“Educational itineraries of encounter and of dialogue”: The new mission of Catholic higher education…


Many have said that Pope Francis would “shake things up.” They have pointed to his living quarters, cars, committee of cardinals to study reforming the Curia, founding the new dicastery for finance, and most famously, his “Who am I to judge?” statement. These provide all the testimony need to demonstrate that this Pope is indeed shaking things up.

There’s now more evidence.

At the recent Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education, members discussed a series of issues:

  • the reform of the Apostolic Constitution, Sapientia Christiana, which governs the Pontifical university system (Catholic universities chartered by the Vatican, not Catholic universities and colleges chartered by other nations or states);
  • the recovery and strengthening of Catholic identity in all Catholic institutions of higher learning; and,
  • the preparation of two major anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the II Vatican Council’s declaration, Gravissimum educationis, which called for a renewal of Catholic instruction and formation at all levels and the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution, Ex corde Ecclesiae, which describes the nature and mission of Catholic universities.

Ho hum.  More pious platitudes about providing an “integral formation” and strengthening Catholic identity.

Who’s interested in that? Certainly not many of those who administer and teach in the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges. They routinely interpret Vatican statements concerning Catholic education to fit their progressive secularist agenda or ignore those statements altogether.

However, those weren’t the topics on Pope Francis’ agenda when he addressed the Plenary Assembly. Of many things the Pope told participants, he expressed his desire that they

…be involved in educational itineraries of encounter and of dialogue, with a courageous and innovative faithfulness that is capable of bringing the different “souls” of a multicultural society together with Catholic identity.

What’s this? “Itineraries of encounter and dialogue”? A “courageous and innovative faithfulness”? “Bringing different ‘souls’ of a multicultural society together with a Catholic identity”?

It’s difficult to know what Pope Francis means, as the terms he used could mean many different things to many different people and be invoked to quite different ends.

Take the phrase “courageous and innovative faithfulness,” for example.

Liberal Catholics could interpret it to justify continuing their experiments in Catholic thought and practice that undermine Catholic doctrine. It takes courage and innovation to move beyond the confines and limitations of doctrine, they would argue. Consider, for example, their research and calls for change in Church teaching about so many moral issues–including divorce and remarriage, so-called “homosexual marriage,” and women’s ordination–and being rebuffed at the highest levels of the Vatican, especially the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Just ask Father Charles Curran.

Conservative Catholics could interpret that phrase to justify a greater emphasis upon doctrine in Theology courses as well as reining in many of the so-called “progressive” trends in U.S. Catholic higher education during the past five decades. It takes courage and innovation stem the tide of secular progressivism that has diminished Catholic identity in those institutions, they would argue. Consider, for example, the national culture of Catholic higher education as well as many of those institutions where conservatives are marginalized, if not mocked for their fidelity to Church teaching. Just ask the folks at Wyoming Catholic College or conservatives at institutions like the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown, DePaul, Gonzaga, and the University of San Francisco, among others.

Is it possible that the Holy Father thinks both are forms of courage and innovative faithfulness?

The Motley Monk thinks not.

In this instance, however, the Pope’s choice of terms has muddied the waters more than they have been for the past five decades. In doing so, the Holy Father may have unintentionally emboldened the secular progressivists in U.S. Catholic higher education. Now, their lemmings over at National Catholic Reporter will endeavor to convince more and more folks that they are the authentic interpreters of Pope Francis’ statements concerning Catholic higher education.



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  1. I must agree. This is why I left the Church 30 years ago. Of course I thought back then as a young man that what my priest, Bishop and Pope said was Gospel. I couldn’t differentiate between the Church and its current leaders. Just as with any country, you can get poor leader and great leaders. The faithful want a leader that will lead them with Spirit and TRUTH. If they can’t understand what TRUTH is because Bishops and Popes give them a mish mash of wet bread to eat, they leave for where the leaders lead with conviction and solid, easy to understand teaching. Sadly I left for this reason.

    I returned when I discovered from a great FSSP priest that the Church was Truth, no matter what a current imperfect human leader such as Bishop tells you. At one time when your priest or nun told you something about Church teaching, you knew it was the TRUTH, today you can’t be sure, many tell you their own feelings on the subject, not TRUTH. That is what I like about the FSSP priests I have met, they tell you the TRUTH, whether you want to hear it or not.

    As one FSSP priest told the congregation in his sermon, if you don’t like what I just told you from Church teaching, you know where the door is.

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