As Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the U.S. draws near, interest in his address on Catholic education is on the rise. Some, including a prominent American archbishop, say the speech will call Catholic institutions to be more faithful to their Catholic identity, the Washington Post reports.
The Pope requested the meeting with more than 200 Catholic school officials from around the country. Though 195 diocesan education directors have been invited, the lecture will also be attended by presidents of most of the Catholic colleges and universities in the country. The speech is expected to focus upon Catholic higher education.
Debates in Catholic education have focused on questions of Catholic identity, such as whether a Catholic campus’ theology department must maintain Christian orthodoxy. Other questions include whether a campus should host pro-abortion rights political candidates or obscene plays such as “The Vagina Monologues.”
"One thing the pope will emphasize is the importance for all [Catholic] schools to realize that they aren't independent contractors, they are part of the church," said Father David M. O'Connell, the president of Catholic University, which is hosting the Pope’s April 17 speech.
John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University told the Washington Post that academic freedom was a key concern for Catholic universities.
"Every university is committed to the pursuit of truth," said DeGioia, "and we want to ensure that there is the opportunity for both academic freedom and for the free exchange of ideas and opinions across all issues."
Some observers believe the Pope’s address will be the most enduring aspect of his visit. Others also expect a rebuke from the Pope about controversial issues.
According to the Washington Post, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Catholic U.S. military services, said the speech would have “very clear and distinct ideas.”
"There will be no mistaking what he wants to say," he said.
Some hope Pope Benedict’s speech will reprimand universities that have let their Catholic identity weaken.
"This is something that's been simmering for so long that it's reached a boiling point," said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. The Cardinal Newman Society says only 20 of the 235 Catholic colleges in the United States are sufficiently orthodox.
According to Reilly, a number of bishops and Vatican officials privately say that the speech will “raise a lot of eyebrows.”
David Gibson, the author of a Benedict biography, said he believes the Pope will ask, "If you're not going to be an authentically Catholic, orthodox institution, why should you exist?"