One recurring character dominating recent political news in the US is Sandra Fluke. Sandra Fluke is a student at Georgetown University, a Catholic university in Washington DC. She has been in the spotlight as a proponent of the new federal healthcare mandate that requires contraception coverage without exception, even for explicitly religious institutions such as hospitals and universities like Georgetown.
Miss Fluke isn’t just a random student out of a larger student body which is diversely recruited to Georgetown, she is a prominent student leader on her campus. Her outspoken voice purports to speak for many of her colleagues and her advocacy against Catholic teaching has gone largely unopposed by those in her own institution. This must give one pause to reflect on the state of Catholic universities in the Western World and whether the Catholic university system in this era is making the right unique impact to culture.
I can remember my own days in enrolling in courses at the Catholic university affiliated to mine and not feeling that the Catholic viewpoints in a class on Ethics were even well-received by the student body, although my Philosophy professors were particularly good at presenting an authentically solid Catholic worldview for those who wanted to hear. I was saddened also that campus ministry events were not particularly uplifting. There is a joke in my current city of residence (as it might be in many others) that the most Catholic university in town is the Protestant one rather than the Jesuit one. Our great Pope John Paul II noticed this problem as well and promulgated Ex Corde Ecclesiae which attempts to recertify universities according to basic criteria such as:
1. Operating with Catholic culture as its basis
2. Inform academic work with Catholic ideals and principles
3. Explicitly identify itself as a Catholic institution
4. Be influenced by Catholic teaching and discipline in all activities
5. Respectful of the truth and common good
Certification of universities according to the ideals of Ex Corde Ecclesiae have gone very slowly and met with great resistance from faculty and administration. It is a sad state of affairs where the Catholic difference of a Catholic university is none at all. This is a faith that is supposed to be strongly rooted in the teachings of Christ leading all to happiness, and we know that the implications of such teachings are dangerous to the dictatorship of relativism that prevails in the culture at large. If the course material at a Catholic university is not uniquely grounded in a Christ-centred viewpoint, this frustrates the ability for the culture of the student body to allow this unique message to take root. If solid Catholic students and non-Catholics of good will don’t engage with the larger culture of their own student population, then the leadership of the youth would belong to folks like the young lady at Georgetown, who serve only to undermine the very mission of the institutions that strive to educate them with Truth, Goodness and Beauty.