When Schools Slap the Church

On August 13, Louisiana’s Xavier University hosted Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who delivered the commencement address to graduates. As its name suggests, Xavier is a Catholic institution, at least ostensibly.

And, in case you are outside of the political loop, Senator Obama is widely hailed as the future savior of the Democratic Party, crumbling and searching for relevance as it is. His widely-acclaimed oratorial skills made their national debut at the 2004 Democratic Convention, at which he delivered the keynote address.

What Xavier University engaged in this month was another pathetic academic pandering to popular leftists opposed to virtually every letter of Church teaching on moral issues. Xavier University’s mission statement reads:

Xavier University of Louisiana is Catholic and historically Black. The ultimate purpose of the University is the promotion of a more just and humane society. To this end, Xavier prepares its students to assume roles of leadership and service in society. This preparation takes place in a pluralistic teaching and learning environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.

As one peruses Xavier’s website, it becomes clear that the university is more concerned with proving that it is a “black” university than with transmitting Catholicism to its students. That any university is Catholic ought to be sufficient indication that it is open to students of all ethnic backgrounds, as the word “catholic” comes from the Greek word for “universal.” But Xavier sees it necessary to repeatedly remind visitors to its site that it is “historically black.” OK, fine. But what about the school’s Catholic heritage?

If the university’s actions are any indication of where they see the role of the Church within the life of the university, the outlook is grim. By inviting Senator Obama to deliver the keynote address, and by heaping its honors upon his head, Xavier has made it clear that the Church’s teachings play second fiddle to prominent, honey-lipped politicians who carry in their wake extensive media coverage and potential donors with checkbooks in hand.

Senator Obama has repeatedly placed himself in plain opposition to the Church’s most fundamental moral teachings, from the defense of the unborn to traditional family life. Is this disregard of Christian moral teaching the university's idea of how to promote “a more just and humane society?” He sided with the most far-left interest groups and voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito — men who, by any impartial standard, are overwhelmingly qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. Obama’s vote against them reveals to what radical ideology he is truly beholden.

More vexing still than Obama’s easily-demonstrable leftward tilt is the fact that a “Catholic” university would invite such a character to deliver an important address and further, confer an honorary doctorate on him. What does this reflect about this university’s understanding of its Catholic identity? One is led to wonder whether or not the president of Xavier or its Board of Trustees have ever read John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in which the definition of a Catholic university and its subsequent responsibilities are clearly stated.

Sadly, Xavier is one of many Catholic universities in the United States that elevates the dollar sign over the Cross. Weak knees seem to be endemic in Catholic universities across the nation — knocking in profound fear of being ridiculed and exiled from the inner circle of snooty academic elitism.

Where “Thou shall not offend potential donors” is the prime commandment for the Catholic university president, the Church’s teachings are seen as a direct threat to the university's pocketbook. The most likely way to offend someone is to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel as handed down to us from the Church. Oh, sure, if confronted with these charges and asked about its Catholic identity, university spokesmen would hurriedly toss out a list of innocuous words like “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “love,” but you can be sure that “objective truth,” “moral relativism,” or “Pope Benedict XVI,” would not cross their lips for obvious reasons: “Well now, we don’t want to offend anyone.”

But this concept of offense cuts in more than one direction — or it should. Where’s the outrage when a so-called Catholic university such as Xavier places a golden laurel wreath on the brow of an ambitious senator who voted against banning partial-birth abortion? Isn’t denial of Christ in the face persecution or ridicule exactly the sin that sent a penitent Peter into hiding, as he “wept bitterly”? How different Peter was after Pentecost, as he boldly proclaimed the truth to the very end. Catholic universities have a duty boldly to project their identity to students and to the world. If prospective students or donors don’t like what they hear or see or are offended by the Church’s teachings, then they may attend or contribute elsewhere. And those who are offended when Catholic universities deny their Catholic identity can do likewise.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Maldonado-Berry is currently studying Social Communication at the University of Santa Croce in Rome. He also works for Vatican Information Service (VIS) and Rome Reports, a news agency in Rome that covers Church events.

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