The Catholic University of America (CUA) yesterday issued a strong response to approximately 50 priests, theologians, and academics organized by the politically liberal group Faith in Public Life who publicly protested a $1 million gift to CUA from the conservative-leaning Charles Koch Foundation. The faithful Catholic university labeled the protest “an unfortunate effort to manufacture controversy and score political points.”
The original protest letter expressed concern “that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ antigovernment, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops.”
The letter is presumptuous on two counts. First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants. They judge the Foundation’s support of the arts and culture to be “noble philanthropic work;” its underwriting of grants to universities elicits their “serious concerns.” Second they seek to instruct The Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the Church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences. We are confident that our faculty and academic leadership are well versed in Catholic social teaching and well equipped to apply it. We created a school of business and economics for the express purpose of promoting respect for the human person in economic life, based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity, and the common good. The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant — to support research into principled entrepreneurship — is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching. On that point the letter’s authors are strangely silent.
CUA’s statement also points out that among the 50 signatories to the Faith in Public Life letter are 15 who are affiliated with other colleges and universities that have received financial support from the Koch Foundation, including the University of San Francisco, the University of Notre Dame, and Villanova University, among others.
“So widespread and, on balance, non-controversial has been the Foundation’s support for higher education that we wonder whether the 15 signatories realized, before they endorsed the letter, that their institutions are ‘guilty’ of the same association they chastise The Catholic University of America for,” reads the statement. “And if they were aware of this, we wonder why they apply a different standard to The Catholic University of America than they do to their own institutions.”
The signatories include a who’s who of former Catholic leaders who presided over an era of weak Catholic identity, such as Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University School of Law; Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., former editor of America; Francis Doyle, former associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Father James Hug, S.J., former president of the Center of Concern; Father Fred Kammer, S.J., former president of Catholic Charities USA; David O’Brien, former professor at the College of the Holy Cross and vocal critic of the mandatum for theologians; and Susan Ross, past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Also signing the letter is Father Stephen Privett, S.J., president of the University of San Francisco, which has been the source of many scandals reported in Catholic Education Daily. Fr. Privett recently announced his retirement.
The Catholic University of America is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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