: They really mean that universities cease to be Catholic by not condemning certain things strongly enough. Yet we don’t generally say that the only authentically Catholic response to an unjust war (for example) is to withhold his taxes, or get arrested at the Pentagon. In fact, we don’t say Jones ceases to be a Catholic even when he fights in an unjust war. Nor do we say that Jones ceases to be a Catholic when he questions Church teaching about just war. We certainly don’t say that Smith ceases to be a Catholic by renting an apartment to Jones, just because Jones has heterodox views about just war.

    Of course, the Church does sometimes declare people insufficiently Catholic. I’m no canon lawyer, but excluding others from the community of the faithful looks like a tricky business to me and I’m glad it’s not left to the Worcester Newman Society. The same Church that taught me to reject the culture of death also teaches me to say at each Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” — and then to go ahead and receive Him anyway. A priest in my parish has referred several times to a previous church that had a banner across the front of the church reading, “Sinners welcome.” They are, aren’t they? [Correction: I should have written, “We are, aren’t we?”] And if a church doesn’t cease to be Catholic by welcoming sinners, why should a university? How does Holy Cross’s contract with the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy differ from Jesus’ dinner with Zacchaeus? It seems to me it’s hard to read through the New Testament and come away with the idea that the main point, the Really Important Thing, is to toe the line.

    Of course, we are supposed to toe the line, and welcoming sinners should be the beginning rather than the end of the story. But as far as I can tell, there is no single, all-purpose Catholic method for effecting repentance and conversion. Looking at passages like the ones cited by Tim and Dave — as well as Galatians 6:1, Mt 18:15-17, Mt 7:2-5, and many others — I conclude that even saints have taken different approaches in their dealings with those who strayed from the narrow path of righteousness. And if that’s a fair reading of the early Church, then perhaps we should not be surprised if people within the Church do not all agree about this today. For one thing, not every errant Catholic (or wayward non-Catholic) will respond in the same way. Some may respond better to the muscularity in Tim’s “tough love,” but others may be repelled by that approach. Some may be grateful for the gentleness and humility in Dave’s approach, but others may infer that the teaching must not be very important if one is free to reject it and still be a Catholic. And of course it is almost surely an oversimplification to present these as two types; the reality is probably more like a spectrum, albeit with two poles.

    I don’t know enough about Catholic colleges to name names, but if reputation is any guide then it is safe to say that they are distributed across the spectrum in much the same way. I assume all Catholic schools draw students into contact with the rich traditional teaching of the Church, and I assume all Catholic schools also present ideas that contradict Church teaching. Where they differ, I assume, is in the certitude with which the Catholic position is presented as true and in the degree to which contrary positions are treated as legitimate topics for exploration. These strike me as differences of pedagogy, and maybe even differences of manners, but I don’t see any warrant for saying that one is more authentically Catholic than the other.

  10. Timothy Peach Says:


    Oddly enough, although depicted here as an ideologue, I think I’m really the one struggling for the middle.

    Your own biases are cleanly exposed when you characterize the Newman Society event by its “doctrinal fervor”, while you praise the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy event as infused with “openness and tolerance”, despite the fact that neither you, nor anyone else here, attended either event. Apparently accomodation is the sine qua non for you, the subject matter notwithstanding.

    I am hard pressed to see how you would now object if the topic at hand at Holy Cross had been lowering the age of consent for gay relationships to 12, or keeping alive unwanted fetuses for opportunistic organ harvesting. There is at least some minimal intellectual support for both, and who would want to jeopardize the “mission of engaging with the larger culture”? I can only imagine the ugliness of the Newman Society’s doctrinal fervor on these topics.

    There is a middle road to be found in all of this, and it unnerves me that you think it runs closer to Holy Cross than the bishop here. David and you would set us on a slippery slope of good intentions, where the only intellectual defense against moving the next foot down the slope will in every case be “aw, come on”. I see those good intentions paving a road quite different from the middle one.

    All I am trying to point out in all of this is that if the Catholic Church sets no limits, it is rendered toothless, stands for nothing, leads no one to salvation, and inspires fewer and fewer to bother showing up. The truth of this is evident in the fate of many Protestant denominations which, having decided to censure nothing except perhaps public human sacrifice, have rendered themselves vacuous, irrelevant, and compelling to only the most vapid well-wishers who could find similar pointless camaraderie at the local pub.

    We must be open and tolerant, but we must stand for something. And when that something is directly confronted, fervor of all sorts may well be required.

  11. Mark Grannis Says:

    Now I’m really confused. Until now, I had thought you were objecting to the presence of NARAL and Planned Parenthood at the teen pregnancy event, but not to the message of the event itself. Am I mistaken? Are you saying that opposing teen pregnancy is itself objectionable? Or that it is on some sort of slippery slope that leads to organ harvesting? That doesn’t seem very slippery to me. I don’t think it’s even a slope.

    As for the roads we’re paving, I think Chesterton says somewhere that only a Calvinist could believe that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions; genuinely good intentions are the one thing that road cannot be paved with.

  12. Timothy Peach Says:

    No, you’re STILL really confused. Hang on — let me check my stopwatch…. I have it just shy of 27 years, but I could be off since I only met you in 1981.

    The presence of those two groups and the message of the event are not cleanly separable. Especially with regard to the message that is sent to impressionable Catholic students at Holy Cross.

    Or is that how it works? You just have to get the title of the event right? Let’s see… Klan rally = “Celebrating Our History”, Pederasty festival = “Love Knows No Bounds”, Convenience abortion advocacy = “Opposing Teen Pregnancy”. Whoops, we already got that one done.

    This isn’t an argument. No information is being exchanged. It’s becoming, as a friend of mine recently put it, an exercise in intellectual vanity.

  13. Timothy Peach Says:

    I feel I’ve been a little overbearing here. Blogger’s remorse is something I experience all too often.

    There has to be a viable compromise here.

    I propose that we should split the difference, and, in the spirit of truth in advertising, allow universities like G-town, BC, and Holy Cross to refer to themselves as “Sort of Catholic”.

    “Sort of Catholic” sends a clear message to students, applicants, and the outside world in general that what they can expect inside the walls will be some genuine Catholic flavor — oddly dressed celebate men, lots of crosses and shamrocks and whatnot, and some real celebratory energy around Xmas, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day. And any time Notre Dame takes the field!!!

    But with none of the other BS. No expectations of Mass on Sundays, no restrictions on sexual activities/preferences, anything goes on birth control or abortion, and no ominous overtones about afterlife opportunities or consequences. Just good old fashioned fun. But no murders! Everyone agrees that’s out of bounds. At least if you’re already out here (hah hah, just kidding).

    Let’s get the good feelings going! I’m feeling sort of Catholic right now!!!

  14. David Fitzgerald Says:


    The day job calls so this will not be as coherent as I would like, but Grannis wants this to be a conversation, right?

    I’ll start by repeating an anecdote by a priest friend who shall remain transparently nameless. Apparently, after officiating at a wedding a woman came up to him and said, “Father, it must be very difficult to be a Catholic, you have so many rules, I’m a Unitarian and all I need to be is a good person.” My friend responded, “You poor woman, what a horrible burden you bear, we’re a church of sinners.”

    And, just because its fun, a few images from scripture: and

    The point is that we are a “pilgrim” church. Along the road we have to deal with highwaymen, ditches, detours and the occasional temptation of (and surrender to) brothel and tavern.

    There has always been a tension in Catholic thought between the universal church as monastery, a city on a hill, an anchorite in the midst of filth and the universal church as pilgrim, wayward, slow, more often than not sinful, almost always lost. More scriptural images, the Fathers always extended this metaphor of Israel to Christ’s bride, the church.

    Have you ever read Thomas Cahill’s, How the Irish Saved Civilization? I love how Cahill portrays the barely literate St. Patrick, in contrast to his brilliant and intellectually coherent (almost to the point of absurdity) contemporary St. Augustine. We see Patrick in the world of Cuchlainn and Maeb, where images of beastiality are all to close for comfort in the native literature and where drunkness calms the soul so peace of mind is possible. Cahill portrays Patrick entering fully into this wild and un-Christian culture and engaging it with the Gospel. The result is not only a transformed Ireland, but a transformed and richer church.

    The point is that if doctrinal, let alone moral, purity is the price of admission into the church, I fear that those who can pay that price will be very lonely. If that is true of the Church universal, it is even more true of a Catholic university which, by definition, is a place of intellectual ferment and personal growth and experimentation. a university is a place where ideas and habits are being tried on to see if they fit. Some will be too big and the shopper will need to grow into them, others will prove to small, because the shopper has grown a bit since last he went to the mall. What makes a distinctly Catholic university is that the exploration goes on against the backdrop of the Gospel.

    What was objectionable about the portrayal of Fr. McFarland’s response to the controversy of the teen pregnancy event (what he actually did and said is unknown to me) was its incompleteness. It is not enough for the president of a Catholic university, when inviting controversial groups on campus to simply wash his hands of the matter and fallback on meaningless bromides about “engaging the larger culture”. The trouble with Planned Parenthood is that the very name of the organization reeks of Satan’s non serviam and that its philosophy offers a vision of human control that is not so much immoral as it is completely wrong. It is only by exposing the underlying fallacy inherent in that philosophy through enagement that the university can hope to fulfill its unique Gospel mission and at the same time hope to eliminate teen pregnancy in Worcester, MA.

    A tall order, its a good thing we do not labor alone.

  15. Timothy Peach Says:

    David, a thoughtful post indeed, and I did enjoy the cited scriptured, but I must take issue with the referencing of Matthew 21.

    Now to prove I can out-ramble you.

    It’s pretty obvious that what you’re suggesting here is that the current “tenants” of Holy Cross should be rounded up and killed by the Church, and replaced by tenants “who will give him the produce at the proper times”.

    I agree the current tenants are a problem and have failed to deliver the goods, but having them killed and replaced is a little over the top. Can’t we have some kind of compromise here?

    I’m pretty sure relatively pure doctrinal intentions — at least the expression of that intent — is currently a requirement for conversion. And certainly if coming up short past the post were a requirement for staying in the club, the clubhouse would be pretty empty right now.

    I agree with your assessment of Fr. McFarland’s response, but I’m not sure how he could have properly couched his decision nonplatitudinously without the matter being laid bare as patently indefensible. Sure, he could have said something like, “We’re not afraid to have those *****s on campus — man are they going to get an earful when they get here. And get this — they’re paying us for the beating they’re going to get! Who’s the man?” In my dreams.

    He can’t talk about the matter in simple and direct terms because what he’d say isn’t true. He isn’t generally interested in permitting divergent voices a forum on-campus in the interest of engaging the larger culture. There are plenty of other perspectives (e.g. members of Bush’s cabinet, white supremacists, conservative billionaires, scientists who disagree with man-made global warming) who aren’t welcome to share their views. They ruin the easy explanation for invitations to Planned Parenthood, Hugo Chavez, and the President of Iran.

    What’s really going on is a political agenda, some of which is controversial from an orthodox Catholic perspective. This isn’t a man struggling to reconcile two missions. It’s a man on one mission, trying to keep his dad from figuring out exactly what he’s up to.

    And a large part of that mission is well-intended, I’m sure. You don’t have to be Catholic to be good at heart. I don’t think Fr. McFarland is evil… I think he’s just lost his way a bit. He’s a “Catholicism and” guy. I just wish we could give him an “andectomy”.

    St. Patrick isn’t technically a saint (never canonized), as I’m sure you know. I understand our last Pope wasn’t even convinced he was an actual person. The feats attributed to him included drying up entire lakes and ridding the entire island of snakes. The notion of Ireland being transformed by a fictitious magician is charming, and the legend contributes tremendously to the richness and zest of the Catholic experience, but I’m not sure it serves as a lesson in the value of allowing eccentric or divergent influences free run with the Church.

    I’ll take Augustine all day long. He got into plenty of trouble as a youngster, but got pulled into the fold, apparently, by opening the Bible to Paul’s letter to the Romans, reading “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” I don’t know what his track record on vanquishing reptiles or accelerating evaporation were.

  16. Rob Gittings Says:

    This is definitely not as coherent as I want it to be since work has been calling for a while, but as someone who was a student in ‘Religious Studies 229 – Paul the Apostle’ at the College of the Holy Cross (although it’s been a while – the letters had just been sent by Paul when I took the class) I have a view on the discussion so far. Given time constraints it will seem simple (ok, really simple) but I think the reference to Paul is apt in ways that may not have been anticipated. I also think I’m agreeing with parts of Mr. Fitzgerald’s post above, but for a slightly different reason.

    Paul wrote many of his letters to Christian communities that were constantly challenged by the world around them. They were small, isolated (it’s neat to see a map of the communities Paul visited and subsequently corresponded with – he probably wishes there were Frequent Donkey Miles back then) and, most importantly, surrounded by non-believers. Pauls message, in a nutshell, was – hang in. But he sent his letters into a world where there was constant interaction between the emerging christain communities and the then-“larger culture” where there was “rioting and drunkedness” (not at all like today!). That interaction stressed out those early Christians a lot.

    Fast forward to today. The gospel (are you supposed to capitalize “gospel”) message does not anticipate that we ARE Christ, but there is a clear expectation that we model Christ in our day-to-day lives. What good is it if we model Christ, but only intereact with those that think, act and believe like us? I must say that I believe that “engaging the larger culture” is not just something that important for any meaningful college or university to do, it’s an integral part of what it means to be a Catholic and a Christian. And, like in Paul’s day, it can cause a lot of stress.

    Now one could look at this cynically and say that it’s an interesting addition to the canon of “sort of Catholic” writing (I almost typed “thought” but it probably doesn’t qualify as that). I don’t think that’s true. What qualifies as Catholic, either personally or for an institution like a college, is a separate and distinct conversation. Certainly, Holy Cross could have supported views at the conference that would have completely at odds with its mission as a Catholic college – I don’t think that happened but I don’t know. But hosting the conference and even participating, to me, should not just be tolerated but encouraged.

  17. Timothy Peach Says:

    You know what — everybody is making up-front excuses for the quality of their posts based on work. Well, dammit, I’m neglecting my work for this blog. Put the cross on your back and start trudging up the hill!

    I admit that I’ll take any excuse to shortchange my employer, but the future of Christendom is at stake here. If your posts suck, have the courage to admit, like I do, that that’s all you have in the tank.

    But let’s do the work of the Holy Spirit here with full attention, letting our employers shoulder the burden of our decreased productivity. We’re in a recession, for Pete’s sake. The slack in the system has to go somewhere!

  18. jim walsh Says:

    We should never undertake the task of chiding another’s sin unless, cross-examining our own conscience, we can assure ourselves, before God, that we are acting from love. If reproaches or threats or injuries, voiced by the one you are calling to account, have wounded your spirit, then, for that person to be healed by you, you must not speak till you are healed yourself, lest you act from worldly motives, to hurt, and make your tongue a sinful weapon against evil, returning wrong for wrong, curse for curse. Whatever you speak out of a wounded spirit is the wrath of an avenger, not the love of an instructor. “Act as you desire, so long as you are acting with love” [Ama et fac quod vis]. Then there will be no meanness in what may sound mean, while you are acutely aware that you are striving with the sword of God’s word to free another from the grip of sin. And if, as often happens, you begin some course of action from love, and are proceeding with it in love, but a different feeling insinuates itself because you are resisted, deflecting you from reproach of a man’s sin and making you attack the man himself — it were best, while watering the dust with your tears, to remember that we have no right to crow over another’s sin, since we sin in the very reproach of sin if anger at sin is better at making us sinners than mercy is at making us kind. — St. Augustine, Commentary on Galatians


    Ama et fac quod vis. If you are silent, be silent from love. If you accuse, accuse from love. If you correct, correct from love. If you spare, spare from love. Let love be rooted deep in you, and only good can grow from it.
    — St. Augustine, sermon on 1 John

  19. Mark Grannis Says:

    Holy cow. When you put it like that, it almost makes the ones that begin with “thou shalt not” seem easy.

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