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May 6, 2016 (CardinalNewmanSociety) — The 2015-2016 academic year was a good one in many ways for Catholic higher education, The Cardinal Newman Society has concluded after reviewing hundreds of news reports about positive signs of strong Catholic identity. These examples show that faithful Catholic education is flourishing on many campuses, forming students morally, spiritually and intellectually, in sharp contrast to the scandals at many wayward Catholic universities.

Representatives from the colleges who spoke with the Newman Society during this school year cited their Catholic mission as the core of what makes their education unique and successful. Instead of a hindrance, fidelity to Church teaching is the key to their growth and success.

Our recap of articles published this year by The Cardinal Newman Society includes new initiatives aimed at stronger marriage preparation, efforts to combat the scourge of pornography, healthy visitation policies in student housing, the defense of religious freedom and more.

1. Honoring God

This spring we interviewed representatives of faithful Catholic colleges, who told us that college honors — such as honorary degrees or invitations to deliver prominent lectures or commencement addresses — should be awarded to exemplary people and must avoid giving rise to scandal (“Catholic Colleges Must Protect Religious Identity When Bestowing Honors”, March 15, 2016).

“We look for speakers who we think are to be admired, particularly for their adherence to the teachings of the Church and in the witness to the Faith that they give with their very lives,” Anne Forsyth, director of college relationships for the Newman Guide-recommended  Thomas Aquinas College, told the Newman Society.

The Catholic college that claims to be faithful the Church and her teaching yet invites someone who openly opposes those same teachings loses something critically important. It loses its integrity, said Jerome Richter, vice president of public affairs at the Newman Guide-recommended University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. The question should not be if a speaker is allowed to speak but rather what should Catholic colleges be looking for in a speaker.

“We must be consistent with our mission, we must be living it out, because that will send a signal to everyone,” he said. “But most importantly it will signal who we are and if we are living by our true identity.”

Note: The Newman Society published a report in late April documenting scandalous commencement honorees and a separate report noting the commencement honorees at Newman Guide-recommended colleges.

2. Dorm Virtue

According to students at faithful Catholic colleges, single-sex dormitories are having a lasting impact on the campus culture and are cultivating a college environment that supports chastity and growing in virtue and friendship (“Students Speak: Policies Prohibiting Opposite-Sex Dorm Visitation Help Students Grow in Virtue”, March 3, 2016).

“Some might think these standards are not necessary at a Catholic college,” said William Skuba, a sophomore at Christendom College, where dormitories are maintained as single-sex spaces. But they “are in fact very necessary at all Catholic schools,” because “they exemplify the commitment the school is making to the preservation of human dignity by fostering men and women of character, and allowing them to acquire and cultivate a healthy respect for the opposite sex,” he said.

The Newman Society’s recent report on visitation policies at residential Catholic colleges in the U.S. found that the vast majority allow opposite-sex visitation between students in dormitory buildings with few restrictions. Only nine institutions, eight of which are recommended in The Newman Guide, completely prohibit opposite-sex visitation, except for occasional open-house events under close supervision.

3. Constitutional Correctness

The presidents of nine Catholic colleges — eight of them Newman Guide-recommended colleges — courageously joined The Cardinal Newman Society, 13 Honor Roll Schools of Excellence and other organizations in a letter urging the U.S House of Representatives to pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) (“Faithful Catholic Colleges and Schools Urge Passage of First Amendment Defense Act”, February 16, 2016).

FADA is needed, the letter stated, in order to “prohibit federal government discrimination against those who continue to believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

The Catholic colleges represented include Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Northeast Catholic College, University of Saint Thomas-Houston, Walsh University, St. Gregory’s University, Benedictine College, Wyoming Catholic College and Assumption College.

4. Marital Fidelity

The Newman Society reported on faithful Catholic colleges striving to help their students prepare for healthy and strong marriages (“Faithful Catholic Colleges Find New Ways to Tackle Marriage Crisis”, February 10, 2016). The colleges are making a concerted effort to find ways in which they can integrate Church teaching on marriage and family into the classroom and the lives of their students.

Representatives of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., and Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., agreed that in the wake of the Supreme Court decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage, Catholic colleges need to proclaim the Church’s teaching on marriage to students both in the classroom and through life on campus.

“Without question Catholic colleges and universities have a duty to proclaim the Church's teachings on marriage and family to our culture,” Dr. William Hamant, assistant theology professor at DeSales, told the Newman Society. “Because the Catholic Church knows the True can never be separated from the Good and the Beautiful, it is especially the Catholic college or university that is equipped to form harmoniously not only the intellect, but the desires and the will, as well.”

5. Free From Porn

We were thrilled to report that faithful Catholic colleges, with their many resources, faithful environment and rich tradition, are leading the charge to promote chastity and protect students against the dangers of pornography during their time in college (“Catholic Colleges and Schools Take Active Role in Struggle Against Pornography”, February 4, 2016).

“Catholic colleges and universities can be places of support for young men and women who want to break free from pornography and live in accord with God’s design for their true happiness and communion with others,” Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., told the Newman Society.

At faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, many initiatives are already being implemented. Belmont Abbey College uses a multi-layered approach to blocking pornography on campus computers as well as offering a support network and plan for students. Christendom College utilizes male and female specific formation series that address the dangers of pornography. Other colleges also address the issue during orientation, through student life programs, in dormitories, in the classroom or through professional resources and counseling services. Knowing the importance of a healthy sexuality, college representatives agreed that pornography is too big a problem for faithful Catholic colleges to ignore.

6. Forming Teachers

The Catholic Church has repeatedly stressed the critical evangelizing responsibility that educators have in teaching and witnessing the faith to their students, and institutions recommended in The Newman Guide have made this responsibility a priority in their education programs (“Education Programs at Newman Guide Colleges Place Premium on Moral Teacher Formation”, February 4, 2016).

At Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., students majoring in education are given all the tools they need to “engage in the integral formation of the human person by developing each student’s physical, moral, spiritual and intellectual gifts in harmony,” said Dr. Dan Guernsey, chair of the University’s education department and director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 programs.

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“We don’t want just ‘math’ teachers or ‘history’ teachers,” said Guernsey. “We want Catholic teachers — teachers of faith and versatility who by their example and commitment can attract their students to the great banquet of knowledge and who themselves have eaten and drunk deeply of all the best that humanity has discovered.”

The report also focused on programs for producing and forming well-rounded faculty and staff found at Belmont Abbey College and Aquinas College.

7. Gender Reality

Belmont Abbey College defended its request for a Title IX exemption from the U.S. Department of Education in an interview with The Cardinal Newman Society, saying the broadening of Title IX to include “gender identity” threatened the College’s religious mission and would force Belmont Abbey to advocate practices that are “spiritually harmful” (“Belmont Abbey College on Title IX: Legitimizing Gender Identity ‘Spiritually Harmful’”, December 16, 2015).

“A policy which would legitimize gender identity issues … would, first of all, abdicate the responsibility of the college community as a whole to act in accord with its fundamental identity as a community which publicly identifies itself as in communion with the Catholic Church,” said Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B., chancellor of the College. He added that such a policy “would contradict fidelity to the Christian message as it comes through the Church” and “would abdicate responsibility to serve the transcendent goal of life by advocating practices which, according to the Church's teaching, are spiritually harmful.”  

8. Embracing Ex corde Ecclesiae

As the Church in 2015 celebrated the 25th anniversary of Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, we interviewed Catholic college leaders who found it to be no ordinary document, but an impetus for stronger Catholic identity (“College Presidents: Embracing Ex corde Ecclesiae Strengthened Our Catholic Colleges and Identity”, November 11, 2015).

One college that has experienced a dramatic turnaround due to Ex corde Ecclesiae is Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. In the fall of 1991, the College had an enrollment of 570 students. After incorporating the vision and guidelines of the document and recommitting to its Catholic identity, Benedictine witnessed a 225 percent increase in attendance and now offers one of the most vibrant Catholic liberal arts educations in the country to more than 1,851 students.

“Benedictine College can trace its turnaround to Ex corde Ecclesiae,” College president Steve Minnis told the Newman Society. “We renewed our Catholic identity along the lines laid out by Pope John Paul II — and a miracle happened.” Other faithful colleges have found similar success by incorporating the document’s principles, including Christendom College, Wyoming Catholic College, Ave Maria University, The Catholic University of America, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, among others.

9. Fighting for Religious Freedom

We celebrated that the Catholic University of America and Thomas Aquinas College, both recommended in The Newman Guide, are two of the Catholic educational institutions named as plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Obama administration’s HHS contraception/abortifacient/sterilization mandate (“Catholic Educators, Not Just Little Sisters, Will Have Their Day in Court”, November 9, 2015).

“This decision by the Supreme Court [to take up and consolidate seven lawsuits] is a sign of the importance of these cases and their implications for religious freedom and freedom of conscience all across the country — freedoms which we believe are guaranteed both by statute and the United States Constitution,” Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean said at the time. “We are hopeful that the Court will uphold these freedoms and allow religious institutions to provide health insurance for their employees in a way consistent with the tenets of their faith.”

Zubik v. Burwell most notably involves the Little Sisters of the Poor, but a number of Catholic schools and colleges also challenged the mandate.

After oral arguments were held in March, the justices asked the plaintiffs to provide possible alternatives to the mandate that would preserve their religious freedom, which the Newman Society noted was a hopeful sign for Catholic education. The federal government recently admitted to the Supreme Court that it does not need to force religious objectors to provide contraceptive coverage as part of the HHS mandate. A decision from the Court is expected to be handed down at the end of their session in June.

10. Sworn to Fidelity

At the beginning of the school year, we reported that professors at some of America’s most faithfully Catholic colleges annually take the Vatican’s Oath of Fidelity (outlined in Canon 833 of the Code of Canon Law) to protect against scandal and fortify the colleges’ Catholic identity (“Why Do Colleges Require the Oath of Fidelity?”, September 22, 2015).

Some colleges — like Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., and Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo. — ask all faculty members to take the Oath. At least another 14 Catholic colleges require the Oath from their theology professors, and The Catholic University of America (CUA) requires theology professors to have the “canonical mission,” which is necessary for granting pontifical degrees.

But still, among nearly 200 Catholic colleges in the United States, 17 is a minority.

In 1989, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called on all “who teach disciplines pertaining to faith and morals” at a Catholic college to make a profession of faith and take the Oath of Fidelity when they begin their teaching posts.

Reprinted with permission from The Cardinal Newman Society.