Which should be a good thing, I should have thought.
The Huffington Post reports that the “Pontifical Catholic University Of Peru Stripped By Vatican Of Right To Call Itself Catholic.” It doesn’t measure up to the standards expressed by Pope Wojtyła, the last pope, in his Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). According to HuffPo:
The university in the Peruvian capital, Lima, was founded in 1917 and has been identified with liberal, progressive thinking for decades.
The liberation theologian Gustavo Gutteriez taught at the university for years, but the Vatican withdrew its right to call itself Catholic for unspecified reasons. “[T]he break came after the university had several times unilaterally modified its statutes and had “gravely prejudiced the interests of the Church”. It did not elaborate.”
However, in the Apostolic Constitution at the heart of the dispute between the Rector of the university and the local bishop, there are fairly obvious reasons why there might have been a breakdown. It is often said that the contemporary university grew out of the educational needs of Christians in the mid to late medieval period, and much credit is given to the church for the establishment of institutions of higher learning. I don’t know enough about the history of education to be able to comment, though, as I understand it, the origin of the universities originated with the students, who developed learning cooperatives to which scholars were attracted as teachers. The later control of universities by the church may signal an effort by the church to exert ecclesiastical control, rather than providing evidence that the universities came to birth in the church’s bosom – a case more of post hoc ergo propter hoc, than of the origin of universities in any deliberate plan or purpose of the church. Indeed, some famous universities in Italy (Padua comes to mind, though I stand to be corrected) did not originally have faculties of theology at all.
Reading through the earlier part of Ex Corde Ecclesiae provides pretty clear evidence why universities might have been suspicious of ecclesiastical involvement. In paragraph 8 Wojtyła says:
Having already dedicated the Apostolic Constitution Sapienta Christiana (Christian Wisdom) to Ecclesiastical Faculties and Universities, I then felt obliged to propose an analogous Document for Catholic Universities as a sort of “magna carta”, enriched by long and fruitful experience of the Church in the realm of Universities and open to the promise of future achievements that will require courageous creativity and rigorous fidelity. [my italics]
It is surely the “rigorous fidelity” that would turn out to be the sticking point, for Wojtyła had already said this (quoting from himself):
A Catholic University’s privileged task is “to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth.” [paragraph 1; my italics]
And then, of course, he expands on the role of the already known fount of truth in the search for truth:
By means of a kind of universal humanism a Catholic University is completely dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God. It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, the Logos, whose Spirit of intelligence and love enables the human person with his or her own intelligence to find the ultimate reality of which he is the source and end and who alone is capable of giving fully that Wisdom without which the future of the world would be in danger. [paragraph 4; my italics]
The reader will not have missed emptiness of the words, but the presumptuous and unfounded (and perhaps unfoundable) claims that are being made for the church’s claim to truth, and the priority of that presumed truth to the search for truth that the university is devoted to carrying out with impartiality.
What I find completely astonishing is the confidence with which empty claims about the supposed coordination of “two orders of reality”, and the mutual enrichment which is imagined to flow from this coordination, is made. I have known priests who impress people with ex tempore sermons, composed almost entirely of repeated phrases that the person had used in different configurations for years, but, when considered critically, say nothing at all. Things like this, which come in the next paragraph but one:
Through the encounter which it establishes with the unfathomable richness of the salvific message of the Gospel and the variety and immensity of the fields of knowledge in which that richness is incarnated by it, a Catholic University enables the Church to institute an incomparably fertile dialogue with people of every culture. [paragraph 6]
Ask yourself what this means, and you will find that it is almost entirely devoid of significance. This vacuous elevated language is followed immediately by this equally empty bit of word-spinning:
Man’s life is given dignity by culture, and, while he finds his fulness in Christ, there can be no doubt that the Gospel which reaches and renews him in every dimension is also fruitful for the culture in which he lives. [loc. cit.]
What is this supposed to mean? You could program a computer to make up sentences like this, sentences that seem pregnant with meaning, and yet, on reflection, turn out to be simply pious noise, like the ex tempore sermons that sound such a pious note but have nothing of living substance for people coping with their lives in a real world where people struggle with their demons, sometimes succeed, often fail, and where all will, at some point, grow sick and die. That idea of the gospel which reaches and renews in every dimension is just empty verbiage posing as profound. The pope is just a poseur, like the priests whose empty piety saves them the trouble of actually finding something substantive to say.
But then Wojtyła goes on, claiming even more significance for the Catholic University, and the advantages that lie close at hand because of its Catholic nature. For instance, there is this, remarking on the need for continuous renewal of the Catholic University:
Such renewal requires a clear awareness that, by its Catholic character, a University is made more capable of conducting an impartial search for truth, a search that is neither subordinated to nor conditioned by particular interests of any kind. [paragraph 7; original italics]
If you have to italicise ‘impartial’ then it is probably impartiality that is most threatened, as of course it must be. For, if a Catholic University is more capable of conducting impartial research, then how would it be possible for a Catholic University to have its status as a catholic university called into question by anything that takes place under its aegis? After all if we are speaking here of genuinely impartial research, then the official Church should have nothing to say, unless there is obvious malfeasance taking place – plagiarism, faking research conclusions, palpably fallacious reasoning — for the greater impartiality granted to the Catholic University would have nothing to fear from knowing the truth, whatever that truth turns out to be. According to the Reuters’ report quoted from HuffPo:
The rector of the university, Marcial Rubio, has been at odds with the archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, over control of the institution.
The statutes of the university, we are told, were changed in such a way as to “gravely prejudice the interests of the church.” Although no explanation has been forthcoming, it is clear that the university has refused to be dominated by the Vatican agenda. According to Lifesite News, from which you are guaranteed to get the straight Vatican line on such things,
[t]he university is known for having professors who whose teachings are contrary to Catholicism, and for disregarding Cardinal Cipriani Archbishop of Lima, who is Great Chancellor of the University. Carlos Polo, a Peruvian Catholic who heads the Latin America office of the Population Research Institute, and who received his degree in Social Anthropology from the PUCP in 1987, writes that the university has been home to many supporters of abortion and has financially supported many pro-abortion groups.
Well, wouldn’t you know it — surprise, surprise!! — some people at the university do not think that the Vatican has an inside track to the truth on matters concerning abortion! And this, despite the supposed impartiality of the search for truth, is apparently one of the issues in contention between the university and the Vatican.
We are, of course, not surprised, but it does make Wojtyła’s claim regarding impartiality ring somewhat hollow. Of course, we knew this all the time. Despite its language of impartiality, and the concordance of the two orders of truth, popes are not in the habit of simply letting the search for knowledge take its course. For, though Wojtyła speaks very fulsomely indeed about the
institutional autonomy necessary to perform its functions effectively and guarantees [that it affords] its members academic freedom, [paragraph 12]
he nonetheless goes on to list, in detail, the four essential characteristics of the Catholic University, as Catholic, which include the Christian inspiration of the individual and the community as a whole, a “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church,” and a willingness to serve the people of God in their pilgrimage to their transcendent goal (paragraph 13). Thus, we are to understand,
a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message.
And this means that
Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities, [paragraph 14]
which means that Catholicism will be “vitally present and operative” throughout the university — which also means that the proper nature and autonomy of “these activities” will be fatally compromised.
In other words, it is simply taken for granted that, in a Catholic institution, the truth of Catholicism, as defined by the Church, will be an effective guide and check on research and teaching. Institutional autonomy and academic freedom was a mere pretence, for at the heart of “knowledge” (so understood) is the truth of Catholicism. John Henry Newman counted this truth the foundation of general knowledge itself.
In a word, [he wrote in his The Idea of a University] Religious Truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unravelling the web of University Teaching. [see here (last paragraph)]
Of course, he would say that, wouldn’t he? He did write it, after all, while rector of the new Catholic University in Dublin. But the same question arises here as it did in the case of Wojtyła’s pious, empty words quoted earlier:
Man’s life is given dignity by culture, and, while he finds his fulness in Christ, there can be no doubt that the Gospel which reaches and renews him in every dimension is also fruitful for the culture in which he lives.
The idea of the gospel which reaches and renews a person in every dimension is empty like the claim that theology or religious truth is a condition of general knowledge. It is not. There is not a thing in theology that will help a person to learn about biology or geology or physics or English literature, or philosophy, or psychology, or art, even though many aspects of culture, since religion heretofore has been marinated in religious belief and practices, will require introductory explanations of certain aspects of culture, and the significance these had for the religious believers of the time. But this is as necessary to understand some of the architecture and art of India. In order to understand some of the great temples, or the carvings at Kujaraho, or the great Jain temples at Palitana, the visitor must have some idea of the beliefs and practices that underlie their creation. It does not follow that one has to immerse oneself in the practice of Jainism or Hinduism or Buddhism in order to understand these cultural artefacts, just as it is unnecessary to immerse oneself in Catholicism in order to understand the culture of Europe. Indeed, one might gain greater understanding of these things, and a more impartial, more true, assessment of these things, if one is not captive to the beliefs which created them in the first place — though of course one would want to enter imaginatively into the mindset of those whose culture it was. And to be a believer might very well give one a skewed perspective on the cultural significance of what one is seeing and experiencing. Who is more likely to gain from a study of St. Peter’s, the one who looks on as an outsider, and can describe the conditions under which the people lived who built it, and the skills necessary to accomplish the building, and other aspects of the structure and its cultural treasures, or the person who is lost in adoration upon entering the building, and instead of witnessing the great sweep of history, is lost in contemplation of the sacrament reserved in a small, side-chapel, pungent with the smell of candles?