Franciscan University president reacts to Pope's education speech

Pope Benedict  XVI / Fr. Terence Henry
Pope Benedict XVI / Fr. Terence Henry


The President of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Father Terence Henry, TOR, has given his reaction to Catholic News Agency on the Pope’s message to Catholic university leaders.  Father Henry said that he believes Pope Benedict’s address taught that authentic Catholic education “springs from the heart of the Church.”

Father Henry was particularly struck by Pope Benedict’s idea that Catholic institutions are “instruments of hope” to the world and to young people.

“There are some out there who think that authentic freedom means to speculate on everything under the sun,” Father Henry said.  “To contradict the truth is to contradict the heart of the Church, and Catholic universities need to spring from that heart of the Church.”

“I thought that was a powerful point that he was making, and he did it in a gentle way,” he said.

In his address, Pope Benedict said the university’s mission to search for the truth was “a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi(“teaching office”).”

Father Henry thought another key point of Pope Benedict’s speech was his statement that “Catholic education is not a matter of numbers” but “a matter of conviction.”

The effect of the address on other Catholic universities, he thought, must be manifested through each institution’s self-examination.  Colleges must ask themselves “How can we spring from the heart of the Church?  How can we serve the Church?”

“If they don’t see themselves in that ecclesial union with the Church, then they’re not going to see the questions that the Holy Father was stressing,” he said.

Father Henry was also struck by the Pope’s exhortation to religious communities in which he urged them not to desert their educational apostolate.  Some orders, Father Henry said, no longer saw the relevance of educational service, and its importance for the poor and underprivileged.  He thought the Pope was attempting to remind these orders of their educational responsibilities in the hope they will take them seriously.

“Only in living that responsibility will they realize their true vocation,” Father Henry summarized.

Some commentators had speculated that the Pope would “crack down” on dissent, secularism, and religious indifferentism in some institutions of Catholic higher education which had, in Father Henry’s phrasing, “bleached out” their identities.  Father Henry said that the Pope was in fact “upbeat” through his entire address, which lacked harsh rebukes.  Pope Benedict’s friendly spirit, Father Henry believed, reflected the papal visit’s goal to “bring hope to America.”

CNA asked Father Henry whether he thought the Pope himself would take action, or leave to local bishops the task of restoring or maintaining the identity of Catholic educational institutions. 

Father Henry referenced Pope Benedict’s Wednesday address to bishops in which the Holy Father touched on the need to guarantee authentic Catholic education.  Catholic education, the Pope said, must promote “an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life.”

“In a word,” Pope Benedict continued, “the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems.”

Father Henry connected controversies over some Catholic colleges’ performances of plays like the “Vagina Monologues” and their sponsorship of homosexual activist clubs to the question of moral relativism:  “Are there truths? Do we stand on those truths?” 

He referenced a phrase Pope Benedict used in the Mass before the papal conclave that elected him to the papacy.  In the homily of that Mass, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger said Christ is the “true measure” of authentic humanism.

“And that’s our measure, that’s our guide,” Father Henry said.  “What a tremendous guide that is!”


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