Monday, September 25, 2006

Archbishop Miller


Archbishop J. Michael Miller secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. I think the head of the Church in the 21st Century mentioned that Arcbishop Miller is a Basilian. He was at BC two weeks ago (on September 11) to give a talk on Catholic higher education in the United States.

As one might expect, the archbishop brought up Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the importance of a Catholic college or university's Catholic identity. Still, as I mentioned in an earlier post, his speech was rather tame and inoffensive (from what I remember of it). At the beginning of his lecture he made the claim that the Church needs Catholic universities. But does the Church really? It may need the services of teachers of secular and sacred learning, but does it need them in the form of a university? It is rather easy to demonstrate that the Church needs ordained ministers, given the economy of grace that God has instituted.

The only standards by which universities can be measured today is (1) utility--whether the education enable one to get a white-collar job, and as for truth/knowledge, (2) those standards (and dogmas) endorse by the Scientific Establishment.

I don't foresee a return to pagan antiquity, with a fragmentation into a hundred schools of thought... but perhaps that would be better than the current dominance of certain ideologies (including the materalistic worldview of the Scientific Establishment). At least there would be competition and debate between adherents of the various schools. Aside from the materalistic conspiracy among the science faculties, there is no common pursuit of truth within philosophy or theology--usually a refusal to debate within a university. Not that those who are wrong will likely be persuaded by their opponents of that fact. Pride and stubborness are too ingrained for many. They would rather save it for journals and publications, so as to pad their CVs.

Quoting extensively from documents and speeches by Pope John Paul II as well as Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop said the greatest challenge facing Catholic higher education in the United States is strengthening its Catholic identity and ensuring that identity plays an important role in all aspects of a school, including decision-making.

The Catholic witness must be institutional, he added. (source)

Yes, but did he mention how student life should be a concern of the Catholic school, and an authentic witness to Catholic moral teaching? How about campus ministry, and its orthodoxy? I don't recall him saying anything about this; during the Q&A someone brought up the example of the controversy over the gay & lesbian group at BC and other things and asked for the archbishop's opinion. The archbishop refrained from giving judgment of particulars or recommendations, in the name of subsidiarity. And he is probably correct to do so, since we are trying to avoid giving the appearance of micromanaging in the Church. It is up to Cardinal O'Malley to deal with BC; archbishop of Boston and Boston College should be faithful collaborators in education, not adversaries, and if one or both parties are shirking their duties, things are not good.

What does the administration concern itself with? Fr. Leahy on the Future of Boston College:

Fr. Leahy described the seven strategic directions that have been identified in planning sessions as reflecting areas of potential strength for BC: establish BC as a leader in liberal arts education among US universities; develop a model student formation program; address urgent social issues; emphasize teaching and research in the natural sciences; build on the BC professional schools' reputations and performances; serve as an intellectual and cultural crossroads; and strive to be the leading Catholic university and theological center.

Already, said Fr. Leahy, steps have been taken to realize these goals. He noted such examples as the Academic Advising Center, the Institute on Aging in the 21st Century, the Center for Catholic Education, the Intersections Program, the addition of five new faculty in integrated sciences, the proposed reaffiliation with the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and the new joint degree program in church management.

One major component in these and other aspects of BC's future will be the development and improvement of facilities and other campus resources, Fr. Leahy said. He outlined some potential projects - all proposed in the yet-to-be-approved Master Plan - that, if and when completed, would bring about a significantly different campus.

Among the proposals he noted were: a new humanities building and dining facility in the vicinity of the Campus Green; a new student center on Lower Campus; a connecting bridge between the Lower and Brighton campuses; and graduate housing on Brighton Campus. However, Fr. Leahy warned, whatever the final draft of such plans might look like, there can be no significant change to BC without a major investment in resources. Hailing the University's progress in fundraising during the past 10-20 years, he sounded the call for more outreach and development efforts.

Fr. Leahy added that faculty - who he said are so central to BC's success - must play a role in such initiatives, urging them to "share your vision, work and commitment with alumni and with potential donors. They respond to people who are dedicated to their field and have clear ideas."

Fr. Leahy reflected on what he said were four key tenets of BC's character as it continues its emergence as a major national, and international, university. Institutional excellence "must be our goal in all we do," he said, and a willingness to build partnerships - with individuals or with organizations - that help BC to pursue its academic and spiritual objectives.

He also cited attention to Catholic and Jesuit mission and heritage as another critical area - representing "a commitment to a truly liberating education" - as well as the importance of maintaining a campus culture in which ambition and care for another can co-exist.

And so what does the administration at BC think of maintaining its Catholic identity? When will it actively monitor what is being taught by the theology department, and the others as well, in the name of "academic freedom"? Ex Corde Ecclesiaeand other documents make it quite clear that while the Church respects academic freedom, it is not an end of itself, but ultimately ordered to the common good of the university, and the pursuit of truth. I see that the future plans are framed here in terms of expansion and construction. Naturally, when [worldly] people first talk about the future of college, they consider it in concrete terms. But what of the spiritual foundation, without which everything else is useless?

It is very important that the administrators become aware of the gravity of neglecting to lead--if under their leadership they fail to address the scandals that take place on campus, both inside and outside of othe classroom, if they fail to remove obstacles to faith and conversion but instead let them grow, they will be held to account.

Matthew 7: 21 "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

Who knows what Archbishop Miller may have said to the administrators in private, though I suspect nothing too provocative. Still, some fraternal correction would not be out of the question, or even a private message from the pope and/or curia telling the college to shape up. But is that likely? Surely the Jesuits are in need of good advice and recommendations--if they think that their primary concern is having a winning football team and securing enough funding for expansion and development, they're wrong. The Jesuit schools of old relied on the patronage of the wealthy, and this was done as a form of begging and with a great trust in God. What do we have now? Building up endowment funds? Raising money from alumni?

How much of this is the application of what one might learn in a business school and how much of it is done with fervent prayer? Granted, the non-Catholic wealthy might not be a good source of donations. But might this not be another indication that the age of Catholic universities is over, since their fate is tied to that of an explicitly Christian society? What do we have instead? Universities going all over the country to compete for money. One wonders how much funding Ave Maria University has received from sources other than TM. It reminds me of the fundraising done by American religious orders--sending mail to people all over the country. Just another sign that there are no local economies--like I've said before, if people would be more willing to embrace the spirit of poverty, much could be accomplished to counter the practices and effects of an unjust economy. Surely such a work, faithful to Christ, would be blessed by God. But we are a lukewarm people.

The archbishop also urged Catholic colleges and universities to be like good Samaritans, becoming "academic Samaritans" who share resources with their counterparts in the developing world in need of such assistance.
Archbishop Miller did advocate that Catholic universities in the United States share resources with academic institutions in developing countries, help build them up. (And thus foster their economic advancement?) I am not sure if he was including universities of the other parts of the New World. It would be interesting to see what the revolutions of the 19th century and actions by the Freemasons and others had done to the Catholic character of Latin American universities, and if they are mostly secularized at present. And if there is exploitation taking place, should we be surprised that if certain areas are more resistant to social and economic improvement than others, not only because of internal problems within the society, but also because of the collusion of outsiders?

While we should be concerned with fostering a just economic system, transferring of resources is unlikely to ameliorate the situation, if it only feeds unsustainable economies dependent upon unbalanced resourced consumption and the use of fossil fuels. No doubt this is Archbishop Miller's private opinion, but I think while he acknowledges that globalization is happening, he should not be looking for band-aid solutions. Exploitation will take place, whether we like it or not--the question is how can we resisit it in our own lives and refrain from making it possible for others to exploit?

If we are to train others, it is to show how sustainable economies are to be created and sustained, including the agricultural component.

It is interesting that Archbishop would refrain from providing detailed comments on what he should know (the importance of the university's witness to the moral teachings of the Church), as a successor of the Apostles, but ventures into making recommendations about economic development and the place of the university. After all, economic development is a moral and political concern. One should have a solid foundation in political theology and observation of the particulars before giving advice on what should be done.

Archbishop Miller reminded his audience gathered at a Jesuit institution of the purpose of Catholic education as understood by the Jesuits' founder, St. Ignatius: Catholic education aims to "help make God our creator and lord better known and served."

"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.

A couple of days later in Omaha, Neb., at Creighton University, which is also run by the Jesuits, Archbishop Miller focused on the importance of the Jesuit role in higher education. There are more than 177 Jesuit institutions in the world; 28 of them are in the United States.

"It is hard, perhaps impossible, to imagine a flourishing church in America without this network of higher education institutions for which the Society of Jesus is responsible," Archbishop Miller said Sept. 13. "Catholics around the globe owe the society an enormous debt of gratitude."

He called on Jesuit colleges and universities to embrace the original Ignatian spirit and remember their Catholicity.

"The church wants, indeed, it needs you to be distinctively Jesuit," he said. "Institutions born from the heart of the church, like Jesuit institutions, must continue to be attentive to their specific Catholic identity."

Archbishop Miller also talked about the importance of a good working relationship between universities and the local church.

"The local bishop is not an external agent, but he is a participant of the university's life," he said. "It is the bishop's responsibility to remain vigilant while respecting the university's autonomy as an institution with its own statutes."

He also said that "every Catholic university ought to reflect and to teach justice. A passion for justice should be enshrined at the heart of what every university values most – curriculum."

This is a nice touch--calling the Jesuits at Boston College to be faithful to the charism of their founder and the mission of the order. But, ultimately (what I remember of) the speech is stuffed with sawdust; there are no bones and guts. (But for a different assessment, written by a Jesuit, Robert Araujo, S.J., go here.)

Why do I say this? Because while it emphasizes the importance a university's being faithful to its Catholic identity, it does not go beyond this. Now perhaps those in the know can understand an implicit critique when they hear one. If you are saying that we need to be more faithful to our Catholic identity, then you are implying that we are not being faithful enough right now. Fine. One doesn't need a lecture for that--this could be handled through private correspondence. (And I won't get started with the publicity-hungry Center for the 21st Century, a most useless institution if there ever was one. Christian reform never begins with think-tanks, and a think-tank that is not dedicated to defending the Faith and authentic catechesis should just be shut down. There can be no dialogue about the essentials.)

If we had Archbishop Miller's speech on hand, we could compare it to what the Holy Father said at the University of Regensburg. (The provisional text.)

Now, the Holy Father did not directly address Catholic universities, just Western universities in general. But at least he was not afraid to re-emphasize the harmony between faith and reason, and to teach that reason divorced from faith is an error. Now where else should this principle be applied if not a Catholic university? Unfortunately, the Holy Father is unlikely to issue some sort of grand detailed plan for the rejuvenation of Catholic higher education--even if he were to do so, it might get the same reception as Veterum Sapientiae, or Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

What is the path for academic renewal? We can get a better idea if we supplement Ex Corde Ecclesiae with various papal documents, like Aeterni Patris, Veritatis Splendor, and Fides et Ratio. The problem is that our academics do not have a well-rounded education, and hence they perpetuate the decline. What needs to be "purified" is reason--purified of error and bad reasoning skills. Once we have recovered logic and can distinguish between knowledge and opinion, we can evaluate what we have received and see what needs to be clarified, what needs to be discarded, and what can be integrated with our intellectual tradition. Then a plan of study can be drawn up; and subjects (and departments) can be properly ordered. (And there will be much opposition to this.) Still, I think it is easier to clean up the humanities than it is to clean up the "sciences." Philosophers can deal with the hidden philosophies behind the thinking of humanities professors. They may not be able to deal with the weight of authority and the empirical data presented by academic scientists and researchers in support of their positions.

Of course, this should be in tandem with the renewal of secondary education, which should be taking up the burden that it has transferred to colleges and universities.

At many schools, the humanistic education of the Renaissance (such as that provided by the Jesuits), with its practical bent, replaced the scholastic ideal of the medieval universities. Sure, the Jesuits still emphasized Aristotelian philosophy in the plan of studies. Their contribution to the Aristotelian revival is questionable, though, and it is certainly the case that Aristotelianism could not compete with classical mechanics, and it gradually began to lose out in other parts of the philosophy of nature as well. I believe that from the Renaissance we get the emphasis on letters (literature) in a university education, where before literature (and the study of rhetoric) would be considered a part of the liberal arts segment and a preparation for philosophy, which came to have dominance in an arts education.

The humanistic ideal then had to compete with 19th century German research model, etc., and it seems that in most countries the German research model won out as the standard of learning and knowledge. The growing emphasis on the practical value on education also led to the decline of interest in the humanities. I will have to write more about the development of European universities and the decline of philosophy elsewhere. The contemplative dimension of a medieval education has certainly been lost, and may never be regained within the university, as metaphysicians have generally prostrated themselves before science.

The point is, that many scientists will deny Catholic doctrine, whether it be in principle (if they are strict materialists) or on certain points (the existence of an immateral soul)--should such people be allowed to teach at a Catholic university? I don't think so. Should their positivistic account of knowledge go unchallenged (by which they judge all other non-scientific disciplines)? No! Of course, we could exclude them from being hired at a Catholic university if we were to look at their abilities to reason and teach logic; that way we could justify not hiring them without exposing the conflict between academics and Christianity to the outside world, but a lot of philosophy and theology teachers would be unqualified as well. Regardless, contemporary scientific dogma constitutes a greater intellectual obstacle to the Faith than what passes for philosophy these days.

As I've said before, I'd rather see the Jesuits as an order go out of existence, then to see them do their mission badly, especially if it jeopardizes the salvation of souls. The same is true of "Catholic" colleges and universities. Do you try to keep institutions afloat without the spiritual and moral principles that vivify them? And if you can't observe those principles without letting certain institutions die off, then isn't it better to find a different activity in which one can follow those principles?As M. Dunn used to say at the seminary, "Burn, baby burn."

Links:
The Church in the 21st Century Center website (C21 online)
C21 page for Archbishop Miller, "The Holy See and Catholic Higher Education in the United States) -- check this page for a future update with webcast
Ex Corde Ecclesiae
‘Evangelical Pruning’ Ahead?
Catholic Universities and Interreligious Dialogue
Challenges Facing European and American Catholic Universities (pdf)


Note: the distinction between subjective and objective beautitude; it corresponds to the distinction between created and uncreated grace.

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