Ex-Catholic Universities: Not Nineveh, But Sodom

Elite, post-Catholic universities have stopped even pretending they are connected to Jesus Christ

Lot and his family flee the city of Sodom.

By John Zmirak Published on February 16, 2015

Two first-rate new articles I saw today highlighted a long-standing problem for Catholics in America — the defection of Catholic colleges and universities from their religious identity. Leaving aside the imponderable question of how this affects the immortal souls of millions of Catholic students, this massive cultural change threatens the survival of the Catholic Church in America. It prevents the development of a faithful Catholic “elite,” which will go on to teach, research, write and advocate in the public square for the Church’s vision of a just and moral society. Instead, students are trained in their few, vague, typically “dissenting” theology classes to reject key points of basic Christian doctrine. At best, they are likely to simply drift away from the Church, to regard Christianity as part of their cultural heritage, like the few words of Italian or Gaelic they learned from their grandmother. At worst, they will become active collaborators in attacking what is left of orthodox Catholicism in America, following in the footsteps of their teachers.

Indeed, much of what calls itself the Catholic establishment in America has become little more than a retreat center for the left wing of the Democratic party, cobbling together bits and pieces plucked out of Church documents to offer political cover for programs that aggrandize our secular Leviathan state—be it Obamacare, amnesty for immigrants likely to vote for leftist, pro-abortion candidates, or the increase of taxes on our embattled middle class.

What is worse, a new crop of so-called “radical Catholics” has grown up, which deftly evades the old landmines that used to explode the credibility of tenured radicals like the late Richard McBrien and Charles Curran; the new Catholic left checks off the boxes on controversial Church teachings like abortion and contraception, then promptly goes on to ignore them, to focus on relentless critiques of the market economy, inequality, American immigration law and other causes that — in real electoral and cultural life — all skew to the benefit of leftist, pro-abortion politicians. The new Catholic left excuses these decisions in the name of its own distorted version of Catholic Social Teaching.

At First Things, Jim Infantine writes as a long-time alumni activist at Gonzaga, telling the sad story of that school’s inexorable self-secularization—and ongoing efforts of other Catholic colleges to “hide” their religious origins. I heard from Mr. Infantine a couple of years ago, during my ten-year tenure as editor of ISI’s Choosing the Right College. He asked me why the guide had stopped recommending Gonzaga as a choice for Catholic parents, then shared my answer with the Cardinal Newman Society:

The editor of the guide . . . pointed to the decrease in Catholic identity since the departure of Father Robert Spitzer as president of the Jesuit university. “Gonzaga had shown promise under the leadership of Father Spitzer. . . . The change of administration, and the termination of Father Spitzer’s policies, evidenced especially by the denial of club status to the Knights of Columbus, signaled that Gonzaga had retreated from the effort to strengthen Catholic identity and had become just another expensive liberal arts school.”

Wrap your head around that for a moment: The administration of Gonzaga wanted to deny the right of students to form a Knights of Columbus chapter because such clubs are, by definition, all-male and all-Catholic. And hence discriminatory. Gonzaga is a university founded and run by the Jesuits — who are also all-male and all-Catholic. At least in theory.

At Crisis, the worthy Anne Hendershott tells the even more appalling story of what’s happening at Marquette, which is firing faculty members for exposing corruption and defending Church teaching on sexual morals — and even silencing students during classroom discussions of issues such as same-sex marriage, alleging that to oppose the redefinition of marriage constitutes “harassment” of any secretly gay students who might be present.

There are still bright spots of course, but one of the hopes for Catholic students in America, I think, can be found in the move to establish Catholic dormitories on secular college campuses, where students can live in decent, single-sex environments and collect their BAs on in-state tuition, without amassing the kind of debt that could prevent them from responsibly getting married and having children. What hope there is for a Catholic “elite” can be found in the best campus ministries at schools that really are elite. The official Catholic presences at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia, for instance, are surprisingly vibrant and orthodox.

As for schools such as Marquette and Gonzaga, the Church should simply wash its hands of them, and admit that they are no more Catholic than Wesleyan is Methodist. Alumni should stop wasting money propping up these Potemkin villages. It’s always difficult to accept defeat, to admit that the earth has been scorched, then make your way out of Sodom. It helps when you don’t look back.

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