The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI remain miffed with a number of American Catholic universities and colleges that they perceive as not effectively toeing church doctrine.
It is expected that during his April visit to Washington, D.C., Benedict will lash out at allegedly wayward universities.
The Washington Post reported recently that some Catholic school officials have been agitating for church hierarchy to crackdown on colleges that seemingly thumb their noses at church doctrine. The newspaper noted that supporters of orthodoxy have chafed at a string of recent campuses activities, such as a rally by reproductive rights organizers for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas; a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" at the University of Notre Dame; comments in support of reproductive rights and stem cell research from St. Louis University's basketball coach; and a Georgetown University professor's questioning of whether Jesus is the only way to salvation.
David Gibson, author of biography of Benedict XVI, said the pope will ask, "If you're not going to be an authentically Catholic, orthodox institution, why should you exist?"
The Rev. Timothy Broglio, archbishop of the U.S. military services, also told the newspaper that Benedict's speech on education at Catholic University on April 17 would be direct. "It'll be very clear and distinct ideas," Broglio said. "There will be no mistaking what he wants to say."
Since becoming pope, The Post noted, Benedict has suggested that Catholic education must bend to Church "truth" and the "rule of life."
Catholic University's president, the Rev. David M. O'Connell, backed the assumption that the Benedict would lay down the law, saying "One thing the pope will emphasize is the importance for all [Catholic] schools to realize that they aren't independent contractors, they are part of the church."
Some of the nation's Catholic colleges struggle between functioning largely as tools of the church and rigorous academic institutions. Those that seek the latter course often start acting like public schools. Georgetown University for instance has spent years building up an impressive lobbying arm to cull earmarks from Congress for brick-and-mortar projects for the university. Other universities are recipients of state help for expansion of their facilities.
Benedict and other church officials may indeed be rankled over the ways of certain Catholic colleges in the U.S., but the church's leadership can't have it both ways. They seem to want to be quasi-public when seeking taxpayer handouts and exclusively Catholic when trying to enforce church dogma.
If the church hierarchy want the public's financial support, they must play by the rules of their secular counterparts, meaning, in part, they cannot engage in discrimination against students who aren't Catholic and saturate all of their programs with church dogma. It means the church hierarchy can't censor programs and plays on campus that they don't like, deny tenure to professors who displease them or refuse to recognize pro-gay or pro-choice groups on campus. They can't declare holy war whenever a speaker is invited on campus that the hierarchy does not like.
Church leaders gave up their ability to run their colleges as exclusively religious institutions the day they started receiving millions in taxpayer aid. The promise of all of that money must have sounded good at first. In retrospect, maybe it wasn't such a great deal after all.