Sunday, November 22, 2009

Catholic Higher Education in California. Is there any hope? YES.

On November 13, Pope Benedict spoke to the faculty and students of the Libera Universita Maria Santissima Assunta in Rome. His Holiness addressed the “true mission of the universities today” and expressed his ongoing concern that higher education is in crisis. He noted the specific role to be played by Catholic universities, and said they are called to act “…with fidelity to the Christian message exactly as it is presented by the Church.”

What is the state of Catholic Universities in California? Do they meet the standards the Holy Father has set forth? Do they act “with fidelity to the Christian message exactly as it is presented by the Church”? Almost uniformly, no.

On the very day the Holy Father spoke, two law professors from the Jesuit Loyola Marymount College published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle urging both the Senate and President Obama to remove the Stupak amendment from any healthcare bill--thus undercutting the work of every Catholic bishop in the United States on the premier human rights issue of our time.

It’s not just a few professors. Look at the donations made last year for or against Proposition 8 by the faculty of California’s four largest Catholic Universities. The figures are overwhelming: at the Jesuit Loyola Marymount College: 25 donations against Prop. 8, 1 in favor. The Jesuit University of San Francisco: 22 donations against, 1 in favor. The San Diego University: 15 donations against, 2 in favor. The Jesuit Santa Clara University: 34 donations against, 2 in favor.

Can teachers transmit the Catholic understanding of something so basic as the family when they do not believe marriage is a natural relationship between one man and one woman, but is rather a creation of human convention? Such teachers are acting from a fundamentally different understanding of reality than that of the Church. The Church says: man is a creature, created by God, with a purpose defined by God. Man is limited. The secular (and now ostensibly Catholic) universities say: Man is not a creature but is a self-creating entity, a reality creating entity. Any “purpose” ascribed to man is limiting, thus oppressive, thus intolerable. So any discrimination against virtually any action is perceived as injustice. Indeed, for many young people today, the words discrimination and injustice are synonymous. After all, you too are a reality creating entity---create any reality you want, just don’t infringe on my right to create my own reality. A striking example is the presence in the four “Catholic” universities mentioned of groups devoted to “transgender rights” that is, for the right of individuals to decide for themselves which sex they belong to. But that is just the logical unfolding of the underlying principle to its end. It is a denial not only of the Christian but also of the Classical understanding of man dating back at least to Plato. It is what Pope Benedict has called “the dictatorship of relativism,” but instead of combating it, these schools embrace it.

There are some bright spots. Because the challenge is both theological and philosophical, the work of Berkeley’s Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology stands out. The DSPT offers a Masters program in both philosophy and theology. At a recent talk at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, Fr. Michael Sweeney, President of the DSPT said:

“What is unique to our School is that we are the only seminary on the continent at which someone can, in three years, receive the Master of Arts degree in both philosophy and theology. This is of enormous benefit for someone who plans, for example, to pursue a doctorate in philosophy or theology, in that he or she will have real academic credential in the other field. It also affords the possibility of a concentration of study that requires the integration of both disciplines.”

The school has about 60 full time students. It also has about 30 part time students from other schools affiliated with Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, who want a decent philosophical training.

The 2008 report of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education had this to say about the DSPT:

“The Visitation confirmed that the School’s academic program is excellent, with the students receiving a substantially complete grounding in dogmatic and moral theology. The faculty is both academically prepared and doctrinally sound….The students seem to know the issues involved in the contemporary crisis of subjectivism and moral relativism, and are adequately trained to provide a response based on reason and affirming the existence of moral and philosophical truth.”

"Moral and philosophical truth!" Unsurprisingly, and unlike the schools described above, the Dominican School is generally in need of money. It is an excellent institution for faithful Catholics to support.

To learn more about the Dominican School of Philosophy, go here.

To find out how you can contribute, go to “Support DSPT.”

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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