In a powerful statement encouraging fidelity and strong Catholic identity in Catholic higher education, Pope Francis today urged the University of Notre Dame to be an “uncompromising witness… to the Church’s moral teaching” and to resist “efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness,” according to a translation by Vatican Radio.
The Holy Father’s words came today as he met with a Notre Dame delegation celebrating the University’s new Rome Center. Although Vatican Radio does not report whether Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., was present, a photo of Father Jenkins with Pope Francis accompanying the Vatican Radio translation suggests that he was.
Recalling the University’s founding Catholic mission in “service to the Church and American society,” Pope Francis said, “And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!”
In my Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.
The Holy Father preceded this call with praise for Notre Dame, but with an emphasis on the fidelity and Catholic identity that should mark the University of Our Lady—and so often has been challenged and compromised in recent years.
I am pleased to greet the Trustees of Notre Dame University on the occasion of your meeting in Rome, which coincides with the inauguration of the University’s Rome Center. I am confident that the new Center will contribute to the University’s mission by exposing students to the unique historical, cultural and spiritual riches of the Eternal City, and by opening their minds and hearts to the impressive continuity between the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, and the confessors and martyrs of every age, and the Catholic faith passed down to them in their families, schools and parishes. From its founding, Notre Dame University has made an outstanding contribution to the Church in your country through its commitment to the religious education of the young and to serious scholarship inspired by confidence in the harmony of faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and virtue. Conscious of the critical importance of this apostolate for the new evangelization, I express my gratitude for the commitment which Notre Dame University has shown over the years to supporting and strengthening Catholic elementary and secondary school education throughout the United States.
Concerns about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity are chronicled at The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Daily, and also by Notre Dame alumni at the Sycamore Trust. At least 83 bishops publicly criticized the University’s decision in 2009 to honor President Barack Obama despite his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, and more than 367,000 individuals signed The Cardinal Newman Society’s petition opposing the honor.
The Holy Father’s full statement is at the Vatican Radio website here.
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.