college campus

It Never Was About Anything Else

More than fifty years ago, a group of prelates, priests, and cherry-picked leaders in Catholic higher education published the so-called “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” a declaration of independence made on behalf of Catholic colleges from the oversight of, and from influence by, the Holy See, local bishops, and the magisterium of the Church. The ostensible reason for it was that the Church was seen by its secular counterparts as retrograde and sluggish in producing scholars and statesmen of international recognition. That is, Notre Dame, the school whose president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, led the signatories, was not yet Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. A petitio principii if there ever was one, for why should Notre Dame have wanted to be one of those schools, which were all in the very quick process of abandoning most of their classical and Christian heritage?

We know, of course, what was at issue here. It was a preemptive strike against what Pope Paul VI would issue in 1968, namely the encyclical Humanae vitae. For the business of contraception, abortion, fornication, and every other sexual sin for which there is a name was on the table for reconsideration. A mere ten years later, the authors of Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (1977), would find it somewhat difficult even to condemn sexual activity with animals, let alone anything else that human beings might do, so long as they did it with the appropriate funny internal flutter (if I may adapt Frank Sheed’s wonderful phrase), a flutter of love, whatever love is, and mutuality, and sincerity, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I bring the matter up, because one of the signers at Land O’ Lakes was the now disgraced Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, at that time the president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. McCarrick was also one of the main movers in Dallas in 2002, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops twisted themselves into pretzels so as not to bring up the staggeringly plain facts of the clergy sex scandal. That is, more than four-fifths of the victims were boys, and most of those boys were big kids, not little kids—big enough to resist the advances of a grown man. They were seduced, not overcome by sheer physical force. That, as I’ve said elsewhere, does not make the deed less miserable. In a crucial way it makes it worse, because the boys were inveigled into cooperation with their own defilement, and so they could never say that they had no part in it.

In an interview with USA Today, from June 2002, speaking about the upcoming conference in Dallas, McCarrick tries to parry the whole question of homosexuality. When the interviewer brings it up, he engages in another petitio principii: for the real question is whether someone who has engaged in, and who feels a strong desire to engage again in, actions contrary to nature and to the division of the human race into male and female, suffers from a severe moral and psychological syndrome, one that would disqualify him from the priesthood or from any line of work that would put him in contact with boys and young men. So, responding to the suggestion that homosexual men not be admitted to the seminary, McCarrick makes the standard move, balancing homosexuality with heterosexuality:

“You want someone who can live a chaste life; that is key for me. If somebody who would like to go into the seminary says, ‘All my life, I’ve tried to be chaste, I’m a heterosexual, and I have tried to be celibate, and I have proven that I can be,’ I think you say ‘Fine.’ If someone says to you, ‘All my life I’ve tried to be chaste, I have a homosexual orientation, but I’ve always tried to be chaste,’ I think you do that one case by case. Probably beginning in this next school year, the question of admission to seminaries will be discussed. It might be that the overwhelming weight of opinion will say that homosexuals should not be ever admitted to seminary. I’m not there yet. But if that’s what they tell me to do, then that’s what we’ll do. Certainly, I’m there if we say anyone who has been active in a gay life should not be admitted.”

I detest having to parse a bishop’s sentences, but when he will not speak frankly, he leaves us little choice. We notice that all that is required of the homosexual here is that he has “tried to be chaste.” I can try to hold my place on the field of battle. I can try hard to do it, and then I can run away. I can try not to sin. But in the cases of fornication and sodomy, trying is not good enough. We are not talking here about sins of intemperance, including what used to be called self-abuse. We are talking about sins that you actually have to plan in advance, as McCarrick himself did. It may be difficult to refrain from the lewd thought or the untoward glance. It is not difficult to keep your clothes on.

We should perhaps not say that McCarrick was a flat liar when he uttered that final sentence: “I’m there if we say that anyone who has been active in a gay life should not be admitted.” He may by then have repented of his deeds, after all. He may also be slurring the word “active,” or the word “life.” Never underestimate the human capacity to draw distinctions in our favor. A man may say, “Pornography is not a part of my life,” and mean it, while still he views it once in a while, casually—as if it were something he stumbled upon at times, or at least did not strive too hard to avoid. A man may say, “I am not an active adulterer,” because he has not committed adultery in several years and has no intention to do so in the near future.

But what has all the turmoil in the Church and in Catholic colleges been about, ultimately? Not controversies over the Trinity, not scholars hurling books at each other’s heads for misinterpreting Augustine, not even profound disagreements over such important matters as evolution, the character and the dangers of democracy, the licit use of money, or the relative blessings of work and leisure. Not community and what it is, not culture and why it is fading, not the duties we owe to both our ancestors and our posterity. Nothing of that. Consider Land O’ Lakes and the recent revelations regarding Cardinal McCarrick to be bookends on a shelf, and every book between the bookends is about nothing more respectable, nothing more complicated, and nothing less grubby than how to do what you want with your groin and have a nice day afterwards.

30 Years Later, Notre Dame Has Learned Nothing

Proving that they’ve learned absolutely nothing from the scandal when they honored President Barack Obama in 2009, the University of Notre Dame recently honored former Indiana Gov. Joseph Kernan with one of its highest honors despite his public advocacy for the legalization of abortion.

The university honored Kernan with its 2018 Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., Award, “in recognition of his significant contributions to the University of Notre Dame and his country,” according to a press release from the university. While a politician, Kernan famously insisted that as a Catholic he was “personally opposed” to abortion but remained an advocate for keeping it legal. This line of thinking, of course, is absurd and immoral.

The honor for Kernan is at least partly fitting, because it was on the campus of Notre Dame that New York Governor Mario Cuomo established his indelible print on American politics and Catholicism by infamously promulgating the argument that a Catholic politician can, in good conscience, personally oppose abortion while politically fighting to establish its legality. The past three decades have borne the terrible fruit of that speech.

In a watershed moment for American Catholics, Cuomo didn’t just attempt to create a space for Catholics to vote in favor of legalized abortion, but he went even further by accusing pro-life Catholics of “seeking to force our beliefs on others.” He said that forcing our views on abortion on others would be like forcing our views of premarital sex on others. Of course, this leaves out the victim of abortion, the unborn child.

On top of this, he also said Catholics’ diversity of opinion on abortion policy is essentially equivalent to Catholic diversity on issues such as military expenditures and education policy. So, Cuomo essentially laid out the enduring playbook for Catholic social justice warriors for the next few decades.

Of course, the university named for Our Lady also honored the newly elected President Barack Obama in 2009, despite his history of radically pro-abortion votes and his pledge to support abortion as president—a promise he upheld with gruesome distinction. It then honored Vice President Joe Biden, another defender of legal abortion, with its Laetare Medal. Kernan himself was the commencement speaker at Notre Dame back in 1998.

Moreover, Notre Dame seems to have exempted itself from Humanae Vitae. Just this year, the university announced that it would offer insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients to employees, a policy it said was “based on Catholic principles.”  The same excuse of not “forcing our belief” on non-Catholic employees—employees of a Catholic institution—has been used by Notre Dame to justify its harmful policy.

Amid that darkness, the honoring of Kernan who followed Cuomo’s lead shouldn’t be surprising in the least. It isn’t, but it’s still disappointing that Notre Dame hasn’t realized its mistake thirty-plus years after the Cuomo debacle and nine years after the Obama spectacle.In 2004, Kernan’s high school alma mater, St. Joseph High School in South Bend, was forced by then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy to withdraw its invitation to Kernan to deliver a graduation speech, based on his policy statements on abortion. Bishop D’Arcy made clear at the time that Kernan’s appearance contradicted the moral truths the school expected students to embrace.

Kernan, a Notre Dame graduate, served as mayor of South Bend and as lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana and consistently and publicly pronounced himself to support the legalization of abortion, despite realizing its immorality.

“We’re so proud to present this year’s Sorin Award to Joe Kernan,” said Dolly Duffy ’84, the executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association in a release. “Joe has been a loyal and devoted son of Notre Dame, and his dedication to serving others is a testament to the values the University strives to instill in its students and alumni.”
“Others” would presumably not include the unborn, their parents, the pro-life movement, and the Catholic Church.

While much of Kernan’s life has been spent in creditable and even heroic activities—including time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, his work with the St. Joseph County Red Cross, and the Special Olympics—this honor sends a message to students, alumni, and Catholics around the country that the killing of the unborn is an issue of secondary importance that can be offset by other accomplishments.

There is something terribly amiss at Notre Dame which has caused it to obfuscate, violate, and ignore fundamental Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life, time and again. Please say a prayer for the university and its leaders that they will realize the error of their ways.

Matt Archbold is a fellow of The Cardinal Newman Society. This article was cross-posted at The National Catholic Register.

What Would A Justice Kavanaugh Mean for Catholic Education?

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court Justice has ignited storms of protests from the left, mostly centered around the issue of abortion. But another issue promises to be the focus of some harsh questioning in the near future — Catholic schools.

I’ve long believed that the fate of this country is tied to the strength of our faithful Catholic schools. For one to survive, the other must thrive. And let’s be honest, many many Catholic schools are currently operating on a sub-thrive basis. Why? There are many reasons including a cultural shift that not only inspires apathy about the faith but anger and ridicule. Another has been the mass exodus of nuns from Catholic schools, which forced the schools to allocate significant funds toward paying teachers which led to huge increases in tuition, thus pricing them out of many well-intentioned people’s lives. This has been a calamity for Catholic education and this country. But one of the remedies to this situation that would help families afford a Catholic education has been essentially barred by the odious anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments that exist throughout our country, preventing voucher plans from taking effect.

Here’s a very brief history: In the mid 19th century, anti-Catholic bigotry escalated in reaction to a wave of Catholic immigrants coming to America and establishing Catholic schools which requested public funding. At the time, the public school system was largely seen as protestant strongholds where children recited prayers and read the Bible. In reaction to the Catholic immigrants, many in the country became aligned with the Know Nothing movement which made one of its top priorities barring Catholic schools from receiving public funding. In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant urged Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment to prohibit public funding of what they called “sectarian schools.” To be clear, they were talking about Catholic schools. Blaine, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, complied vigorously with President Grant’s request by introducing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to do just that. Thankfully, his efforts fell just short in the Senate.

But the ball was rolling downhill and it only picked up speed. Supporters of the Blaine Amendment went local, promoting their anti-Catholic agenda in state legislatures to great effect. As of right now, something akin to Blaine Amendments exist in over three dozen state constitutions which bar public aid to religious organizations, including Catholic schools.

Blaine himself rode a tide of popularity to win a Senate seat and even was the Republican nominee for the presidency where he lost one of the narrowest elections our country has seen (mainly because he alienated Catholics). But his impact continues with the amendments still acting as barriers against vouchers for education. Those who most loudly support the Blaine Amendments no longer are affiliated with the Know Nothing movement and they don’t typically concern themselves with conspiracies of the papacy staging a coup on the country. Nowadays, supporters of the Blaine Amendments express concerns about the separation of church and state as well as those who fear that vouchers would harm public schools as many parents would inevitably opt out of public schools if given the chance. Mind you, there is also a not insignificant number of anti-Christian secularists and atheists who would simply like to see religious schools starved out of existence.

But after years of court battles, there is currently a great deal of pushback concerning the constitutionality of the Blaine Amendments and the issue could end up being decided by the courts in the near future. They argue that it is the proper role of government to be neutral on religion, not discriminating against it precisely because of its religious mission.

In fact, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision, ruled last year that Trinity Lutheran, a church in Missouri, could receive state funding to pave its playground with recycled tires even after the state said they weren’t able to because of their state’s constitution.

While the victory was cheered by religious liberty advocates, it was ridiculously narrower than many wanted. The high court did say that “denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion” but expressly added that the case was about “express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.” Thank goodness our long national nightmare over the constitutionality of the resurfacing of Christian playgrounds is finally over!Supporters of school vouchers had hoped at the time that the Supreme Court was ready to put an end to Blaine Amendments. But they didn’t take on the wider issue at all. They punted. Some believe it’s because the conservative judges on the court didn’t think they had enough votes to go ahead on the wider issue.

Enter Judge Kavanaugh.

President Donald Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is a product of Catholic schools who has spoken out on this very issue in favor of religious schools. In fact, before becoming a federal judge, Kavanaugh had served for a time as the co-chair of the School Choice Practice Group of the Federalist Society.

At the American Enterprise Institute in December of last year, Kavanaugh reportedly complimented Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s efforts to ensure that “religious schools and religious institutions could participate as equals in society and in state benefits programs.” He also correctly praised Rehnquist’s criticism of the modern understanding of the separation between church and state as “based on bad history.”

Vouchers have the potential to change the fate of religious schools throughout the country at a time when many are struggling financially. They can help parents whose children are trapped in underperforming schools find a way out. And finally, with Justice Kavanaugh on the bench, this country may finally cut its ties to this awful legacy of anti-Catholic bigotry.

Matt Archbold is a fellow of the Cardinal Newman Society. This article was cross-posted at The National Catholic Register.

Homeschooling as a Means to Rebuilding Catholic Culture

The following was originally given as a talk to the Calgary Catholic Homeschooling group.

My wife and I have been teaching our kids at home for about eight years. I recall vividly when the idea of educating at home turned into a conviction. We were back in Saskatchewan, newly married, newly graduated, and preparing for graduate study in England. It was June and the days were long. My wife had recently completed her education degree and we were dreaming about how we would form our own future children. A small group of us met at a friend’s place at the edge of the city. We read together C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.

On that June evening, it is not as though this was the first time we had given thought to how we would raise our children. Other people and books had formed our thinking. There was Hilda Neatby, the Canadian and Presbyterian version of Alan Bloom. Her books date from the 1950s, when John Dewey’s influence was at its height, and anticipate themes later sensationalized in The Closing of the American Mind. Dorothy Sayer’s famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” thrilled, as did Plato’s Republic, as did the books by Charlotte Mason that Anna and I read out loud together. Probably we were simply dry tinder; any number of books could’ve ignited our imaginations, but it was Lewis who threw down the first match.

I do not think every family should “homeschool”. I am grateful, I would like to add, for the seeds of faith that were planted in my young heart in the two Catholic schools I attended during my elementary years in Saskatchewan. The Church defends vigorously the natural right of parents to educate their children, and I am convinced that this may be done well among a wide variety of models. And yet, eight years into the project and our family has found homeschooling to be a beautiful means to form our children in a Catholic culture.

What makes for a Catholic culture? To build a healthy culture requires many ingredients. We need enchanting liturgies, noble art, a functioning intelligentsia, evangelical clergy, and just laws. But from the point of view of the Church, even more than these we need something more basic. From Leo XIII on, modern popes have insisted with ever-growing vigor that the health of the Church, like the health of civil society, depends upon that kingdom that is older than the Pharaohs, tougher than the nation state, more universal than the United Nations, more reliable than welfare stamps, more loving than anti-bullying clubs, and which is reborn each time a man and a woman proclaim those rash and romantic words: I do.

Those two words are our best defense against barbarism. Any culture that hopes to perpetuate itself must learn to transmit its treasure to its young. Over the last 50 years homeschooling has already proven itself a credible alternative to public and private schools; over the next 50 I predict that homeschooling will serve as a catalyst for rebuilding Catholic culture.

For the remainder, I’d like to show how the homeschooling family, as an expression of the domestic church, is uniquely situated to advance the project of Catholic culture. Just as the Catholic Church has four marks – one, holy, catholic, apostolic – so also can a Christian homeschooling family live out its educational mission by participating in these four qualities.

Just as the members of the Church are one through a common baptism and profession of faith, so also is the domestic church made one through the love of one man and one woman. A homeschooling family helps build Catholic culture by building up this unity within the family.

A couple of years ago some close friends of ours decided that they too would try the grand experiment. As you know, it is not for the faint of heart. How will I keep the kids busy? Will I know enough chemistry? What will our relatives say? And, by the way, can a homeschooled kid get into college? These questions and a dozen like them jump into the minds of parents considering the big move.

Well, for these friends of ours, what pushed them to get wet was a night at their church’s youth group. It was something of a family night. The church gym was filled with kids and parents all bustling around. One of the families present was homeschooling. My friend couldn’t take his eyes off of them. He watched how their children played with each other as friends; yes, friends who were used to spending all day together. He saw the parents speak to their kids; eye met eye; it was different from how he spoke to his. What hit him above all else was the manifest unity in this home. And he wanted it for his family too. “I wanted ours to be unified like that,” he told me; and so they jumped. That was about five years ago. And today that family, for me at least, provides a model for how a household can work together, on their property, in earning a common wage, and in educating kids.

Not everyone wants the family to be unified in this way. In fact, the farther governments slide toward totalitarianism, the less they will tolerate strong families. The logic is not difficult to follow. The more the state sees itself as the only legitimate political actor, the more that the state sees its aim as the imposition of, say, universal equality, even an equality of unbridled freedom, the more it has to target quasi-political associations. As the Marxist theory goes: as family recedes, as parents get out of the way, equality will finally advance.

The second quality of the Church is its holiness. In the biblical mind to be holy is to be set apart for some work. What is the distinctive work of the family? Obviously, it is bringing forth children. Monks and nuns can’t do that. Here again I think the homeschooling family is particularly suited to building up Catholic culture. A homeschooling family helps strengthen Catholic culture by building up an island of holiness within their parish.

Pope Benedict XVI often reflected on this theme. During his pontificate he constantly returned to the crisis of faith through which the West is suffering and proposed models for its recovery of faith. Even his papal name preached a sermon on this theme. Benedict predicted, to the consternation of some, that we would shrink before we could grow. Too many of the habits of piety had been lost, too many of the principles of free thought had been forgotten, too many of our institutions compromised for Christians to hope for a linear recovery. No, the Church in the West would have to take the longer road of suffering and purgation.

Some criticized Benedict for being overly negative. Some have said that his counsel has been one of despair, or charged that he is asking Christians to hide away in ghettos. It seems to me, rather, that he was simply expressing a basic truth: you can’t give what you haven’t got. In order to be salt of the world, Christians would need to regain their distinctive savor. What Benedict proposed is that Christians needed to form Islands of Holiness. Just as Benedict of Nursia’s sons had to regroup during the dark ages after the collapse of Rome, so also can Christians today come together in small groups to relearn the habits of piety, of modesty, of chastity, and of sanctity; only from that position of strength can we then turn again to the world.

How can a homeschool form an island of holiness?

When you homeschool every parent can be a principal. So, in your school, if you want Latin you do not need to convince a board, you can just open up Wheelock; if you want to celebrate Feast Days with gusto, you do not need to convince a committee, you can just find other families and invite them for a party; if you want to enforce a dress code, buy modest clothes; if you want your children to learn fasting, serve fish on Fridays. Teach chant, put on a Shakespeare play, take your kids on pilgrimages, say a daily decade, let them read the classics, and meet up with other like-minded parents. I say, in the spirit of Benedict: embrace the bubble! When you teach at home you can form a subculture. Your family will attract others. Islands need to be populated.

This leads to the domestic church’s and the homeschooling family’s third attribute: catholicity. Holiness does not in principle exclude others. The Church is Catholic in that it is universal. It embraces all who wish to align themselves with her creed. For every family, this openness is expressed first of all in the openness to new life.

We knew a homeschooling family whose parents could not have any children of their own. This was a cross. When we knew them, they already had more than our five. They had come to know one of the single mothers from whom they had adopted a child. And that unwed mother kept having more kids. This homeschooling family decided that they would keep adopting her children. And the kids kept coming, year after year. After a few years, the wife, now a homeschooling mom of a large brood began to think twice before answering the phone! She told us once that she didn’t realize before they started adopting in this way what “openness to life” could mean.…

Not all families are called to such heroism, but we are all called to embrace the profound intrusion upon our ego that is a new life. Children, by their irresistible otherness, by their stubborn resistance to our plans and schedules and sleep, by their generous love, by their friendships, by their neediness, naturally draw a homeschool family into a larger web of families.

You don’t need to have a large family to be “catholic”. But insofar as homeschooling habituates parents and siblings to make room for each other, they win opportunities to practice charity. By the subordination of their finances and their time and their sweat to the great project of educating their children, they are particularly suited to the building up Catholic culture in our time through embracing new life and nurturing the children that come to them.

I conclude that insofar as a family manifests unity, sanctity, and universality, it will automatically and without effort be apostolic. People will come to you: Are those all your children? You sure have your hands full? What are you doing out of school in the afternoon? As St. Peter said to the early Christians, let us always be ready to give a reasonable reply (1 Peter 3:15).

Trojan Textbooks: Beware of Government Bearing Gifts

New Mexico’s Supreme Court is reconsidering a 2015 ruling which ended the state funding of textbooks for private schools. Is this good news?

As a publisher of textbooks produced specifically for Catholic schools, I am conflicted in answering the question. On the one hand, state money provides a large well of cash for schools to much more easily make a decision to upgrade textbooks. After all, most of our schools are woefully budget challenged. Money to alleviate the strain is a welcome relief to those schools, I am sure. On the other hand, two problems peek out of the public funds trough. One is the looming “strings attached.” We wait for the string to be pulled, and wonder what it means for a school to keep following the money on the string – what do they have to compromise? The second problem is becoming dependent on the funding source to the point of having it dictate a school’s buying decisions, even if not necessary.

The positive side seems obvious. Catholic parents pay tuition, but also pay their fair share for public education. It is only right that some of those funds come back to benefit the educational process of their own children. It is also for the good of the state and society that Catholic schools exist, for they educate well, they form a more acute conscience-guided citizen, and they save the states billions of dollars in education spending. Archbishop Chaput offers this statistic: “Catholic and other non-public schools currently save Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $4 billion every year.”

Imagine what would happen if all those schools were to close. Tens of thousands of students, $4 billion dollars worth, would show up on the doorstep of the public schools and the state would have to educate them, with not a dime of additional resources from the public, because they already receive taxes from everyone. It would break the system! And so, it seems like sound business sense for the state education funds to keep that small trickle of good will dollars going into the private schools. Curricular aid is a perfect place to do so. Textbook assistance can provide a small but important benefit, based on a per child formula, which ensures the benefit really follows the child.

The Church has repeatedly called for governments, in justice, to aid Catholic schools in some of the expense of educating children. She realizes the state has no obligation to fund religious education, as such, but she claims there is the whole other element of education, the so-called secular subjects, which the state has a vested interest in. Again, to paraphrase Archbishop Chaput, the value to our society that a good education provides, no matter who is giving it, is priceless. For this reason, it seems that states should follow New Mexico’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, in which it sided with a Lutheran school being able to access state funds that were made available to upgrade the safety of its playground. New Mexico saw that a basic human need was being met, even if it was on the grounds of a church.

There are other ways to look at this whole issue, however, such as from a perspective of fundamental anthropology, or liberty. Government funding has become increasingly tied to a secular, anti-religious ideological agenda. One must be very wary of moving in the direction of government funding. A common argument of advocates on all sides of the aisle is that the secular subjects are just that, secular, and not subject to ideology, so it is fine for the state to fund those books. We have our history textbooks funded by a few states due to this very reasoning.

In a recent Catholic News Agency article on the New Mexico case, Eric Baxter of the Becket Law Group stated in a perfectly well-meaning way, “A science textbook is a science textbook no matter whose shelf it’s on.” The problem is that this is not true! A science textbook is not just a science textbook. Nor is a history book just a history book. To assert, or even accept the notion that publishers like Pearson, Glencoe or Prentice Hall do not have an agenda is either a lie or terribly naïve. They do have an agenda, even an ideology, and they push it.

The standard mainstream science textbook is written from a mechanistic world view. This is flawed science because the world is not mechanistic. One can be a pure and excellent scientist and still acknowledge God, creation, and the beauty of His stamp on the world. In fact, many of the greatest scientists in history were deeply religious – many of them monks and priests. They became so interested in science, and so advanced in discovery because they wanted to understand God’s creation even better, and reveal the gifts He had locked in the intricacies of His world.

Similarly, an honest historian cannot tell history without a significant part of the story being wound up with the Church, and religious motivations for discovery, improvements of economy and government, and yes, some not-so-rosy things, too. But to write the Church’s involvement largely out of history is profoundly poor scholarship. Yet that is what they do. The Church is written out, and Ellen DeGeneres is written in, along with Harvey Milk, Jose Sarria and Gavin Newsom. These are prominent characters in the new lower elementary social studies books in California. These characters are important to history because of their stand for “gay rights”. Of all the stories to share with our children about the great arc of history, are these the ones my seven or eight year old really need to be learning? And yet, this is what we get when we follow the state textbook.

What have we done? We have traded our liberty to teach truth and form our children in right teaching, for free textbooks. Beware of states bearing gifts.

If, as in the case of a few states, your state will fund textbooks such as the Catholic Textbook Project’s history series, by all means, use those funds. That is a right and proper use of the citizens’ taxes. Just be ready to also pay for good, true and beautiful materials by yourself if the state stops funding such products. After all, most Catholic schools in the country do not benefit from state funding of textbooks anyway, and they still find ways to pay for it. It is a nice perk if you have it but please do not let it prevent you from having a textbook that is in line with the core principles of our mission of Catholic education. Sometimes liberty comes at a cost!

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society recently announced Sarah Niblock of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Kansas City, Missouri, as the winner of the Society’s second annual Essay Scholarship Contest for Catholic college-bound students.  Niblock will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, this fall.  Below is the full text of Niblock’s winning essay.  More information about the Contest can be obtained here.

I closed the door to my room, sunk into my plush wicker chair, and let out a deep breath as a mixture of anger and exhaustion swirled within me. “What if I made the wrong decision?” I asked myself. My unease spread as I recounted the comments I had heard from well-meaning family and friends, after telling them that I would be attending a faithful Catholic college. “Are you sure your family can afford that?” one friend asked. “Will a Catholic school shelter you from the harsh realities of the world around you?” my dad questioned. As I replayed these scenes, I began to pray, asking God to open my heart so that I might hear His voice. After restlessly praying for a few minutes, my eyes wandered around my room until they rested on a holy card of Jesus that laid on my dresser. Staring at it for a few seconds, I recalled the words that were written on the back, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). These words seemed to pound in my ears as my eyes closed, and the details of my visit to a faithful Catholic college came rushing back with incredible vividness.

“I am the way.” Chapel bells begin to toll, and I watch as dozens of students appear from dorm rooms and classrooms, hurrying to Mass on a Wednesday afternoon. I gaze around a busy dining hall to see students bowing their head before diving into their midday meal. I listen to a chaplain preach from the pulpit, encouraging and advising students about dating. I pass by sign-up sheets for students to pray at a local abortion clinic. I glimpse an elderly priest sitting with students at lunch, laughing and asking them about their day.

“I am the truth.” My head whips back and forth as I watch two students debate Rousseau’s ideologies regarding the role of government. I hear the patter of a chalkboard as I see a young student jump up to prove a Euclid proposition. I listen to a freshman class discuss how to logically discover the validity of an argument. I pass by a student who is intently studying his Bible, doing some extra research for his theology paper. I notice a smile on my dad’s face, and tears in my mom’s eyes, as my family listens to the president address a Thanksgiving speech to students, asking them to “rededicate yourselves to what you came here for in the first place… not the triumph of your own opinions or the esteem of tutors and students, but rather things of far greater worth and enduring importance: deeper relationships with Christ our King and the beginnings of Catholic wisdom and virtue.”

“I am the life.” I see professors, along with their spouses and children, attending Sunday Mass at the campus chapel. I smile as a young man spots me heading to a classroom building, quickly pulling open the door for me to pass underneath. I overhear conversations between students, telling each other how former alumni have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, priests, sisters, engineers, and missionaries. I talk with an upperclassman who tells me her plans to become a lawyer, and how she turned down two full-ride scholarships in order to attend her dream school. I sit in a quiet dorm room as my hostess tells me that these four years have been some of the most challenging in her life, but she wouldn’t trade them for the world. Opening up to me, she tells me that through her deep friendships and the rich spiritual life on campus, she would be answering God’s call for her to enter the religious life.

I opened my eyes as these visions finally ceased flowing. Letting out a deep breath, I finally found the words that God had been whispering in my heart. “Here, at this college, you will find me. ‘I who am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’”

National Essay Contest Winner Seeks the ‘Way, Truth and Life’ at Catholic College

Sarah Niblock of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Kansas City, Missouri, is the winner of the Society’s second annual Essay Scholarship Contest for Catholic college students and will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

“I finally found the words that God had been whispering in my heart. ‘Here, at this college, you will find me,’” writes Niblock in her winning essay, titled “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The contest was open to high school seniors in the United States who participated in the Newman Society’s Recruit Me program and used The Newman Guide, which recommends faithful Catholic colleges, in their college search. The winning scholarship must be used for education at one of the 28 Catholic colleges and higher education programs recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong fidelity and Catholic identity.

With the innovative Recruit Me program, high school students can invite Newman Guide colleges to compete for them and provide information about their programs. Rising high school seniors who wish to enter next year’s essay contest can sign up for Recruit Me online at

As a junior in high school, Niblock was exploring college scholarship opportunities online when she stumbled upon Benedictine College’s release about the winner of the Newman Society’s first Essay Scholarship Contest. To be eligible for the contest the following year, Niblock signed up for the Newman Society’s Recruit Me program.

It was through the Recruit Me program that Niblock first learned about Thomas Aquinas College and was contacted by the College about its various offerings. Niblock was especially impressed with the College’s Great Books program and its Socratic, discussion-style courses. In the end, Niblock decided to attend TAC and told us that she’s “very grateful for the Newman Society’s programs!”

The topic for this year’s contest was to reflect, in 500-700 words, on the following question: “How will a faithful Catholic college education prepare you for life?”

Essays were judged by how well they demonstrated appreciation for faithful Catholic education, as well as the quality of the writing.

“Sarah Niblock impressed us with the picture she painted of a faithful Catholic college in her winning essay,” said Kelly Salomon, editor of The Newman Guide. “She shows how a strong Catholic environment can provide students with the formation they need for life.”

Niblock relates how she’s faced challenging questions from well-meaning family members and friends about the value of attending a faithful Catholic college.

After finding the answers, Niblock is eager to join a campus where she is confident she will find Jesus, who is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

She describes her visit to a faithful Catholic college campus:

I watch as dozens of students appear from dorm rooms and classrooms, hurrying to Mass on a Wednesday afternoon…

…I listen to a freshman class discuss how to logically discover the validity of an argument…

…I overhear conversations between students, telling each other how former alumni have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, priests, sisters, engineers, and missionaries.

The spiritual life offerings, academic environment, and overall formation provided by a faithful Catholic college convinced Niblock of its value.

Niblock’s entire essay can be read here.

Her $5,000 scholarship is made possible thanks to the generosity of Joe and Ann Guiffre, supporters of the Newman Society and faithful Catholic education.

“We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Guiffre for enabling this scholarship,” said Reilly. “They understand the unique value of a truly Catholic education, and they are thrilled to help a student experience all that a Newman Guide-recommended college can provide.”

Essays were submitted from students in 40 states. Most attend Catholic schools, about 30 percent are homeschooled, and the remainder attend public schools.

Students who participated in the contest applied to every U.S. residential college that is recommended in The Newman Guideplus Holy Apostles College and the University of Navarra in Spain.

Although there can be only one winner, many students submitted outstanding essays, including Maylee Brown of Iowa City, Iowa; Celine Gaeta of Van Nuys, California; Anna O’Leary of Fredericksburg, Texas; and Isabelle Thelen of Traverse City, Michigan. These will be published by the Newman Society on its website,

Choosing a Catholic School Begins with Mission

With Catholic Schools Week upon us (Jan. 28-Feb. 3), families are invited to recommit to Catholic education and register their children for the upcoming school year. Others who are exploring Catholic schools may benefit from a new Parents Guide to understanding the nature and benefits of a faithful, excellent Catholic education.

The higher graduation rates and college acceptance rates of students in Catholic schools are well-documented — but as impressive as these statistics are, they are of secondary importance. The real value of Catholic schools is not what they prepare students to do (go to college, earn high paying wages) but what they prepare them to be — a leaven to society and saints!

Because of this higher and broader horizon, parents should look not only at test scores and college admission rates but also at the strength and wholesomeness of the school’s Catholic culture and how explicitly it accomplishes its Catholic mission.

How is a parent to begin this daunting task? The Cardinal Newman Society has articulated the Church’s expectations as Principles of Catholic Identity in Education, and it has issued a Parents Guide to help families gauge the particular strengths and weaknesses of a Catholic school in key areas: curriculum, community, leadership, faculty and student outcomes. These are some highlights:



The curriculum should advance the mission of Catholic education, with abundant evidence that the faith informs all academic disciplines.

Is there evidence that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture are frequently referenced? Are textbooks supplemented with resources to help ground them in the Catholic faith and reflect a Catholic worldview?

Are students exposed to the best of Western civilization and culture, and do they understand the harmony which exists between faith and reason, especially in the study of the sciences?

Do literature selections assist the genuine development of the human person by using examples of virtue and vice, which allow students the opportunity to enter into the lives of others so as to learn examples of nobility and courage?

Does the social studies curriculum help students understand and commit to the common good, the needs of the poor, human rights and human dignity?

If human sexuality classes are taught, are they fully transparent, in line with Church teaching and respectful of parents as the primary educators?



In Catholic education, parents are partners with the school. They participate in school liturgies and academic and extra-curricular events.

The school climate reproduces the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life, which is not only nurturing but genuinely positive and supportive.

Is an evangelical spirit of freedom and charity evident within the school? Are students challenged to strive for excellence in both human and Christian formation? Are virtues such as magnanimity, honor and modesty taught and evident? Are there opportunities and requirements for service?

Catholic education is in full communion with the Catholic Church and helps grow the Church. Are there activities, clubs and events that invite a deeper understanding of the Catholic teachings and traditions? Does the school display a concern for the life and problems of the Church, both local and universal? Are Catholic students helped to become active members of their parish communities? Is prayer a norm, and are Masses and Reconciliation frequent and reverent?



Opportunities for students to encounter the living God in a Catholic school depend heavily on a faith-filled leader who sets the tone and brings the community together under a common vision and mission.

Do leaders accept and promote the teachings of the Church and moral demands of the Gospel? Do they actively participate in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school and provide an example to others who find in them nourishment for Christian living? Do they see their position as a vocation rather than a profession and attempt to fully integrate their faith life with their daily decision-making?



Because a school depends chiefly on teachers to achieve its purpose, parents should give careful attention to the teachers and their effectiveness at imitating Christ, the true teacher, not only in their work but in the entirety of their lives and actions.

Are the faculty exemplary apostolic witnesses to the Catholic faith, and do they live their lives according to the teachings of the Church? Are they present at school Masses and other religious activities, and are they active in their parishes and local communities? Are they alert for opportunities to integrate culture and academic content with faith to create a synthesis of faith and life for their students?


Student Outcomes

Catholic education provides for the integral formation of students in body, mind and spirit. Students, once individually formed, can advance the Christian formation of the world and ultimately take their place in the eternal Kingdom.

With this dual outcome of securing both the common and individual good, parents can ask: In what ways are graduates using their formation to aid society as a whole, to assist in the building up of impoverished communities, helping the poor or in other ways facilitating the efforts of the universal Church?


Guiding Models of Catholic Education

It may seem daunting for parents to assess these areas on their own when selecting a Catholic school. Fortunately, some schools have proactively taken up the challenge of answering such questions related to strong Catholic identity by seeking recognition from the National Catholic Honor Roll.

The Honor Roll schools complete an extensive battery of questions after spending many hours of reflection on how effectively they are fulfilling the Church’s expectations for Catholic education. Parents may want to spend some time on these schools’ websites to get a sense of what a strong Catholic school looks like and compare them to their local schools.

The Church grows when parents and schools find and support each other in the quest for excellence in Catholic education, which starts and ends with Christ and is sustained by truth and by love.

During this Catholic Schools Week, all are encouraged to renew their commitment to authentic Catholic education wherever it is found.

This article was originally published at the National Catholic Register.

clash with police

Why We Teach Catholics the Truth

The argument for faithful Catholic education is most apparent in humanity’s worst moments.

It’s then that we realize how greatly our culture needs men and women full of virtue, wisdom, and reverence to help lead us to God. And we need Catholic homes, schools, and colleges that form young people for that task.

The terrible events this August in Charlottesville, Va., certainly stir yearning for a renewed culture. Observers worldwide saw an absurd display of racism, political theater, moral vacancy, and tragic violence that left dozens injured and three dead.

The protests and counter-protests, disputing the future of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, occurred on and around the campus of the University of Virginia—
a rather typical secular university, in the sense that it’s been compromised by political correctness and relativism. But UVA is also the sort of institution that many Catholic colleges and universities try to emulate, because of its impressive resources, commitment to faculty research, and social prestige.

What this respected university cannot do, apparently, is fulfill its basic mission! It cannot teach truth when it is needed most, as it was last month.

During the Charlottesville violence, UVA President Theresa Sullivan issued public statements declaring that the “ideologies and beliefs” of the protesters contradicted the University’s values of “diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect.” Critics wondered why she didn’t show greater moral outrage against racism and violence.

That prompted UVA professor Chad Wellmon to take to the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education with a candid defense of Sullivan and the modern research university. In most of American education, morality and divine revelation are formally excluded as unworthy of academic consideration. Why should anyone, he asked, look to a public university for “moral clarity”?

The university has moral limitations. Universities cannot impart comprehensive visions of the good. They cannot provide ultimate moral ends. Their goods are proximate. Faculty members, myself included, need to acknowledge that most university leaders lack the language and moral imagination to confront evils such as white supremacy. They lack those things not because of who they are, but… because of what the modern research university has become.

What that is, according to Wellmon, is “a health center, a federal contractor, a sports franchise, an event venue, and, almost incidentally, a university devoted to education and knowledge.”

Because moral truth is excluded from the modern secular university, Wellmon has acknowledged and accepted that in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, he needs to severely limit what he can discuss in the classroom:

When I welcome my students [back to school]… I will discuss white supremacy and the march, but I will use language different than the one my wife and I used with our three children. To them we spoke in the language of our faith tradition—in terms of the image of God, the church, and Christian love. When I speak to my students, I will do so in the language of the university and its traditions—in terms of open debate, critique, and a love of knowledge.

How awful! Wellmon’s students need the very same truths that he taught his children. But the modern university—which by definition should be dedicated to all truth—restricts what its professors can teach.

Not so in faithful Catholic higher education. As Pope Saint John Paul II explained in Ex corde Ecclesiae:

It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. …[A] Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man, and God. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice, and human dignity are extinguished.

Catholic education does not reject the limited “values” of modern higher education: “diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect,” as Sullivan described them. Respectful dialogue is quite helpful to human discovery and understanding, and at a Catholic college, it’s a matter of respecting the dignity of each person as a child of God.

But for dialogue to be fruitful, it requires a commitment to reason and truth. That’s increasingly rare outside the faithful Catholic colleges recommended in our Newman Guide. A university that questions truth and fails to recognize God, the “fount of truth,” is subject to academic imperialism: the most politically correct conformists, the loudest activists, or the most powerful experts determine what is “true.”

This state of academia undermines even the possibility for respectful dialogue. Thus we find that campus debate too often turns to protest, shouting, and even mob-enforced censorship instead of rational discussion.

Moreover, in today’s secular university, too often the most important ideas—those relating to God, morality, and purpose—are treated as relatively equal in value. Academia places greater value on a diversity of viewpoints, instead of identifying those that are correct. Wellmon is honest about the modern university’s inability to teach students “visions of the good” and “ultimate moral ends;” these must be learned from God’s revelation, which the secular university rejects.

The Catholic educator, however, can teach these and more. The scope and capacity for teaching, learning, and understanding is vastly greater at a faithful Catholic college, because reality is embraced fully and without limitation. This is why our patron, Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman, argued that a true “university”—embracing the entirety of knowledge—must be Catholic.

At the faithful Catholic college, every discipline has a firm foundation in reality. Theology is not only taught but bears upon every study. Artists and writers appreciate the human experience, full of meaning and hope in the reality of Christ. Science and medical students learn the ethics of caring for God’s creation and wonder at the intentionality of every living thing and process. Math and engineering students embrace the divine order on which every rule and formula depends.

Questions of morality are not excluded but are central to a Catholic education. Catholic educators face sin and redemption honestly, for the good of their students. They draw lessons from those tragedies that result from our fallen nature—like the events in Charlottesville—without hiding truth within the privacy of their homes.

Hopefully, the events in Charlottesville have inspired Catholic families to talk about the sin of racism, respect for human dignity, and the sometimes blurry distinctions between preserving and celebrating history. As students begin the school year, we need that conversation to continue in the classroom.

We need educators who teach and witness to Catholic morality and assent to God’s authority, as given to us through the Catholic Church. We need the same truths—all truth—to be embraced, sought, and reverenced in our homes, schools, and colleges.

Anything less deprives young people of a complete formation. Anything less deprives them of truth.

The Land O’ Lakes Statement Has Caused Devastation For 50 Years

In hindsight, what they did was appalling.

But when several Catholic university leaders gathered in the summer of 1967 at a remote retreat in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, did they fully anticipate the consequences of their vision for “modern” Catholic education? Hopefully not.

It was 50 years ago, on July 20-23, when Notre Dame’s Father Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., gathered his peers to draft and sign the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” a declaration of the independence of Catholic universities from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Over the course of just a few years following the statement, most Catholic colleges and universities in America shed their legal ties to the Church and handed their institutions over to independent boards of trustees. In the quest for secular prestige and government funding, many went so far as to remove the crucifixes from their classroom walls and to represent their Catholic identity in historical terms (such as, “in the Jesuit tradition”).

The wound of secularization deepened over the next few decades: many Catholic colleges and universities weakened their core curricula in favor of the Harvard model of electives and specialization, adopted a radical notion of academic freedom, embraced relativism and political correctness, and largely abandoned the project of forming young people for Christ outside the classroom.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” was soundly repudiated by Saint Pope John Paul II in Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities. Although not yet accepted in its entirety, Ex corde Ecclesiae turned the tide toward renewal of Catholic identity and gave prominence to those faithful institutions that never accepted the Land O’ Lakes mentality. In the meantime, however, Fr. Hesburgh’s declaration did much damage.

It’s for good reason, then, that the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” has become a focal point in American Church history. It’s sometimes described as an explosive, revolutionary act that changed the trajectory of Catholic higher education, which may be an exaggeration. But it certainly was a watershed moment, evidenced by the rapid changes that followed the statement. It was also the culmination of years of unrest in Catholic universities—in many respects, a moral struggle with the temptation to pride and prestige at the expense of Catholic identity.

With the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” that struggle was momentarily lost. It represented a public, deliberate choice for opportunity over mission, resulting in a voluntary exile from the once-lush gardens of truth and wisdom that had distinguished the world’s Catholic universities.

The allure of prestige

For most Catholic university graduates and educators before the late 1960s, alma mater was still as much Mother Church as her academic institutions. But more than a decade before the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” influential academics were already expressing disappointment with the public status of Catholic universities in the United States.

This was argued forcefully by Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, a Church history professor at the Catholic University of America, whose lament was published and disseminated by Fordham University:

“…in no western society is the intellectual prestige of Catholicism lower than in the country where, in such respects as wealth, numbers, and strength of organization, it is so powerful. …Admittedly, the weakest aspect of the Church in this country lies in its failure to produce national leaders and to exercise commanding influence in intellectual circles, and this at a time when the numbers of Catholics in the United States… and their material resources are incomparably superior to those of any other branch of the universal Church.”

Note that Msgr. Ellis did not claim that Catholics were intellectually lacking, but only that they lacked academic “influence” and “prestige.” The prior claim would have been astonishing, given that Ellis’ university colleagues included (until 1950) then-Bishop Fulton Sheen—who not only was known for his radio and television preaching, but also was described as a highly gifted philosopher.

The Thomas Reeves biography of the Venerable Sheen reveals a much earlier battle, in which the saintly professor testified to Catholic University’s board of trustees against attempts to make the institution a “Catholic Harvard,” with emphasis on secular prestige. At a 1935 trustees meeting, Sheen called for the “primacy of the spiritual” in Catholic education:

“The task of integrating the supernatural with the natural, of infusing human knowledge with the divine, of complementing our knowledge of things with our knowledge of God, of making all things Theocentric, is the business of a Catholic university.”

He added that the bishops’ national university:

“…is to education what the Catholic Church is to religion, namely, the leaven in the mass. The Church is not one of the sects, it is the unique life of Christ; the Catholic University is not one of the American Universities, it is their soul.”

The deck is stacked

It would be wrong, then, to assume that Catholic identity was suddenly under assault by the participants in the 1967 retreat at Land O’ Lakes. It had endured through many trials. The appeal for academic independence from “all authority” had perhaps found its time, when society itself seemed to have turned against tradition and values.

Two other false notions about the Land O’ Lakes meeting deserve to be corrected. For one thing, the retreat was not an isolated gathering of independent reformers; it was surprisingly “official,” one of several regional meetings around the world to help draft a statement by the Vatican-affiliated International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), of which Fr. Hesburgh was then president. The final Vatican-influenced document, “The Catholic University in the Modern World,” was far more traditional in its understanding of Catholic education, and in fact it is quoted in Ex corde Ecclesiae.

Second, although the Land O’ Lakes meeting was identified as the North American regional delegation to the IFCU, it was never truly intended to represent all of the region’s Catholic colleges and universities. Subsequent histories and Notre Dame’s own description indicate that the participants were focused on large, research institutions—an odd emphasis, since none of the represented universities had truly attained that status, but perhaps they aspired to it.

Moreover, it seems the deck was stacked with Fr. Hesburgh’s allies: only 10 universities were represented, including six from the U.S.: Boston College, Catholic University of America, Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Saint Louis. (The rector of the Catholic University of America was alone in publicly criticizing the resulting statement.) Of the 26 signers, seven were from Notre Dame and its sponsoring Holy Cross Fathers, and ten were Jesuits or leaders of Jesuit institutions.

Some of the signers were especially notable: Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, Father Theodore McCarrick (then president of the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico and later Archbishop of Washington) and Father Vincent O’Keefe, S.J. (later Vicar General of the Society of Jesus).

Also intriguing is the signature by John Cogley, a leftist scholar representing the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. It’s not clear what he was doing at Land O’ Lakes, except that he was a celebrated intellectual in certain circles. He had been religion editor of the New York Times and a principal writer of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech advocating the separation of church and state. He later dissented from Humanae Vitae and became an Episcopalian.

For a few coins

I leave it to the reader to explore more of the statement itself, but I’ll make one more claim about the motivations behind it. Above I accused the signers of succumbing to the temptation for worldly prestige. But closely tied to secular prestige is the desire for money, which seems also to have been a related factor.

In 1987, Sister Brigid Driscoll, former president of Marymount College in New York, offered a defense of the “Land O’ Lakes” mentality:

“In the 1960s and early 1970s, most Catholic colleges severed even tenuous ties to the Church…

“We became independent and named lay trustees because of accreditation, the increased sophistication of higher education as a major enterprise and because of the demands of growth…

“Those decisions meant a windfall for the schools a few years later when the federal government offered financial aid to independent colleges…

“Any indication that these schools were under ecclesiastical authority could cast doubt on their independence and thus jeopardize that aid…”

The same year, in the New York Times (Jan. 16, 1987), Fr. Hesburgh made a similar claim:

“Catholic colleges and universities receive a large amount of financial help in different forms from the public monies of the state.

“…if there were no academic freedom and institutional autonomy for Catholic higher education, it might very well be that the [U.S. Supreme] Court would rule that public funding for Catholic institutions of higher learning is unconstitutional.”

In fact, however, the Supreme Court has ruled quite differently in support of religious institutions. Today some of the most faithful Catholic colleges like Franciscan University of Steubenville and Thomas Aquinas College participate freely in federal student aid programs, as does the “ecclesiastical” Catholic University of America.

It’s sadly true that, for the Catholic universities that embraced Land O’ Lakes, secularization has been rewarded with large endowments and state aid. But it’s simply not true that federal aid would have been unavailable to universities that maintained formal ties to the Church. Ironically, Notre Dame still is under some legal control by the Holy Cross Fathers; its students receive grants and loans, and it has received numerous federal grants from the Obama administration (albeit after giving the President an honorary degree).

For many smaller Catholic colleges, secularization has not benefited them financially. They struggle to distinguish themselves from state universities that provide the same job training at less cost.

Marymount College in New York is a case in point. Recall that Sr. Driscoll seemed proud of her institution’s choice to sever “tenuous ties to the Church,” bringing a “windfall” of taxpayer funds. The College closed its doors in 2007 for financial reasons.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.