The authentically Catholic university helps students resist “secularist dictatorship” by keeping Jesus Christ at the center of its mission and by exposing the moral bankruptcy of contemporary culture, Cardinal Raymond Burke said Dec. 4.
The cardinal’s comments came in an address at St. Thomas More College’s annual President’s Council Dinner, held Dec. 4 at the Harvard Club of Boston.
In a lengthy discussion of the nature of Catholic higher education, he said that a Catholic university faithful to its identity will help students give an account of their faith and help them resist “the secularist dictatorship which would exclude all religious discourse from the professions and from public life in general.”
He also declared Jesus Christ, the “fullness” of God’s revelation, as “the first and chief teacher at every institution of Catholic higher education.”
“A Catholic college or university at which Jesus Christ alive in His Church is not taught, encountered in the Sacred Liturgy and its extension through prayer and devotion, and followed in a life of virtue is not worthy of the name,” he told attendees.
Jesus’ presence is not something “extraneous” to the pursuit of truth because he alone inspires and guides professors and students to remain faithful in their pursuits and not “fall prey to the temptations which Satan cleverly offers to corrupt us.”
Cardinal Burke lamented the fall of many American Catholic colleges and universities that have become “Catholic in name only.”
Citing Pope John Paul II’s ad limina address to the U.S. bishops of New York, he said that the service of Catholic universities “depends on the strength of their Catholic identity.” The Catholic university was born from “the heart of the Church” and has been “critical” to meeting the challenges of the time.
The Catholic university is needed more than ever in a society “marked by a virulent secularism which threatens the integrity of every aspect of human endeavor and service,” he said.
“How tragic that the very secularism which the Catholic university should be helping its students to battle and overcome has entered into several Catholic universities, leading to the grievous compromise of their high mission,” he commented.
The American-born cardinal said that rather than exemplifying secularism, the Catholic university’s manner of study and research should “manifest the bankruptcy of the abuse of human life and human sexuality … and the bankruptcy of the violation of the inviolable dignity of human life, of the integrity of marriage, and of the right order of our relationship to one another and to the world.”
This bankruptcy is “the trademark of our culture, a culture of violence and death,” he charged. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, he said the mission of the Catholic university is “to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity.”
Cardinal Burke also described the kind of relationship that should exist between the local bishop and a Catholic university. The “noble mission” of the university, he said, can only be accomplished within the Church, and the local bishop should be able to depend upon the Catholic university as a partner in meeting the challenges of evangelization, in teaching the faith, and in celebrating the liturgy.
He criticized as “totally anomalous” the situation in which the Catholic university views the bishop as “a suspect or outright unwelcome partner in the mission of Catholic higher education.”
On the issues of creating curricula and hiring professors, Cardinal Burke advised “special care,” noting the poor religious formation of many young Catholics.
“Given the religious illiteracy which marks our time and in fidelity to the seriousness with which university studies should be undertaken, there is really no place for engaging in speculative theology and certainly no time to waste on superficial and tendentious theological writings of the time,” the cardinal contended.
He questioned why students should be engaged in discussions about the ordination of women as priests when they already have little knowledge of the “consistent teaching” of the Holy Scriptures and Catholic Tradition on the priesthood.
He closed his remarks by praying that St. Thomas More College will form its graduates to cultivate “the divine wisdom and truth” and always to place truth and love first.
“My reflection is offered to assist us all in seeking always first the truth and love by which we serve others and our world well by serving God first,” he said.
In an e-mail to CNA, St. Thomas More College president William Fahey characterized Cardinal Burke’s speech as “a kind of authoritative gloss on Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” John Paul II's encyclical on Catholic higher education.
In his own remarks at the President’s Council Dinner, Fahey characterized the New Hampshire college as “small by design” like the U.S. Marine Corps. He stressed the college’s Catholic identity and its commitment to the New England region, asking for help and prayers to support a growing student body.