Numerous commentators, including at least one Gonzaga University professor, continue to draw attention to the decision, originally reported by The Cardinal Newman Society, of Gonzaga University to deny official student club status to the Knights of Columbus council because of the group’s Catholic membership requirement.
Dr. Eric Cunningham, associate professor in the Department of History at Gonzaga and faculty adviser to the council, wrote a letter responding to Sue Weitz, Vice President for Student Life. Catholic World Report excerpted from Dr. Cunningham’s letter.
The chief reason for my confusion is that as an organization, the Knights of Columbus is, by these criteria, identical to the Society of Jesus. How strange it is to think that if Ignatius of Loyola and his companions, who were students at the University of Paris when they established the Society, had tried to apply for club status at Gonzaga, they would have been denied.
I can’t help but wonder if it is the intention of the Office of Student Life to dissociate itself from Gonzaga University because of the Jesuits’ long-standing practice of such “discrimination,” or will Student Life instead choose to initiate action to remove the Society of Jesus from its affiliation with the Gonzaga community?
Additionally, Catholic News Agency reported that Cunningham also took issue with the University’s claims that it currently supports the Knights of Columbus Council.
“Honestly I don't see that they're supported in any way,” Cunningham told CNA. “There’s no official support. If they've been denied club status, the only way they exist here is that the members of the Knights of Columbus council are enrolled here,” Cunningham stated.
Rebecca Hamilton, writing for Patheos, described the decision as “mission betrayal.”
If Catholic Universities do not offer anything different than secular universities, then why do they matter? If all they give the Church is bragging rights about their famous graduates — many of whom appear to go out and fight against Church teaching in their careers — then why are we, the faithful — supporting them?
Dr. David Pence, writing about the decision at Anthropology of Accord, made the distinction between a God-centered Catholic education and the student-centered modern university.
…the lesson to learn from this embarrassing story is that both the hyper-individualism of student-centered culture and the fetish for inclusiveness as the crowning attribute of social life are deeply related and quite unlike the religious military spirit of Ignatius Loyola. Our new Jesuit pope has said, "The evils that, over time,happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism."
Gonzaga’s President is currently reviewing the University’s decision and expects to have a response within a month.
Cunningham told CNA that he hopes to preserve the council as an “independent agent” rather than placing it under student ministry or the student life office at Gonzaga. Meanwhile, state legislators in Idaho and Virginia have invited religious student clubs to seek official status at public universities.
Christopher F. Cannataro, Deputy Grand Knight of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus council agreed that the Gonzaga council may be better off being independent. Cannataro explained that Georgetown’s council is also not officially recognized as a student group, but rather operates under campus ministry.
“We avoid the bureaucracy of receiving money from student activity fees,” said Cannataro. “It’s better that way. We receive sufficient funding for our service projects and activities through campus ministry and donors.”
Cannataro admitted that the lack of recognition as an official student group is discriminatory.
“In principle it’s problematic, but in practicality it’s not,” said Cannataro. “We get the money we need to do what we do.”
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