Catholics Wrestle With Religious Identity and Academic Freedom in Catholic Colleges

Today’s Inside Higher Ed reports on a recent meeting of Catholic college presidents and Catholic bishops.  Like most church-related colleges, Catholic colleges live with the tension between religious identity and academic freedom.  Here is a taste of the article:

Earlier this month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced plans to review the impact of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 Vatican document that called on colleges to fulfill their religious role through “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.” As Bishop Kicanas noted, today’s students are coming to grips with their religious identities while dealing with issues like abortion, immigration and global unrest. While college faculty and staff can and should engage in academic debate, they must also “place Catholic identity first” among their concerns, he said. “Catholic is not just an adjective accidental to who you are. Catholic is core to your identity, the center of what you are about.”

In her formal response to Bishop Kicanas’s remarks, Sister Andrea Lee, president of St. Catherine University, in Minnesota, concurred that college presidents and bishops should be among the most trusted collaborators. And while acknowledging the “amazing pluralism” of faculty members nationwide who are “enormously proud” to be Catholic, she also reminded the bishop that times have changed and the church must update its expectations of colleges to reflect 21st-century landscapes of technology, social issues and demographics. “In the end,” Lee said, “it all boils down to trust.”

Though I am not Catholic nor do I teach at a Catholic institution, I do teach at a college that grapples with many of these same questions.  I find myself in agreement with Kicanas and Lee.