Thursday, January 30, 2014
Today, Pope Francis, S.J., had an audience with a delegation from Notre Dame. Rick, I am sure you are basking in this honor!
The Holy Father offered instructive words intended not only for Notre Dame, but for all persons involved with Catholic higher education. This would surely include legal education and the enterprise which is pursed at the Mirror of Justice. The major theme of the pope’s address is presented in these words of his,
In my Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, hereinafter EG), I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. EG, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!
I have two brief points to make of these words of the pope.
The first is that they have a tremendous bearing on the work and debates that take place here at the Mirror of Justice. After all, the discipline and study of law, certainly within the context of efforts directed at developing Catholic legal theory, involve moral issues; thus, those who pursue legal education from and in a Catholic perspective ought to be concerned about the Church’s moral teachings (including their propagation and defense) and the Church’s freedom to pursue those engagements with civil society that the Church chooses to engage. This responsibility is unambiguous and cannot be compromised—no matter how inconvenient; no matter what pressures may be faced.
The second point is much closer to home for me. While our Holy Father was addressing a distinguished delegation from a highly regarded school founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, I am quite confident that he did not exempt from the application of his exhortation the twenty-eight colleges and universities founded by his (and my) religious order, the Society of Jesus. There is no question that these institutions also have a crucial role in “the uncompromising witness… to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.” It may be that there are some within the Jesuit network of higher education institutions who are willing to compromise on such matters, but I know that there are dedicated, faithful people who view such compromise as a betrayal of one’s duty as a disciple of Christ. Pope Francis is clearly one of them, for he recognizes that the unambiguous witness of the Christian cannot compromise on any matter central to the Catholic faith.
Time will tell to what extent his words and the sentiments they carry are shared within the world of Jesuit higher education.