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Jenkins, Mooney attend papal speech in Washington

Liz Harter, Bill Brink, and Chris Hine | Sunday, April 20, 2008

In an address to Catholic educators from across the country at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Pope Benedict XVI discussed education and faith in the university setting.

Academic freedom is an important part of Catholic education, but is subservient to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the pope said Thursday. Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins and Saint Mary’s president Carol Ann Mooney were in attendance.

The pope said Catholic institutions must be consistent with the faith and teachings of the Church both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission, a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it,” he said.

The Church is the body that is to uphold moral and ethical teachings, he said, and will continue to uphold those doctrines.

“Similarly, the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board,” he said.

The pope said there was devaluation in the teaching of sexual relations and was concerned with the direction sexual education had gone.

“Particularly disturbing is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk,’ bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love,” he said.

Regardless of the view of academic freedom, Pope Benedict said Universities are an important place for students to interact with Jesus.

“First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth,” he said.

The Pope considered Catholic education a way for the Church to bear the message which originated with God. God revealed himself to the people, he said, which correlates with human wish to know.

“God’s desire to make Himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life,” he said.

The Pope urged religious leaders not to abandon their apostolates and to continue to improve the Church’s presence in underprivileged areas.

“In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift,” he said.

The pope focused much of his speech on the nature of ‘truth’ as defined in Catholicism and as a way to include oneself in the Church. He said faith was the way to do that, but acknowledged that the Church was in a crisis of faith.

“Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals,” he said.

The Catholic identity of a university, he said, does not depend on statistics or course content, but on the devotion to the church exercised by students and faculty.

“Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom,” he said.