Statement Regarding Franciscan University of Steubenville and The Newman Guide

Earlier this week, a report by Church Militant revealed that the chairman of the English department at Newman Guide-recommended Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) assigned a blasphemous and pornographic book in an upper-level class last spring. The University’s spokesman initially seemed to defend the choice as part of the University’s intellectual formation to prepare Catholic students for a secular world.

The Cardinal Newman Society and many others, including Franciscan University parents and alumni, expressed deep concern. We reached out directly to the University and have been communicating with the president, Father Sean Sheridan, TOR.

Yesterday Father Sheridan issued a strong apology and an affirmation of the University’s Catholic identity. He apologized for the University’s initial weak response and acknowledged that the assigned book is “so directly pornographic and blasphemous that it has no place on a Catholic university campus.” He promised action “to immediately review and revise our existing policy on academic freedom to prevent future use of scandalous materials,” and the Newman Society hopes to be able to share that new policy with other Catholic colleges to prevent similar scandals.

Although Father Sheridan insisted in his statement that the professor who assigned the book—then chairman of the University’s English Department—had no “malicious” intent and sought to prepare students “for challenging conversations” with non-Catholics, the professor was quickly replaced as department chair.

Franciscan University’s Catholic Identity

What to make of this? First, it is important to stipulate that an English reading assignment that viciously blasphemes the Mother of God and is explicitly pornographic—all with the apparent intent of leading readers away from God—is reprehensible, disgusting, and without academic merit. It is contrary to the mission of a Catholic college. Catholic families who send their children, at great expense, to Newman Guide colleges do so precisely because they are avoiding these types of problems.

Second, to defend assignment of the book on academic freedom grounds completely warps the true meaning and purpose of academic freedom. As Saint John Paul II explained, academic freedom protects teaching and research within the confines of a professor’s discipline and in conformity to truth, which is foundational to the college’s Catholic mission. (Here are some resources on the often misunderstood notion of academic freedom: LINK and LINK and LINK.)

Third, Father Sheridan’s apology was clear and strong, he promised policy changes that would prevent future scandals, and the University appears to have acted quickly in replacing the professor as chair of the English Department. In charity, we should accept the apology while watching to confirm that this indeed never happens again.

While disappointed and shaken by the scandal, we see very encouraging signs that Franciscan University continues to uphold its much-deserved reputation as a strongly faithful Catholic college. How many other Catholic college presidents would have condemned this error, apologized publicly, and promised to ensure that it will never happen again? What other colleges would have responded with a Holy Hour of Reparation to Mary, Mother of God, and a request that all faculty members—in all academic departments—profess the Oath of Fidelity during a forthcoming Mass? We have long said that no Newman Guide college is immune from error, but Franciscan University is one that retains our great admiration, not least because it has been a leader in the renewal of faithful Catholic education for more than four decades.

This scandal comes on the heels of a series of articles late last year that claimed that Franciscan University administrators were working, or at least hoping, to water down its faithful approach to Catholic higher education. The articles were deeply disconcerting, but they relied primarily on anonymous quotes and conjecture. We responded by reaching out to trusted professors and to University leadership. The professors did express some concern for Franciscan University’s future; they worried about the intent of actions to promote “diversity,” and they cited claims by other professors that Catholic teaching might be undermined. But none of them could or would provide conclusive evidence of any actual problem, on the record. None suggested that faithful Catholic families should avoid Franciscan University or that the Newman Society should remove it from the Newman Guide. On the contrary, they continued to value Franciscan University as a place where students would be strengthened in their faith from the classroom to the dorm room.

Moreover, Franciscan University has an army of faithful faculty members, students, parents, and alumni who are watchmen for the University’s Catholic mission. In that we have great hope! Deo gratias!

The Newman Guide

The fact is that every Catholic college today faces a strong pull from the culture, secular society, and even some Church leaders to compromise Catholic identity in order to be more “modern,” “diverse,” “welcoming,” or “pastoral.” Only those Catholic colleges that are intentional about remaining faithful to their Catholic mission—at all times and in all areas of campus life—will be able to avoid the temptation of compromise and hypocrisy and withstand society’s assault on morality and religious freedom.

Newman Guide colleges are not immune to this pressure to secularize, and they are neither perfect nor identical. To their credit, however, we find that when they discover things contrary or threatening to their mission, they fix it. The Newman Society quietly works with many of our recommended colleges each year to help make them aware of problems, which they diligently work to correct.

More than that, most of the Newman Guide colleges have begun to collaborate with each other through a series of working groups that we established. These help college leaders and staff support each other and learn from each other, developing best practices for maintaining and enhancing Catholic identity. This is good news for the Church and for Catholic families.

The Newman Guide has and continues today to proudly recommend Franciscan University of Steubenville to Catholic families. None of the Newman Guide colleges is right for every student; no college is. But we strongly believe that Catholic education is valuable and that Catholic families should give preference to our recommended colleges, including Franciscan University, for an authentic and faithful Catholic education. Collectively they are the best the Church has to offer today, and with the support and encouragement of faithful Catholic families, God willing they will continue to renew and improve faithful Catholic higher education.

Finally, it is important to note that our recommendations are not written in stone, and the college leaders know this well. Today, we are confident that the ten percent of Catholic colleges recommended in the Newman Guide are serious about upholding their Catholic mission—but if we find sufficient reason to doubt this, after careful review and documentation, we will remove them from the Newman Guide without hesitation. Ultimately the Newman Society’s first priority is to serve the needs of Catholic families and to uphold the authentic mission of Catholic education, wherever and however it may be provided to our precious young people, who deserve genuine Catholic formation.


Editorial: Infidelity, Dissent and Scandal—from McCarrick to Catholic Education

In light of the terrible scandals confronting the Church in recent days, may we (once again) propose a key part of the solution to widespread infidelity, dissent and scandal?

We propose the renewal of faithful Catholic education.

The Church has been repeatedly wounded by the predatory, criminal and obscene abuse of innocent boys and men by trusted leaders, including former Cardinal McCarrick and those who enabled him.

How can we still be in this situation? After the 2002 scandals, the faithful stood with the bishops and trusted them to end not just the sex abuse scandals—which we were assured were all in the past—but also to work to rebuild and strengthen Catholic identity across the Church’s institutions.

But here we are 16 years later. Church attendance is plummeting, young people are abandoning the faith, and heterodox Catholic colleges, leaders and organizations have persisted in dissent and scandal without consequence or public correction.

If you wonder how we got here, Anthony Esolen’s article on the McCarrick scandals at the Newman Society’s website is a must-read. McCarrick, he points out, was one of the signers of the infamous “Land O’ Lakes Statement” in 1967, which paved the way to outright dissent and academic opposition to Humanae Vitae a year later.

Esolen rightly finds that the Cardinal’s behavior—and the apparent tolerance for that behavior by other bishops—had much the same cause as the decline of Catholic education.

And it can be corrected, if all of us in the Church demand fidelity and true Catholic formation in our homes, our schools, our colleges, and our seminaries.

But this will be easier said than done. In many corners of the institutional Church, we seem to be rushing to meet the (fallen) world where it is, instead of boldly and confidently proclaiming that true happiness is found in Truth, in the Way of Christ. Just look at the agendas, marketing materials and speaking lineups of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the Synod on Young People.

More than ever, what our families need… what the Church needs… what all the world needs, is a revitalization of truly faithful Catholic education.

Still, in too many Catholic elementary and secondary schools, we find the influence of the utilitarian Common Core and secular textbooks and curricula, often embraced by well-meaning but apparently poorly catechized educators. The Newman Society’s Catholic Is Our Core project exposed the inadequacy of the Common Core, and thankfully many dioceses have abandoned it. A number of them have embraced our faithful Catholic Curriculum Standards. But there is still so much more to be done.

With regard to Catholic colleges, it is well past time for the Church—the bishops, the clergy and religious, and parents—to publicly reject those that undermine fundamental Church teachings while claiming a Catholic identity! This scandal has done enormous damage to souls.

The most heterodox of the Catholic colleges serve as incubators for practically every bad idea in the Church today. Dissident educators and their college leaders bear direct responsibility for leading young people astray—and yet we cannot ignore the painful fact that the Church’s continued endorsement of these institutions leads many Catholic families to send their sons and daughters to be corrupted by sin and relativism.

More than a quarter of Catholic colleges allow overnight, opposite-sex visitation in student bedrooms! What effect do you suppose that has on students and their faith? Where are Church leaders and Catholic parents on this? Why are they not demanding that it stop?

This is just one example of how the Church’s silence on public scandal and the collapse of Catholic moral formation have fostered infidelity and dissent.

The good news is that there is a renewal of Catholic education underway: at Newman Guide colleges; at Catholic Education Honor Roll schools, including lay-run independent Catholic schools that get too little support and attention from the Church; in the exploding Catholic homeschool community that also gets too little support and attention from the Church; and in lay Catholic organizations like the Newman Society, FOCUS, ICLE, the Augustine Institute, and so many others.

Thanks be to God for this!

And thanks also for those orthodox and holy priests and bishops who faithfully live their vocations and proclaim the Truth of Christ. We have met and worked closely with many of them, and they need our prayers and support more than ever.

We need the entire Church, both clergy and laity, to demand fidelity from every Catholic and every institution which claims a Catholic identity. It’s an expression of the greatest love to uphold Truth, Beauty and Goodness in Catholic education and throughout the Church. May we love our young people and fellow Catholics more deeply and fervently in these times of dissent and confusion.

Catholic Schools Should Leave Common Core Behind

Nearly three years ago, The Cardinal Newman Society urged Catholic school leaders to exercise caution and refrain from rushing into adoption of the Common Core State Standards. In meetings with bishops and diocesan superintendents, we and other education advocates raised important concerns:

  • We said the Common Core was developed for secular public schools and fails to address key priorities in Catholic education.
  • We warned that its utilitarian objectives are contrary to the mission of Catholic education.
  • We noted that the untested Common Core has nothing to offer Catholic schools that already excel and score high on national tests.

Today our concerns are validated and confirmed by a new, thorough and scholarly critique of the Common Core’s use in Catholic schools. After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core is published by the Pioneer Institute in collaboration with American Principles Project and authored by Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, along with the impressive Dr. Anthony Esolen, Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan.

After the Fall should finally and forever convince Catholic school leaders to move above and beyond the flawed Common Core standards by embracing truly Catholic standards of excellence in education.

For Catholic schools to thrive and fulfill their mission of forming the whole person — mind, body and soul — they must make the Catholic faith the core of all that they do. Sprinkling Catholicism on top of secular Common Core standards, as After the Fall describes the approach recommended by some Catholic educators, in fact weakens Catholic identity and denies students the formation that is essential to a truly Catholic education.

The fact of the matter is faithful Catholic schools already outperform secular schools and help prepare students not only for college and career, but more importantly for this life and the next. They do well because of their emphasis on Christian formation, which is absent from the Common Core and other government standards.

Because Common Core gets man wrong, it gets education wrong. Catholic insight into human nature and into man’s relationships with his fellow man, nature, and God allows for a more complete exploration of the world and not just all that is in it, but also that which transcends it as well. We are about a more substantial project and need more substantial standards. The Cardinal Newman society will soon be releasing resources to aid the discussion of what those standards might include.

Before the publication of this new scholarly analysis, there was already considerable momentum in Catholic education away from dependence on the Common Core and toward a more faith-centered approach to Catholic education. With After the Fall’s devastating critique proving accurate Catholic concerns about the Common Core, we hope this trend will continue.

It’s time for all Catholic schools to turn the page. Catholic is the core of Catholic education.

For more information about the Common Core click here