The National Catholic Reporter has been digging around for several months to do a profile on The Cardinal Newman Society, and their reporter told us to expect an “objective-as-possible” article. But since the Reporter shows minimal respect for the Vatican, the bishops and any organization that fully embraces the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, we were not particularly hopeful. And, it turns out, with good reason.
“Part one of the Reporter’s article is finally out, and there are no surprises. The article is biased and inaccurate, and as the Reporter is wont to do, it implies a boogeyman around every corner.
Fortunately, we only responded to the Reporter’s questions in writing, so we can share with you precisely what we told them. In fact, we think the written interview is much more informative than the article. The full text of that interview is below, but first we offer a few clarifications required by the article published Friday:
1. The Reporter focuses on what it calls our “watchdog” role in monitoring abuses in Catholic higher education. It’s true that we provide accurate and truthful reporting on Catholic education, including exposure of abuses in Catholic identity, at our Campus Notes site. We believe that Catholic families have a right to know what is occurring on Catholic campuses. But the Reporter presents a distorted view of our work by ignoring numerous Campus Notes articles that also highlight positive developments in Catholic education. The Reporter also ignores the work of our Center for the Advancement of Higher Education, Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, Catholic High School Honor Roll, Vatican exhibit of the “Eucharistic Miracles of the World,” defending the religious freedom of Catholic educators, etc. — all of which takes up far more resources and staff time than our Campus Notes reporting.
2. Much of the Reporter’s article rests on criticism of The Cardinal Newman Society’s alleged “blast” e-mail and phone campaigns—despite the fact that we clearly told the Reporter (see the interview below) that it has been several years since we organized grassroots protests, with the exception of an occasional, respectful petition. Our primary reason for no longer urging grassroots e-mails and phone calls was precisely the complaint that the Reporter aims against us: we didn’t appreciate the tone of a small number of e-mails, which were counterproductive and only distracted college leaders away from serious concerns. As for petitions, the article blatantly ignores our largest petition, with more than 367,000 signatures opposing the University of Notre Dame’s honors to President Barack Obama in 2009. And we have sponsored more prayer campaigns than petitions! Here are links to several of our prayer campaigns:
2012 Lenten Prayer Campaign for Religious Liberty
2011 Lenten Prayer Campaign for Catholic colleges (more than 1,000 Holy Hours)
2010 Eastertide Prayer Campaign for Pope Benedict XVI (more than one million prayers, Masses)
2010 Prayer Campaign for Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Canonization
2009 Prayer Campaign for Bishops Who Opposed Notre Dame Honors to President Obama (more than 700,000 prayers, Masses)
3. The Reporter cites Sr. Andrea Lee of St. Catherine University in Minnesota, who falsely claims that our concerns about the University “most often” relate to “something that is discovered embedded many clicks down in our website.” TheReporter does nothing to correct her false statement. Here are just some of our most recent posts on St. Catherine University:
October 2012: Professors countered Bishop Robert Morlino by declaring that Congressman Paul Ryan’s economic plan was “fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” including Amata Miller, Professor of Economics, St. Catherine University.
December 2011: Although the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee publicly condemned Quest for the Living God by Fordham theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson in March 2011, we discovered that St. Catherine University had later presented a seminar on the book called “Here Be Dragons: A Dialogue with Quest for the Living God,” which ran from September through November 2011.
December 2011: We noted that the board of the College Theology Society, including Dr. Colleen Mary Carpenter of St. Catherine University, had opposed the U.S. bishops’ criticism of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God.
May 2011: We reported that St. Catherine University publicly honored its commencement speaker Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and the lobbyist who perhaps did the most to undermine the U.S. bishops and pro-life organizations on national health care.
4. The Reporter deceptively cites Dr. Thomas Powell, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, regarding its dedication ceremony for a wind farm that was attended by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Although the article implies that The Cardinal Newman Society criticized the University for the event, in fact we have never reported on the incident. Dr. Powell has been the most enthusiastic supporter of our Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of The Cardinal Newman Society, which is headquartered at the Mount because of Dr. Powell’s generous invitation.
5. The Reporter cites Fr. Stephen Privett, S.J., president of the University of San Francisco, falsely claiming that The Cardinal Newman Society would find it “problematic” that 60 percent of USF’s students are not Catholic. Again, theReporter does nothing to correct the false statement. The Cardinal Newman Society looks to the Church’s standards for Catholic identity, as defined in Ex corde Ecclesiae, which does not consider the portion of Catholic students. Among the colleges recommended in our Newman Guide for strong Catholic identity are Aquinas College in Tenn. (35 percent Catholic students), St. Gregory’s University in Okla. (50 percent Catholic students), and Walsh University in Ohio (44 percent Catholic students). What’s most important is that a college fully embraces Catholic teaching inside and outside the classroom, which apparently is not always the case at USF. Here are some recent Campus Notes posts on USF:
November 2012 USF’s Public Interest Law Foundation honored David Boies, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case of Perry v. Brown (now known as Perry v. Schwarzenneger) to overturn California Proposition 8 and redefine marriage.
September 2012: USF’s law school celebrated its 100thanniversary with speakers including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and David Boies, both public advocates of same-sex “marriage.”
May 2012: USF’s commencement speakers included three public officials—San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey—who have publicly supported abortion rights and same-sex “marriage.”
April 2012: USF announced a “Lavender Graduation” ceremony for homosexual students.
What follows are the questions put to The Cardinal Newman Society by theReporter, together with our responses, submitted in writing to Dan Morris-Young on June 21, 2012:
Q: Is there such a thing as actual membership in the CNS? One may donate online, etc., but is there a member status as one would have with the Catholic Press Association or Knights of Columbus?
A: Our members care deeply about Catholic higher education, and every member participates in the work of The Cardinal Newman Society by joining our efforts, receiving our member newsletters and emails, offering prayers, or supporting our work financially. The vast majority are not donors, and we have no member dues.
Q: When was the The Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education formed? How does its mission differ from that of the CNS, or augment the CNS mission?
A: The Center is not distinct from The Cardinal Newman Society. It is a division that represents a key aspect of our work to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. We launched the Center prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in 2008, specifically to support those colleges and universities that are committed to living out the Holy Father’s vision of faithful education. The Center focuses on facilitating collaboration among college officials to strengthen Catholic colleges and universities.
Q: Income: Roughly, what percentage of the Society’s income comes from foundations or corporate entities, and what comes from individuals? Are the foundations and/or corporate donors public knowledge?
A: We are blessed with thousands of very generous and loyal donors including laity, priests and bishops. Some of our individual donors make gifts through family foundations and businesses.
Q: Pope Benedict in early May called on U.S. Catholic colleges and universities to underscore their Catholic identity and fidelity, and specifically mentioned the mandatum that theology teachers should receive from the local ordinary. Your thoughts? (Do most Catholic colleges and universities ignore this? Why?)
A: Clearly Pope John Paul II thought the mandatum was important not only for individual theologians but for Catholic universities, since Canon 812 (which institutes the mandatum) is part of the section of the 1983Code labeled “Catholic Universities.” Also, he insisted upon implementation of the mandatum within Ex corde Ecclesiae, which defines the Catholic university. It is not surprising that Pope Benedict has said that the mandatum is “especially” important to the “reaffirmation” of Catholic identity in Catholic colleges and universities. Theology professors have rights that should be respected, but so do Catholic families, and Catholic institutions have the obligation to teach in fidelity to Catholic doctrine. We hear from Catholic parents and students who consider it a matter of simple justice that their sons and daughters be able to know which of their theology professors have the mandatum and teach in full communion with the Church.
Q: Did CNS take any action on this latest exhortation from Benedict XVI? If so, the responses or feedback?
A: We reported on it. Pope Benedict seemed to be requesting action from the colleges and universities, so we hope they will respond faithfully.
Q: Does the CNS file suits, concerns and/or appeals directly with the Vatican (notably in situations such as at Georgetown when it was going to fund a student group supporting abortion rights)? If so, examples?
A: No, that’s not how the Church works. We document concerns and share that information with Catholic families, college leaders and the American bishops.
Q: Does the CNS seek direct counsel from any Vatican officials or entities? If so, from whom and/or from which? Examples?
A: We consult hundreds of various people, including college presidents, trustees, faculty members, administrators, priests, sisters, and bishops—yes, some of them in Rome. In the manner appropriate to laity, we consult the Vatican by contemplating Ex corde Ecclesiae, by which Pope John Paul II defined Catholic higher education, and Pope Benedict’s statements conveying his vision for faithful Catholic education where “truth is rooted in faith.”
Q: Has the Cardinal Newman Society assisted William Peter Blatty in his Church court filings against Georgetown? In what manner? Informal advice? Legal counsel? Financial support? Friend of court filing? Behind-closed-door conversations with Vatican officials?
A: Mr. Blatty approached us more than a year ago when he decided to file a canon law lawsuit and asked our advice. He has asked for our help with recommendations, contacts, research, documentation, and keeping the lay faithful informed of the progress. The content of the lawsuit and its leadership depends entirely on Mr. Blatty and his fellow alumni and student procurators.
Q: Some college administrators have described the “blast communications” that seem to be able to be generated by the CNS – phone calls, e-mails, letters. How does that work? Do you alert persons on e-mail lists in a specific area, or e-mail alert your entire mailing list, or post on web site, or issue news releases, or all or some of the above? Who makes those decisions?
A: It has been several years since we regularly organized letter and e-mail campaigns. The protests that colleges continue to receive are from the grassroots; we need do little more than report the scandals. We have sponsored very successful petitions to the leaders of Notre Dame and Georgetown, and our members pledged hundreds of thousands of devotions during our prayer campaigns. Today we are focused on a professional journalistic operation that reports on Catholic higher education issues, with the primary goal of informing Catholic families as well as the colleges and bishops.
Q: How large is the CNS e-mail contact list?
A: It’s very large and growing.
Q: In the recent case of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Gonzaga University, the local opponents to his appearance said they would not have objected to his appearing on campus if it has been in the contained arena of specific academic inquiry – apartheid, for example – but it was the commencement address platform and university honorary degree they found objectionable. Does that reflect the CNS general stance toward persons not in harmony with Catholic teaching appearing as campus invitees – that academic inquiry is one thing, providing implicit university endorsement via honors or an address platform is another?
A: We have argued that selection as a commencement speaker provides both an honor and a platform—one that allows for no genuine dialogue. So clearly that is the greater concern, especially when paired with an honorary degree.
With regard to other platforms, the bishops laid out a policy in 2004, and colleges ought to respect that. Certainly there are ways of mitigating the potential for scandal in an academic event by ensuring balance, dialogue, and a clear presentation of Catholic teaching – which are not often evident in the many controversial lectures on Catholic campuses.
But the question should also be asked by a college that sincerely cares for its students: why is it necessary to invite a particular individual who clearly opposes the Church, and not someone who could better contribute to a Catholic college’s mission of cultivating both the intellect and virtue?
It is often possible to study the writings of a controversial figure without inviting them to campus. This allows the dispassionate, serious reflection that is appropriate to a college or university.
Q: In an allusion to the CNS, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities said, “We… disagree with those Catholic groups that prefer to insert themselves into the often complex and generally productive conversation on Catholic identity.” Your reaction? Your assessment of the ACCU?
A: The Cardinal Newman Society brings into the conversation the shared concerns of thousands of faithful Catholic families, who rightfully deserve a voice in Catholic education. It is precisely because the ACCU and many of its member college presidents too often dismiss the concerns of the Catholic faithful that The Cardinal Newman Society exists.
Q: We have asked the president of Christendom College for his views on the work of the CNS. There seems to be a cordial, even working, relationship between the school and the CNS. How do you describe that relationship or association?
A: Christendom is an outstanding college with a strong academic program and a faithful Catholic identity. We work closely, and off the record, with two dozen or so colleges through our Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education and have good relationships with others that are looking to strengthen their Catholic identity.
Q: The president of a mid-West university said, “We view CNS intrusion as unwelcome and inappropriate. Our board and sponsors would speak with the same voice.” Is this something you hear often? Your feedback?
A: We occasionally hear complaints from presidents of Catholic universities that are struggling with their Catholic identity – ironically, the same presidents who claim to value dialogue and dissenting points of view. We hear quite the opposite from more faithful institutions, and we value their support.
Q: Is there anything you might wish to add?
A: I debated whether to answer your questions, because my experience is that the National Catholic Reporter has a clear bias against the bishops, the Holy Father, and some Catholic teachings. But I looked at your background, and I am trusting that a professional journalist like you is going to be fair and objective.
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