WASHINGTON – Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of America’s Roman Catholic colleges and universities Thursday that academic freedom has “great value” for the schools, but it does not justify promoting positions that violate the Catholic faith.
Benedict, a former academic, said that church teaching should shape all aspects of campus life and that Catholic educators have a “profound responsibility to lead the young to truth.”
“I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom,” Benedict told hundreds of educators gathered at Catholic University of America.
“Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission,” he said.
Benedict’s talk contained no explicit directive to the school presidents, but emphasized a core theme of his pontificate: that faith is compatible with reason.
“Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice,” Benedict said. “Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.”
The speech was one of the most highly anticipated presentations of Benedict’s six-day visit to the U.S. – his first since he was elected in 2005.
The nation’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities have been at the center of a tug-of-war within the church for decades over religious identity and free expression.
Conservatives often criticize the colleges, accusing them of abandoning faith to conform to an increasingly secular world. Some of the most traditional Catholics have responded by building new, more orthodox schools. One of the best known is Ave Maria University in Florida, funded by Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza.
Nearly all American Catholic colleges and universities are independent, but local bishops provide spiritual guidance to the institutions.