Related to this point is Pope Benedict's "wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom," as he said at this 2008 address at Catholic University of America.
Counter to "unfair characterizations," Garvey said, the pope has upheld the necessity, and indeed goodness, of academic freedom.
Pope Benedict affirms that the human person can, with the use of both reason and faith, come to know the truth. "'Academic' freedom," he wrote in his book, 'The Nature and Mission of Theology,' "is freedom for the truth, and its justification is simply to exist for the sake of the truth."
Garvey said there is a tendency to mistake the belief that "there really are false and true ideas...for a disbelief in academic freedom." Pope Benedict's writings, in contrast, highlight that truth is the only context in which academic freedom can arise and have meaning.
The value of academic freedom Garvey noted, is that it allows truth to win out over falsehood in any "free and open encounter" between the two, as the 17th-century English poet John Milton said.
Garvey reflected, "The idea that there are true and false ideas are themselves the original basis for protecting … academic freedom. To imagine that Benedict doesn't believe in it, because he believes that there is a truth we can find about God, is both to misunderstand Benedict, and to have a kind of funny notion of where academic freedom came from."
A little-noticed document of Pope Benedict's final months in the papacy will likely have a lasting effect on Catholic education. Only two weeks before announcing his resignation, the pope released two documents "on his own initiative" that drastically reduced the workload of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The Congregation was relieved of oversight on catechesis and seminary formation on Jan. 25, freeing it up for its primary mission of overseeing Catholic universities worldwide.
Garvey visited the Congregation for Catholic Education in October and said he was "blown away" by the "scope of their responsibility." He noted that the Congregation is left with the responsibility for ordering studies in philosophy and theology, and that the priests working there will now have more time to devote to this since they have been relieved of extraneous tasks.
Susan Hanssen, a professor of history at the University of Dallas, also discussed the significant work of the Congregation for Catholic Education under the reign of Pope Benedict.
She found the Congregation's 2011 decree reforming the philosophical departments of Catholic universities to be the clearest affirmation of the dignity of human reason since the Second Vatican Council.
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She told CNA Feb. 13 that the decree emphasizes there are "perennially valid" truths which are accessible by reason, and shows that "an important part of being a Catholic is to affirm the dignity of human reason and what we can know by reason; and these are essential points for Catholic education."
The affirmation of reason and its capacity for truth was a theme of Pope Benedict's Regensburg address, Hanssen noted. This point is important, she said, because it allows Catholics to engage moral problems – such as abortion and contraception – in the public sphere on the basis not of "biblical truth" but of "rational truth," accessible to all persons.
Hanssen said the Regensburg address was important because it sought to engage the "academic establishment" which by and large has "lost its faith in reason" and reason's "capacity to actually arrive at truth."
"Benedict XVI had a very clear grasp of the problems with Catholic education, and particularly with Catholic higher education – intellectual problems that had infected the universities," she said.
"His understanding of academic freedom was always the freedom to pose questions about the ultimate things, about the origin and destiny of man, about religion and ethics," Hanssen explained.
The dangerous notion of academic freedom as a refusal to raise questions of man's origin and destiny, "lest we discover any truth about them," Hanssen said, is what Pope Benedict referred to as "the dictatorship of relativism."