Vatican secretary speaks on Catholic higher education at BC

BRIGHTON — One of the greatest contributions that institutions of Catholic education can offer society is their “uncompromising Catholicity,” the secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education told an audience that included several Boston area Catholic college presidents and faculty.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller stressed the importance placed by the Holy See on America’s Catholic colleges and universities in an address on the subject of “Catholic Higher Education in the United States” delivered at Boston College Sept. 11.

“Not unaware of this country’s superpower status and despite the fact that only 6 percent of the world Catholics are American, the Holy See recognizes the unique role of the United States in the globalized world of higher education.”

“The health of the American institutions matters a great deal to the Vatican,” he said.

The address was sponsored by BC’s Church in the 21st Century Center. The center describes itself as “a resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States, engaging in critical issues facing the Catholic community and advancing contemporary reflection on the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

In his address, Archbishop Miller focused on the need for U.S. Catholic universities to embrace their Catholic identity and to foster an integral humanism. This would counterbalance a tendency among institutions of higher learning to fragment knowledge, leaving out any reference to the faith. He challenged the Catholic colleges and universities to be the leaven of the renewal of the academy in this country.

He stressed that history clearly shows the importance of religion and faith in the formation of culture, calling views that would ignore or deny that relationship between faith and culture, “a disturbance to the truth” and an “error of perspective.”

“It seems therefore that a fundamental role of Catholic Universities is to ensure that this role of faith is attended to in academy and in society at large,” he said.

Doing so, Catholic universities do a service to the broader academic community, he said.

The archbishop devoted about half of his presentation to speak about the need for Catholic colleges to stress their Catholic identity, saying it must be an integral part of their mission.According to the archbishop, the Holy See began to realize the importance of emphasizing the Catholic identity after 1968, when Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humane Vitae” met with widespread opposition among Catholic academia.

Quoting extensively from documents and speeches from Pope John Paul II as well as Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop concluded that the greatest challenges facing [Catholic] higher education in the United States are “to assure the Catholicity of their identity and to strengthen it.”

He said Catholic universities should not compartmentalize their Catholicity in a concrete area, program or institute, but their Catholic identity should play an important role in all their decisions, including those related with strategic planning.

“The Catholic university witness expected is institutional,” he added.

Quoting from a recent speech by Pope Benedict, Archbishop Miller said that “a Catholic identity is in no way reductive but rather exalts the university.”

The archbishop also touched on the need to expand intellectual educational solidarity around the world, particularly by sharing resources with poor Catholic universities in the developing world.

He called for the development of programs sponsored by American Catholic colleges that would help African colleges to raise their educational level.

Referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan, he asked “Who is my neighbor?” in the context of the Catholic academy in the United States.

“The concept of neighbor is now universalized, yet remains concrete,” said Archbishop Miller.

American Catholic universities should be “academic Samaritans,” and find ways to mitigate “the chronic discrepancies and inequality of higher education that mar the life of the Church,” he said.

“Anyone who needs me and who I can help is my neighbor,” he added.

Archbishop Miller, speaking at a Jesuit institution, reminded his audience of the purpose of Catholic education as understood by the order’s founder St. Ignatius. Catholic education, according to the Jesuit constitutions, is “to provide for the edifice of learning, and of skill in employing it so as to help make God our Creator and Lord better known and served.”

After expressing his support and admiration for the endeavors to secure the Catholic identity of Boston College, Archbishop Miller quoted Pope Benedict, who recently told the Jesuit order to continue their work, “keeping the spirit of your founder unchanged.”

“It is only by the fidelity to the Ignatius vision that Boston College will be able to save its place among the best Catholic universities in America and in the world,” Archbishop Miller said.