Athletics Should Uphold Truth of Body and Gender

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Seeking “a fair and safe playing field for all children and young adults,” the U.S. bishops in October backed federal legislation to prevent schools and colleges from allowing male athletes—including those who identify as transgender—to participate in female sports.

The bishops’ position should not be surprising. It reflects the Church’s clear teaching that gender is not divisible from biological sex, and that men and women should not be treated as identical despite sharing equal dignity and humanity. The Church has a long history of single-sex education and athletics programs, recognizing both physical and social differences between the sexes while protecting students’ safety, development and chastity.

But in athletics programs at many Catholic schools and colleges today, the Church’s teaching is less clear. Some participate in athletics conferences that allow students to declare their gender and compete against students of the opposite sex, while others have similar internal policies.

In Connecticut, three female high school athletes have filed a federal lawsuit claiming violation of the federal Title IX law, because biological males have been allowed to compete and win female titles in state track championships. The U.S. Department of Education has agreed that girls have the right to compete in all-female events. But since 2017, when the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed students to choose teams according to a “preferred gender identity,” Catholic schools have continued to participate in the league.

Likewise many Catholic colleges belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which allows a biological male to compete on a women’s team after one year of testosterone suppression treatment. The NCAA hosted a summit on gender identity last October and is expected to expand its transgender policies and outreach.

Responding to the apparent need for clarity in Catholic education, the Newman Society is developing recommended standards for policies addressing all aspects of athletics programs—not only gender issues, but also the role of sports in virtue development and many practical concerns. These will be circulated for comment by athletics directors as well as diocesan leaders, school leaders and theologians.

But to specifically address the issue of gender, we have circulated and published a helpful advisory by veteran educator Dr. Dan Guernsey, titled “Protecting the Human Person: Gender Issues in Catholic School and College Sports.”

Body and Soul

When athletics are done well, it’s a great blessing for Catholic students, Guernsey writes.

Athletics serves the mission of Catholic education, which “entails the pursuit of truth, the integral formation of the human person, the sanctification of students, and service to the community,” he notes. Sports in Catholic schools and colleges “can be particularly effective in developing virtue, building community, and providing a powerful experience of the unity of body and soul.”

The Vatican teaches:

…in the context of the modern world, sport is perhaps the most striking example of the unity of body and soul. …neglecting the unity of body and soul results in an attitude that either entirely disregards the body or fosters a worldly materialism. Hence, all the dimensions have to be taken into account in order to understand what actually constitutes the human being.

Gender ideology is thus a danger to students and incompatible with a Catholic understanding of sport.

“Because athletics is such a powerful influence on both individuals and cultures, it can also pose a threat when it does not serve truth or does not serve to praise God,” writes Guernsey, recalling Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching that “self-denial and respect for the body as God’s gift are fundamental to a healthy athletic program.”

“Gender theory is a distortion of the full development of a person and attacks the integrity of the body,” writes Guernsey. “It works against a Catholic understanding of athletics and the good of the person and so has no claim on Catholic programing.”

The way forward

Guernsey recommends practical steps that Catholic schools and colleges should take to maintain a strong Catholic identity:

  • “Catholic educational institutions should publicly and explicitly affirm and seek to implement their faith-based mission and develop and consistently abide by policies in all programs that support this mission. They should assert religious freedom to uphold Catholic teaching and claim exemption from laws, regulations, athletic association rules, etc. that demand conformity to gender ideology.”
  • “Athletic programs should include in their goals the use of athletics as a means of inculcating virtue, especially justice and fair play, promoting the unity of body and soul, and protecting the human body not only from physical injury, but also from any attack on its integrity, exploitation, and idolatry.”
  • “Athletic policies should require that students participate on sport teams consistent with their biological sex.”
  • “Athletic personnel should be formed in a spirituality of athletics as part of their ongoing professional development. Such formation may include presentations by theologians on Christian anthropology, the role of sport and play in human well-being, and sports as a tool of evangelization and virtue development.”

By taking a leading role in local and national conversations about gender in sports and asserting the importance of single-sex competition, Catholic athletic directors and education leaders can find common ground with others. Some other Christian schools and colleges will share our moral perspective, while others will share our concerns for player safety, fair play, and justice. Advocates for women should be concerned about protecting single-sex athletics to ensure opportunities for girls.

“Catholic education is devoted to the sanctification of its students and integral formation by witnessing to Christ and all that is true and good,” Guernsey writes. “To lead the children in their care to God requires that they encounter the fullness of His truth and that they not foster situations in which students might be led astray in matters of basic human nature and morality.”

Mission Fit: Working with Nontraditional Families

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last year, when the child of a same-sex couple was denied admission to St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Village, Kan., the incident sparked public debate over Catholic school admissions policies.

It also revealed disagreement in dioceses across the country about standards for Catholic school enrollment, particularly when students’ family relationships are taken into account. Disagreement in the Church regarding nontraditional families—the growing variety of home situations beyond a faithfully Catholic family with a married mother and father—may leave schools more vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits and to vilification by the media, politicians and social activists.

Following the incident at St. Ann’s, the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., issued a statement, which read in part:

The Church teaches that individuals with same-sex attraction should be treated with dignity. However, the challenge regarding same-sex couples and our Catholic schools is that same-sex parents cannot model behaviors and attitudes regarding marriage and sexual morality consistent with essential components of the Church’s teachings. This creates a conflict for their children between what they are taught in school and what is experienced at home. It also becomes a source of confusion for the other school children.

Critics pounced, accusing the Archdiocese of discriminating against homosexuals while admitting children whose parents are divorced and remarried. Other dioceses disregard parents’ sexuality when making admissions decisions. Some argue that Catholic schools should welcome students from any family situation, so that at least the children can be taught the Catholic faith.

What policies best serve the mission of Catholic education? While it may take some time to reach consensus, The Cardinal Newman Society, through its Catholic Identity Standards Project, is working with educators to develop guidance on this critical but complex issue.

Not Every Family

As a key means of evangelization, Catholic schools serve the Church’s mission to teach the nations about Christ and all truth. In principle, they should be eager to teach every young person who seeks admission, although that is not possible or wise in every situation.

In practice, it is rare for a Catholic school not to limit enrollment for practical reasons as well as concerns about a student’s behavior and impact on other students’ education.

Enrollment decisions should also look at a student’s family situation, not because it is a school’s primary mission to address the moral life of parents—although the school can do much to witness to moral truth and help parents get the pastoral care they need—but because family circumstances may make it impossible to fulfill the mission of Catholic education without conflict, confusion and scandal to the students who are enrolled in the school.

Denying admission because of family situations, often no fault of the child, is difficult. But it is critical to the mission of Catholic education to prevent situations that could unintentionally lead other impressionable students away from virtue and holiness, which directly contradicts a Catholic school’s purpose.

A Catholic school is more than a service; it is a community committed to the mission of Catholic education, and participating families need to be a part of that commitment. Enrolling Catholic families should be a school’s first priority, because of the right of baptized Catholics to formation in the faith and the Church’s obligation to serve this need.

Family Circumstances

In today’s culture, schools increasingly are faced with students whose parents or guardians are not Catholic, unwed and cohabiting, remarried outside the Church, in a same-sex union, or identify as transgender.

In many of these instances, families may be safely invited into a Catholic school if they agree to support the mission of educating and forming students in the truths of the Catholic faith and do not interfere with that mission. Every such family seeking a Catholic education should be addressed with compassion and a desire to help parents reconcile with Catholic teaching, usually by referring them to a priest or other parish ministries for pastoral care.

Still, with its purpose of teaching truth, a Catholic school must be prepared to delay admission or turn away or dismiss a student whose family situation causes moral confusion and scandal among other students in the school’s care. This requires courage. A Catholic school must have the conviction that upholding its mission, protecting its students from confusion and scandal, and guiding families to moral truth even by denying enrollment is true compassion.

In some cases, a school could attempt to help a family regularize a home situation, as long as the problems are not so publicly visible and confusing to other students that they conflict with the mission of Catholic education. A school must avoid appearing to condone parents’ immoral choices and compromising the school’s reputation for teaching truth.

It must also consider the potential damage when parents openly and strongly oppose the moral lessons at a Catholic school. Children naturally rely on their parents’ emotional and physical care, and in cases in which the parents are so strongly opposed to what a Catholic school teaches, a school could cause the child to become alienated from the parents or, more likely, alienated from the Church. In such cases, it may be imprudent to enroll the child in Catholic education until they have the maturity to sort through such painful and complex realities.

For Catholic educators today, the most difficult situation to handle may be when it is discovered that a current or prospective student’s parents or guardians are in a homosexual relationship. This is not identical to other irregular and immoral circumstances, because the Church teaches that same-sex unions are fundamentally in opposition to marriage and allow no possibility of regularization, as is possible in most male-female relationships. It is always the case that a public same-sex union brings moral confusion and scandal into the school community.

For deeper discussion of these issues, the Newman Society recommends two papers: “Not All Families Are a Good Fit for Catholic Schools” and “Working With Nontraditional Families in Catholic Schools,” both by Dr. Dan Guernsey. These were circulated among Catholic educators, diocesan leaders, and theologians for comment before publication.

Moral Witness at the Heart of Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the “ministerial exception” applies to certain Catholic school teachers, a ruling hailed as protecting Catholic schools and colleges that uphold moral standards for employees.

While the ruling addresses serious questions of religious freedom, it also raises issues that many dioceses, schools and colleges have been wrestling with for several years: What moral standards should be expected of employees in Catholic education? The Church has repeatedly called on teachers to witness to the faith in both word and deed. But what about non-teaching employees?

Underlying these concerns is the necessity of ensuring that all employees faithfully serve the mission of Catholic education. Clear and consistent contracts and policies are the best means of upholding Catholic identity while avoiding employee disputes and lawsuits.

Ministerial exception

As explained in the Newman Society’s summary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Court explicitly forbade federal courts from interfering in Catholic school employment decisions concerning teachers of religion, because that would constitute a violate of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The Court also signaled that the ministerial exception covers other employees with substantial religious duties, but more litigation will be needed to determine how the exception applies to teachers of subjects other than religion, clerical and maintenance staff, and higher education employees.

Already lower courts are testing and even challenging the ministerial exception. A panel of judges for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the exception only prevents lawsuits concerning hiring and firing decisions, so it allowed a former employee of a Chicago parish—fired because he entered into a same-sex union—to proceed with a lawsuit claiming a “hostile work environment.”

The Newman Society responded with the help of attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, filing an amicus brief urging the full 7th Circuit Court to overrule the panel decision and to apply the ministerial exception to all employment-related matters. In December the full court took the rare step of vacating the panel ruling and will soon reconsider whether to let the case move forward.

Morality expectations

In 2015, controversy erupted in the Archdiocese of San Francisco over morality clauses in teacher contracts, although the Church’s standards were in the end preserved. Many other dioceses have implemented similar employment guidelines both to protect Catholic schools and to provide clarity to employees.

Catholic school and college leaders should be clear about moral expectations when interviewing prospective employees, and there are a variety of ways of inserting faith and morals clauses into employment documents. These include morality, witness, and belief statements and language in pre-contract agreements, contracts, and employee handbooks.

Catholic schools and colleges can avoid disputes by clearly explaining to employees the fundamental religious nature of all their efforts and the Catholic principles that undergird employment policies. All employees should be made aware of their responsibility to advance the religious mission of Catholic education. There should be no confusion about which faith and moral transgressions can result in disciplinary action or firing.

The Newman Society provides Catholic educators with a review of moral standards for Catholic school employment documents and a compilation of sample policies from dioceses around the country.

All Employees Matter

Moral standards at most schools and colleges focus especially on teachers and professors, which is understandable. Many Church documents highlight the duty of teachers to be witnesses to the faith. They have a primary role in Catholic education and direct influence over their students.

Moral standards should apply to educators in every subject area, not just religion teachers or theology professors. This is true especially in elementary and secondary education, when impressionable children rely on good role models and moral guides for their formation.

“A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils,” declares the Congregation for Catholic Education in The Catholic School (1977). “Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.”

As even secular courts acknowledge by the ministerial exception, teachers in Catholic education are expected to display more than knowledge of a particular subject area—they are to be witnesses to the faith in word and action.

“Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher,” exhorted Pope Saint Paul VI in Gravissimum Educationis, the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education.

Many non-teaching employees, too, have formational duties that are essential to Catholic education. These include coaches, counselors and others who are involved with student activities. They work closely with students and should be held to the same high moral standards.

What, then, of the receptionist and the librarian? Or the nurse? Or maintenance staff?

Such positions are often viewed as having primary secular functions and therefore not accountable to Catholic moral standards beyond the ethics of their particular tasks. Lawsuits against schools have increasingly concerned employees who were fired for civil same-sex unions—and many would question the need for a groundskeeper to witness to Catholic teachings on marriage.

Nevertheless, all employees should be held to high standards at a Catholic school, because every employee is a member of the school’s Catholic community that is committed to students’ formation. Although the extent of their interaction with students may differ, any employee of a school can have an impact on students’ outlook and behavior.

The Newman Society is developing standards to help Catholic educators develop policies and employment documents upholding moral expectations for employees. See also our recently published argument for applying such expectations broadly, in “All Employees Matter in the Mission of Catholic Education” by Dr. Dan Guernsey. He notes that even limited student contact by an employee has potential for good or ill, and every employee should serve the mission of Catholic education.

Consider a secular business: every employee serves the company’s objectives, and any action that undermines the company’s success is reason for discipline or dismissal. The purpose of Catholic education is to teach and form young people in the faith and lead them to God, and no employee should ever obstruct that mission.

Catholic College Scholarship Contest Invites Applications

The Cardinal Newman Society is pleased to announce its fifth annual Essay Scholarship Contest. The winning essay writer will be awarded $5,000 toward the cost of attending a faithful Catholic college recommended in The Newman Guide (see https://newmansociety.org/the-newman-guide/) in the fall of 2021.

In addition, several Newman Guide colleges have agreed to supplement the Newman Society’s scholarship with additional $5,000 grants to the winner over three additional years, according to criteria established by each college.

All of the details about the Contest can be found at this link: https://newmansoc.org/EssayContest

The Newman Society scholarship is made possible thanks to the generosity of Joe and Ann Guiffre, strong advocates of faithful Catholic education.

The contest is open to high school seniors in the United States who sign up for the Newman Society’s Recruit Me program, explore the Newman Society’s tips for navigating the college search, and check out the recommended colleges in The Newman Guide during their college search.

The topic for this year’s contest is to reflect, in 500-700 words, on the following:

Christ promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” The year 2020 was tumultuous and divisive for a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, racial tensions, and violence. How has any of this strengthened your resolve to attend a faithful Catholic college?

Essays will be judged by how well they demonstrate appreciation for faithful Catholic education, as well as the quality of the writing.

Last year, the Newman Society announced Maria Schmidt of Providence Academy in La Crosse, Wisconsin as the winner of the Society’s fourth annual Essay Scholarship Contest. She received a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida. She may also be eligible for additional $5,000 grants from Ave Maria University.

In her winning essay, Schmidt reflected on a recent Pew Research study that found that only 26 percent of self-professed Catholics under the age of 40 believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Catholics should face the crisis of faith “with a renewed commitment to strong Catholic education and faith formation,” Schmidt argued.

“A good education helps form the whole person, laying down proper philosophical principles necessary for the pursuit of truth in all its classes and activities,” Schmidt wrote.

Schmidt reminded us that the crisis of faith in our country and in the world is “not unprecedented.”

“Like the monks of Cluny Abbey who saved the faith of Europe in the tenth century, let us first reform ourselves through strong Catholic education and spiritual nourishment,” she wrote. “That is the first step towards the reform of the crisis, and another of many steps toward heaven.”

Schmidt’s entire essay can be read here.

Questions about this year’s Essay Scholarship Contest can be directed to Programs@CardinalNewmanSociety.org.

Getting it Right: Witness and Teaching on Sexuality in Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

In 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released Male and Female He Created Them, a response to the contemporary “gender ideology” that has sown confusion in American society and even within Catholic education.

The document is important for its forthright acknowledgment of topics—including homosexuality and gender identification—of growing concern to Catholic families, schools and colleges. But despite the Congregation’s expressed hope that the document will be a “practical” resource to Catholic educators, it offers minimal guidance to help navigate the complexities of real situations with students and employees who struggle with sexuality and chastity, especially if they openly dissent from Catholic teaching or act in ways that are scandalous to students.

Increasingly, Catholic dioceses, schools and colleges are embroiled in controversy and conflict over sexual matters. To prevent such problems, these situations require pastoral sensitivity and the guidance of clear institutional policies that both uphold and explain the obligations of faithful Catholic education.

This is one important contribution of The Cardinal Newman Society: helping Catholic educators identify the principles of Catholic teaching and standards of policy and practice to strengthen faithful Catholic identity. Moreover, our work helps protect Catholic education by giving schools and colleges compelling claims to religious freedom, based on clear and consistently implemented policies that are tied directly to their Catholic mission.

Catholic educators cannot get human sexuality wrong. Not only would that be a tragic failure of Catholic education, which strives to form young people in faith, morality and truth, but it also invites lawsuits and increased threats to religious freedom if Catholic educators are perceived to be motivated by bigotry or arbitrary decisions instead of clear and compassionate Catholic teachings.

Consider for example the conflict in Kansas City a couple years ago, when the Archdiocese turned away a kindergarten student parented by a same-sex couple. What principles should guide admission to Catholic education? Does a Catholic school or college accept a child struggling with gender confusion?

How should a Catholic school or college respond when a teacher or professor announces a same-sex marriage or declares a new gender identity? In athletics, should students be able to use locker rooms or compete on teams of the opposite sex?

At the Newman Society, we have heard from well-intentioned educators who refuse to articulate their policies, instead leaving each situation to their own discretion. That approach, while understandable, can often lead to disaster for the school or college. Clear standards of policy and practice, consistent with traditional Catholic moral and theological norms, are key to ensuring fidelity, compassion and justice.

Principles of human sexuality in Catholic education

Our Catholic Identity Standards Project recently published “Policy Standards on Human Sexuality in Catholic Education,” updated from a 2016 paper that was one of our most popular resources for educators.

It looks broadly at Catholic teachings on sex, gender, chastity and marriage, drawing on magisterial teaching to identify key principles for Catholic education and then recommending standards to guide policymaking at Catholic schools and colleges. It also briefly considers the large variety of policies that should be developed to uphold Catholic teaching on sexuality, provides sample policies from several U.S. dioceses, and includes citations from Vatican documents.

Among the principles guiding Catholic education policies is the mission to provide integral formation of students so that the intellect and conscience work together to ensure true bodily health and integrity. Catholic education is so much bigger and so much more important than just teaching students academic subjects. It respects each student as a “complex and multifaceted being, striving for full human flourishing in their physical, moral, spiritual, psychological, social, and intellectual faculties.”

In society today, a disjointed view of the human person can sometimes influence Catholic educators. But as Catholics, we know that our uniquely human biological, social and spiritual elements are connected and should be developed in relation to each other.

In addition, Catholic education is “founded upon a sound Christian anthropology, which describes the human person as ‘a being at once corporeal and spiritual,’ made in the image of God, with complementarity and equality of the sexes as male and female.” Biological sex and gender cannot be separated, but should be “seen in harmony, according to God’s plan.”

Finally, Catholic education should help every student grow in virtue and “faithfully fulfill his role in building the Kingdom of God.” Catholic schools and colleges should be encouraging all community members to strive for chastity, according to their vocation as single, married or religious.

Implementing human sexuality policies

From these principles, the Newman Society recommends several important standards to guide policymaking related to human sexuality. Catholic education should, for instance:

  • expect all members of the Catholic educational community to strive for a life of chastity in keeping with their particular state of life, emphasizing the importance of chastity to a life of virtue and growth in one’s relationship with God;
  • provide clear institutional supports for living chastely, such as single-sex dorms and rules regarding clothing and behavior to establish standards and minimize temptation;
  • ensure that all human sexuality materials and instruction are carefully vetted for complete fidelity to Church teachings, taught by qualified and committed Catholics, modest and pure, targeted to the appropriate age and developmental stage of the student with respect for a child’s latency period (lasting up until puberty), and available in advance to parents who may choose to opt a minor student out of the program;
  • ensure that all speakers, vendors, third-party services, and materials are in harmony with the Catholic moral formation of students;
  • relate to all members of the school or college community according to their biological sex at birth and maintain appropriate distinctions between males and females, especially in issues of facilities use, athletic teams, uniforms, and nomenclature; and
  • prohibit advocacy of moral behavior at odds with Catholic teaching and activities that tend to encourage immoral behavior, especially on issues related to chastity.

These standards can be applied to nearly every aspect of a Catholic school or college. For example, dance policies, consistent with the goal to form virtuous and Christ-centered persons, should require students to refrain from any immodest, impure or sexually suggestive behavior both on and off the dance floor. College residence policies should ensure that students are assigned housing based on their biological sex, are prohibited from engaging in immoral sexual activity, and preserve the privacy of bedrooms from opposite-sex visitors.

It is crucial for a Catholic school to consider every activity of Catholic education and ensure that it upholds Catholic teaching. Students should know God’s beautiful purpose for sexuality and their calling to chastity. Truth is the foundation of Catholic education, and as our updated paper warns, “Educational programs or policies that promote a false understanding of the human person put the whole educational project at risk.”

School of Athens

Father McTeigue Wants You to Learn Philosophy

Socrates had important answers to the big questions in life. But he was especially good at asking questions, helping his students use their own reason to discover answers that were available to them all along.

I have had a similar experience whenever I am a guest on Jesuit Father Robert McTeigue’s “Catholic Current” radio show (distributed by the Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network). He asks great questions, arising from a great depth of knowledge and his long experience as a philosophy and theology professor in North and Central America, Europe and Asia.

So when I read his new book, Real Philosophy for Real People by Ignatius Press, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask him a few questions myself.

I asked Father McTeigue about the importance of Catholics studying philosophy and noted Saint John Paul II’s teaching that faith and reason — theology and philosophy — are closely related. Father replied that philosophy is “the love of wisdom,” and the wise man’s task “is to put things in their proper place and order,” as taught by the great St. Thomas Aquinas.

Many great thinkers have noted the importance of philosophy to everyday activity. “Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living; but examining it is not enough,” Father noted. “One has to act upon what one has discovered via the examination. Aristotle, I believe, would agree that the disordered life cannot be lived well. Saint Augustine said that peace is the tranquility of order.”

Relevant to life

It’s common to think of philosophy as something that is highly abstract, controversial, above the heads of most people, and irrelevant. Not so, says Father McTeigue.

“Philosophy, done well, helps one to attain the peace of a well-ordered life, a life that can be lived well,” he told me. “Catholics know that we are meant to serve God in this life, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to be ready to enter eternity prepared to see the face of God and live. The guidance of true philosophy can help one to arrange one’s life, community, culture and civilization towards that end.”

But what about students — and maybe even their parents and educators — who find philosophy to be of little practical value?

Father McTeigue said “they’re likely doing it wrong.” He acknowledged that philosophy “is a work of leisure, done for its own sake. At the highest level, it is speculative rather than practical, contemplative rather than constructive.” The average student might have difficulty with that, because “humans are more than intellects, more than just souls. We are physical, appetitive and social. We need guidance to coordinate all those dimensions of our lives.”

He recommends studying “real philosophy for real people” — not the theoretical conundrums that have obsessed philosophers for centuries, but the truthful and practical knowledge about such things as justice, prudence, and temperance that correct reasoning and a proper moral formation can discern.

Catholic education

I have been teaching logic and basic Aristotelian philosophy to Catholic homeschool students in grades 7 through 12, and they understand it quite well. So although Father’s book is aimed broadly at equipping “real people” of all ages with “real philosophy,” it made me even more eager for Catholic schools to teach philosophy and reasoning skills at younger ages.

This is especially important today, since many students never study logic or philosophy in college. If they do, it is often highly distorted and even dangerous.

In Real Philosophy for Real People, Father McTeigue writes that we should expect education “to inform — to impart knowledge. A proper education will also form — that is, actualize heretofore untapped potential. The best education will also transform — that is, correcting what is in error and improving what could be better.”

I asked him to put this in the context of a Catholic education, which is grounded in the truths of the faith, grace of the sacraments, and sure guidance of the Church. “For a human person to live and become all that God intended for us who are all human yet also distinct individuals,” Father explained, “we must have the healing, illumination and inspiration that can come only from a Catholic life lived fully.”

“The essential dynamics of true education — to inform, form and transform — are best done in the context of a robust Catholic community that can draw upon the graces of the faith as well as the tools and treasures of the Catholic intellectual, moral and aesthetic heritage,” he said.

That context is missing from secular education, where Father said philosophy is often taught like this: “In the beginning, there was Plato and Aristotle… then nothing happened for 2,000 years… and then one day, Descartes emerged from nowhere.”

“That’s as unhelpful as it is dishonest,” he warned. “Also, non-Catholic schools can be more prone to be subject to philosophical trendiness, because they don’t have the tradition of perennial philosophy to draw upon, unlike faithful Catholic schools.”

A true philosopher

Of course, learning philosophy — like anything else — often depends on an excellent teacher. For Father McTeigue, that was the late Paul Weiss, to whom Real Philosophy for Real People is dedicated. The book describes him as “a philosopher, a scholar, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, and a father.”

“If I believed in reincarnation (which I don’t, of course),” Father told me, “I would say that Dr. Weiss was the reincarnation of Socrates. He had a relentless, fearless, unselfconscious, uninhibited commitment to finding the truth.”

Unlike many academics, Dr. Weiss was “not simply a curator of ideas or a custodian of texts,” Father recalled. “He was a true philosopher — he wanted to know; he drew upon the works of the best and brightest; he devised his own tools for finding the truth. I could never repay him for what he gave me and the example he offered me; but I can honor him by teaching others as he taught me.”

Father McTeigue has surely accomplished that throughout his life, and it is no small work. He said that Dr. Weiss “told me that he would like his legacy to be that he helped the next generation to see farther than he did.” I have no doubt that Father wishes the same for his readers.

May God grant that many generations of students and teachers continue the legacy of these devoted philosophers and educators, and may they extend the great Western and Catholic philosophical tradition far into the future. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

 

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Blessed Mother

College Students Organize Nationwide Marian Consecration

It only takes a spark to start a fire. That’s exactly what a passionate group of students at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, are doing again this year.

For the third time, students who are a part of the Mary and Mercy Center, which is adjacent to campus, are organizing college students across the country to make a Marian consecration. The Consecration begins on Nov. 5 and ends on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Students use Father Michael Gaitley’s bestselling 33 Days to Morning Glory book for the consecration. The Mary and Mercy Center is shipping out free copies to college students who request them. Alternatively, they’ve also developed an app to help students stay on track during the consecration.

Marian consecration is about entrusting one’s life to Our Blessed Mother, knowing that she will lead us to her Son. Some of the most popular Marian consecrations include St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day guide, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s nine-day consecration, and in recent years, Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory.

“Marian consecration totally changed my life,” says Alex Showman, who graduated from Ave Maria University in May 2020 and is now the director of the Mary and Mercy Center. “I made my first consecration for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception shortly after my conversion to Catholicism in 2017. Since then, I have seen myself grow in so many ways to become a holier person. Mary has guided me down the path to obtain my degree and to show me where the Lord is asking me to be for him.”

“I know that if it wasn’t for my consecration or the Mary and Mercy Center, there is a chance I would have fallen away from the faith,” Showman continues.

The Center was founded by Bill and Donna Bradt, who are eager to reach the “everyday Catholic who has limited time and resources but wants to grow in their faith.”

The Center’s outreach to college students is impressive: Just three years ago, a group of 25 Ave Maria students began spreading devotion to Marian consecration, including to other faithful Catholic colleges in The Newman Guide. Now, thousands of copies of 33 Days to Morning Glory have been shared with students at more than 200 public and Catholic colleges across the country.

“The joy and excitement that we have experienced from working with these young students has been such a blessing,” says Donna Bradt. “Witnessing their growth in love and trust for Mary and her Son and hearing their stories of how they now can see Mary working in their lives brings hope for the future.”

The location of the Mary and Mercy Center couldn’t be more appropriate, according to Maria Rubio, a sophomore at the University. “To have the Mary and Mercy Center be based right next to campus helps all of us to really focus on the mission and the identity of our school: That this is Mary’s University, and she desires us to become ambassadors to bring our fellow brothers and sisters home to her.”

Rubio had “no clue what Marian consecration was before college,” but believes that making the consecration has helped her to “live my essence of being a daughter of God to the fullest extent possible.”

While COVID-19 restrictions are holding back some universities from being able to hold many in-person gatherings and events this year, the students at the Mary and Mercy Center remain committed to spreading Marian consecration. One consecration at a time, they are helping Our Blessed Mother lead souls to her Son.

 

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Newman Society Urges Ministerial Exception for Archdiocese of Chicago

In a federal lawsuit that has potential consequences for Catholic education and all religious employers, The Cardinal Newman Society filed an amicus brief Tuesday urging the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the ministerial exception and protect the First Amendment rights of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The brief is authored by the expert attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a leading defender of religious freedom.

The plaintiff—a former parish music director who was fired after entering into a same-sex marriage—has argued that his claim of a “hostile work environment” is not prohibited by the ministerial exception. This would limit the ministerial exception to hiring and firing decisions, while allowing employees to sue employers for teaching religious views and upholding moral principles that are deemed offensive.

A panel of 7th Circuit judges has agreed, allowing the suit against the Archdiocese of Chicago to proceed. But the Archdiocese has appealed for a ruling by the full court, and the Newman Society brief supports that request.

In the brief, ADF attorneys cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this summer in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey-Berru, which prohibits courts from interfering in all “employment disputes” with employees who have “substantial religious duties.” This includes hostile environment claims.

“The panel majority’s ruling is unprecedented,” the brief warns. “No federal appellate court has allowed a minister’s hostile-environment claims to proceed once a church alleges a religious reason for the disputed conduct.”

“Churches’ autonomy depends on their ability to control the ministerial employment relationship, free from government ‘influence,’” argues the brief, citing Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Whether the government’s orders relate to a church’s obvious or indirect employment actions makes no difference. The First Amendment guarantees churches’ religious and ecclesiastical autonomy.”

But the 7th Circuit panel decision puts Catholic education in an “untenable position,” the Newman Society warns.

“A Catholic school has freedom to hire and fire ministers based on alignment with the Catholic Church’s religious teachings about sex, sexual orientation, and marriage. But if a Catholic school minister engages in a course of conduct that violates the Catholic Church’s teachings, and the school persistently communicates that the minister has strayed from the school’s moral expectations and should repent, the school can now be forced to endure a secular trial.”

The Newman Society seeks the renewal of faithful Catholic education and is concerned with protecting the rights of Catholic schools and colleges to teach truth in accord with the Catholic faith.

The 7th Circuit panel’s ruling is “an unconstitutional intrusion on ecclesiastical authority, subjecting religious bodies to hostile environment claims that the courts have no authority to adjudicate,” insists the Newman Society.

Catholic Colleges Should Fight Pornography

To combat pornography, Catholics should take the lead in the home and in our institutions. It should be a high priority for Catholic colleges.

Recent controversy over the Netflix movie “Cuties,” now the target of a Texas indictment for “lewd visual material,” helped bring renewed attention to the devastating impact of pornography. Society is taking a new, hard look at this moral pandemic that is corrupting souls as well as the mind and body — but shouldn’t Catholics be in the lead?

Dr. Chad Pecknold, theologian at The Catholic University of America, responded to “Cuties” by  warning families, “We must guard our senses. We must guard our children.”

He’s absolutely right. Parents need to be vigilant, and our pastors need to preach openly about it. But what about Catholic educators who are committed to forming students in moral conduct and authentic love for Christ and others?

Pornography not only harms the user. It makes people commodities for fleeting pleasure, even to the point of violence and human trafficking. While Catholic colleges strive to form students to be more fully human, the most inhuman activity is prevalent — as best we know by anecdote and studies of college-age behavior — in the dorm rooms.

Studies indicate that upwards of two-thirds of high school and college-aged Americans view pornography at least weekly. These rates may be higher amid the coronavirus pandemic, with students spending more time alone and in their residences.

Social distancing limitations are difficult for college students, who are asked to avoid gatherings and campus events. Students are spending even longer hours in front of computers and cell phones, because of schoolwork or as an escape from boredom, isolation and loneliness.

For young people at home and in campus residences, the temptation and opportunity to view online pornography has probably never been higher.

Jason Evert of the Chastity Project warns of “a pandemic of porn addiction for men as well as women.” He told the Newman Society that the challenge of pornography, “perhaps more than any other, is in need of a thorough, pastoral and effective response.”

Experts have identified serious mental and social health problems related to pornography consumption. Catholics know it to be a grave and often mortal sin.

For the user, pornography erodes the Christian response to others and even the desire for authentic human relationships, especially in dating and marriage. It is highly addictive. There is every moral reason to tackle this terrible activity, but Catholic colleges also have a clear practical concern: pornography addiction can be a serious impediment to an academic life.

Without question, the battle against pornography begins in the home, through the witness, formation and rules set by Catholic parents. But once students go off to college, they face a whole new set of challenges that Catholic colleges should help students overcome. They are on their own, often for the first time, away from parent supervision. They have a lot of free time.

Catholic colleges should set the example on fighting pornography. It really ought to be a concern for secular colleges as well, given the clear warnings of mental health experts and the impact on a student’s studies and participation in campus life. But with the added concern for students’ moral formation and the danger of grave sin, Catholic colleges should take the lead in mitigating pornography use on campus, helping students avoid the temptation, and counseling students with addiction.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman, a Saint for Students

Here is an important saint for our times — and with a special love for students! Any student or parent seeking intercession would do well to pray to St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), who was canonized last year and is celebrated on his feast day, Oct. 9.

Newman has had such a big impact on my life, and so I speak about him from the heart. I discovered him only after graduating from college and wish I had his example much earlier. Across nearly 30 years of promoting faithful Catholic education, I have looked to Newman as a patron because of his lifelong devotion to teaching and his important writings on education. Newman has also been important to my family; my wife and children joined me at both his beatification in England and his canonization in Rome.

Newman’s writings are voluminous, and the average Catholic will probably find his theological and philosophical works abstract and difficult to comprehend. But his prayers, sermons and poetry are eloquent and inspirational. They invite the reader to share in his passion and fervent devotion to Jesus Christ, especially in the Eucharist, and to Mary. Students will also find abundant hope in Newman’s unwavering trust in Providence.

St. John Henry can be a valuable spiritual guide to students determined to deepen their relationship with God despite the toxic campus environment at most colleges. At faithful Catholic colleges, Newman’s vision for Catholic education will resonate across the curriculum and campus life. The wisdom of his sermons can help set young adults on the narrow path to heaven.

Newman is perhaps best known in the United States as patron of the “Newman Centers” at secular colleges, which are patterned after the student organization at Oxford University, England, that was founded in Newman’s honor. Today, campus ministries across the U.S. often pray to Newman, although Americans often confuse him with St. John Neumann of Philadelphia, also a champion of education and founder of Catholic parochial schools.

Both saints, in fact, were critical of secular education, and after his conversion from Anglicanism in 1845, St. John Henry focused his efforts on Catholic formation. He was founding rector of a Catholic university in Dublin, where he delivered the lectures that were later compiled into his Idea of a University — one of the most important and influential works on higher education ever written. He spent the remainder of his life as founding leader of the Oratory School, a reputable boarding school for Catholic students who were barred from attending England’s other top schools.

Every high-school senior and college freshman should read Idea of a University, a persuasive defense of liberal education for its own sake — not simply for the utilitarian objective of securing a first job. Some have tried to box Newman into the liberal arts, which he wholly embraced, but Newman was less concerned about which academic disciplines a student pursued and more interested in cultivating “philosophical” thinking across education. By this, he meant the skills and experience of “ascending” above knowledge, contemplating how it relates to other knowledge and coming to a larger view of reality — ultimately rising all the way to the Creator, if not for the imperfections of human reasoning and virtue.

In its essence, Newman argued, education is about cultivating the mind — not moral or religious formation. But herein lies the great danger of secular education, as we see so often in today’s universities: The scholar becomes prideful, enamored by the accomplishments of science and creativity, making a “religion” of human reason and ignoring the truth of God. A student comes to school or college with the intellect, conscience and appetites all “warring in his breast,” warns Newman; likewise, education quickly falls prey to the disintegration of reality that began with the first sin. Without the Church to provide true moral formation, and without the grace of God found in the sacraments and in prayer, secular education loses its “integrity” and becomes distorted and even dangerous.

Moreover, Newman famously argued, the knowledge of God is the most important discipline of study, because it is foundational to every other art and science. A secular education is incomplete because it rejects theology. It can distort rather than form the student to be fully human.

St. John Henry would then advise Catholic high-school students today to seek a truly Catholic education that is focused not purely on job training but on cultivating the mind. But Newman’s insights are valuable even for a student who attends a secular college. Every student needs sound moral formation, frequent prayer and the sacraments. If a student lacks teaching that integrates the Catholic faith into every course of study, then additional reading and lectures that supplement regular coursework are necessary to gain some portion of the authentic education that Newman proposed.

Newman was a great intellect, and his greatness was rooted in fervent prayer and meditation. Students would flock to hear his sermons at Oxford, in Dublin and at his oratory in Birmingham. He loved his books but was also known as a loving pastor, as indicated by his episcopal motto, “Heart speaks to heart.”

Newman’s personality and devotion come through clearly in his many prayers, sermons, poetry and even his letters, which he carefully preserved by handwriting a copy before sending them off.

Students will benefit from a few minutes or a few hours of reading Newman, perhaps in the evening or at Eucharistic adoration. (Newman himself wrote many of his works in front of the Eucharist.) The National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh, in partnership with the Birmingham Oratory in England, has generously provided many of Newman’s key writings free of charge at NewmanReader.org. You might begin with selections from Sermons Preached on Various OccasionsMeditations and Devotions and Verses on Various Occasions — but every Newman-phile has a different recommendation.

Students will be moved by Newman’s tender love for the Holy Mother and his sense of divine Providence working throughout his life. Newman was certain that “God has created me to do Him some definite service,” and that if he would only commit to do good, God would make him “a preacher of truth in my own place.” (Those lines are from a Newman meditation that I prayed with my children when they were younger; it’s probably even more appropriate for a teenager or young adult looking to the future.)

Another of Newman’s works — his most famous poem, Lead, Kindly Light — should resonate with students who are striving for God’s wisdom and calling amid the fog of contemporary American life. Do a student a favor: Share just a few lines and bring him or her into a lifelong friendship with one of the Church’s greatest inspirations.

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead Thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead Thou me on.

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene;

one step enough for me.

… O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone;

And with the morn those angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

 

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.