Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message, by Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein. Washington Post March 14, 2008:
After years of Vatican frustration over what it views as the failure of many U.S. Catholic colleges to adhere to church teachings, school leaders are intently watching for a rebuke from Pope Benedict XVI during his Washington visit next month.
The pope requested the meeting with more than 200 top Catholic school officials from across the country. The gathering will come amid debate over teachings and campus activities that bishops have slammed as violating Catholic doctrine: a rally by pro-abortion rights Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton at St. Mary's University in San Antonio; a Georgetown University theologian's questioning whether Jesus offers the only road to salvation [Peter C. Phan]; and a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" at the University of Notre Dame.
This will be the first papal address in the United States on Catholic education in more than 20 years, and some Vatican watchers predict that it will be the most enduring part of Benedict's visit. Before becoming pope, Benedict was known as "the enforcer" of church orthodoxy, and since taking office, he has said Catholic education must bow to Catholic "truth" and the "rule of life." Such comments have some educators keyed up.
"With people expecting his address on these issues, hopes and concerns are beginning to resurface," said Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., who has researched and lectured about Catholic identity in higher education.
As pope, Benedict has not been as explicit about the limits of academic freedom as some had expected him to be, and some educators predicted that the talk next month will have a pastoral tone. However, they said, it will make clear that the pope thinks change is necessary.
"One thing the pope will emphasize is the importance for all [Catholic] schools to realize that they aren't independent contractors, they are part of the church," said the Rev. David M. O'Connell, Catholic University's president.