Pope Francis

Did Pope Francis Say ‘Don’t Proselytize’?

Catholic education, done rightly, is a special and important means of evangelization, the mission of the Church. It brings young people to Christ and provides for the integral formation of mind, body and soul.

And so, judging from the reaction that I have been hearing from some parents and educators, there is a bit of consternation over Pope Francis’ strong words last week against “proselytism” in Catholic schools. My colleagues from The Cardinal Newman Society who were present for the Holy Father’s conversation with educators—part of the World Congress on Education, a Vatican conference to address the “educational emergency” that leaves young people ignorant of Christ—also noted the Holy Father’s words with some concern.

The fear is that the Pope’s words could be misused, as his words have been abused in the past, to take Catholic education in a more secular direction. That would be a tragic reversal of the renewal of Catholic identity that is taking hold at all levels of Catholic education, and it would be contrary to the Vatican’s stated goals for Catholic school and colleges.

So what did the Holy Father actually say?

Speaking at the Congress, Pope Francis urged educators “to lead young people, children, in human values in the whole of reality, and one of these realities is transcendence.” What is authentic in this world can increase our awareness of God, His creation and His presence, but Pope Francis lamented that education today is exclusively focused on “immanent things” without introducing students to “the total reality.”

So far, so good. But this statement raised eyebrows:

One cannot speak of Catholic education without speaking of humanity, because, precisely, the Catholic identity is God who became man. To go forward in attitudes, in full human values, opens the door to the Christian seed. Then faith comes. To educate in a Christian way is not only to engage in catechesis: this is one part. It is not only engaging in proselytism—never proselytize in schools! Never!

A couple years ago in an interview, Pope Francis also said that “proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense.” And in an address to catechists, he cited Pope Benedict’s own concerns about proselytism in a 2007 address to the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean:

The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“—just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.

These admonitions against proselytizing can seem confusing for American Catholics, who are beneficiaries of the great missionary work of the Church in the New World. The zeal and courage of the early Catholics in America were recently celebrated by the Pope’s nuncio in his address to the U.S. bishops this month—especially in the context of their contributions to Catholic education—and they were celebrated by the Holy Father himself with the canonization of Father Junípero Serra, O.F.M.

Certainly, therefore, Pope Francis could not be condemning catechesis (which he takes care to explicitly reaffirm) or strong Catholic identity in schools—yet even so, problems arise with the term “proselytism,” which can be ambiguous. There’s a negative connotation to proselytizing that’s difficult to pin down, which allows it to be confused with healthy forms of evangelization. As Lawrence Uzzell wrote a decade ago in First Things, “Today’s Christian missionaries often contrast ‘proselytism’ with ‘evangelism’; the former is what they accuse rival denominations of doing, while the latter is what they claim to do themselves.”

In a footnote to its 2007 statement on evangelization, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acknowledged the term’s ambiguity but settled on the most negative connotation:

The term proselytism originated in the context of Judaism, in which the term proselyte referred to someone who, coming from the gentiles, had passed into the Chosen People. So too, in the Christian context, the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity. More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person.

So proselytism is seen today by the Church as an abuse of religious freedom, and in the context of education, it is a means of teaching the faith that denies the free use of reason and appeal to conscience. It is nothing that a good catechist or evangelist would do.

Very well. But then we have to ask the questions that my colleague Dr. Dan Guernsey asked, soon after hearing Pope Francis condemn proselytism, “How significantly is this a source of the educational emergency facing Catholic schools? How many universities and high schools seem to be coercing their students with unworthy Catholic propaganda?” It would seem that fidelity and Catholic identity should be greater concerns today.

I suspect the answer is that abusive proselytism is not, in fact, a priority concern for the Holy Father. The point about proselytizing was made off the cuff and was not central to his comments to the Congress.

Taken as a whole, his statements centered on rebuilding a more “human” education—relax the “rigidity” of schools, reach out to the margins of society, decrease the emphasis on intellectual “selectivity” that tends to exclude rather than invite participation, and open young hearts and minds to God:

For me, the greatest crisis of education, in the Christian perspective, is being closed to transcendence. We are closed to transcendence. It is necessary to prepare hearts for the Lord to manifest Himself, but totally, namely, in the totality of humanity, which also has this dimension of transcendence. To educate humanly but with open horizons. Any sort of closure is no good for education.

This closure to transcendence is precisely the educational emergency that has befallen secular education and even many Catholic schools and colleges. The focus on “immanent things” and worldly gain is what concerns so many American Catholics about the Common Core in Catholic schools.

Taken as a whole, the comments by Pope Francis to the Vatican Congress should not be construed as pulling the reins on evangelization in schools. Instead, we should celebrate Catholic education as the Church’s key means of evangelization, in human formation that invites the student to know, love and serve God.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

St. Peters Square

Vatican Envoy to Jesuits and Bishops: Reform Education

The Vatican ambassador’s message, delivered during Monday’s gathering of U.S. bishops in Baltimore, was crystal clear: place priority on the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic education and restore the great legacy of Jesuit institutions.

It’s an appeal that should make every Catholic parent stand up and cheer!

When Pope Francis was elected, I openly wondered whether our Jesuit pope would acknowledge the elephant in the room: the crisis of Catholic identity at many of America’s Jesuit colleges, especially the disregard for papal authority and doctrinal fidelity by some professors.

We now seem to have an answer.  While it’s not clear to what extent, if at all, Pope Francis contributed to his envoy’s message to the U.S. bishops, it’s hard to imagine that the apostolic nuncio would make such a forceful and direct appeal without the Holy Father’s consent.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò delivered an address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was at times both personal and emotionally stirring.  He urged attention to two concerns:

One – the need to give particular attention and care to our Catholic educational institutions so that they would regain the luster of their true identity that has shown forth from them in the past.

Two – that Catholic colleges and universities, renowned for the professional formation of their students, should be encouraged to be faithful to the title of “Catholic” that they bear. …While each college or university has its own particular mission, together they ultimately have the solemn obligation to teach the same doctrine of the universal Church and to define the moral obligations that mark us all as Catholic Christians.

This is as close as the Vatican has come to publicly confronting the crisis of Catholic identity at many American Catholic colleges. Even in elementary and secondary education, Archbishop Viganò indicated that the “true identity” of Catholic schools is not so clear today, as it once was.

Lamenting today’s “secularized and increasingly pagan civilization,” Viganò appealed for “renewed strength” in the New Evangelization—a strength that is “solid and unwavering in its commitment to Truth.”  And this strength, “which should be found in the family and in the schools, will exist only in proportion to its Catholic identity.”

He challenged the bishops to “watch over and protect families, and parishes and schools,” citing Pope St. Gregory the Great: “Imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men.”

But the most striking portion of Cardinal Viganò’s address was his reminiscence about his own years in a Jesuit secondary school and at the Gregorian University in Rome, and the heroic role of the Jesuits in bringing the Faith to the New World. It was a detour that imparted a special challenge:

No doubt that this Order has been the leader of evangelization in North America. …The Society of Jesus has had a long and proud tradition of imparting a rich Catholic faith and a deep love for Christ, which in great part is carried on through their mission of education. It is my hope that, with respect to their great tradition, after the example of our Holy Father, they would take again the lead in re-affirming the Catholic identity of their educational institutions.

The call to “take again the lead” was an acknowledgement that the Jesuits have lost their place of honor at the forefront of Catholic education. Restoring the Jesuits’ “great tradition” of education means reaffirming Catholic identity.

Cardinal Viganò’s recounting of the Church’s history in the United States, which he did at much greater length, was inspiring. He reminded the bishops that their predecessors in the early American Church had also gathered in Baltimore to decide “upon a strategy that would shape the growth and development of the Catholic Church.”

The main tool of this strategy was education, which was accomplished through the building of parishes with their own schools, together with the dedicated support of women religious. A prime example of this is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the great pioneer of American Catholic schools.

In the Cardinal’s prepared text, the only words underlined are these: “Education was primary in the Bishops’ minds; it was an essential means for the Gospel message to be woven into the very fabric of our people’s existence. In so doing, they were following the consistent path of evangelization traced centuries before by the monastic orders” and “the Holy See.”

Today, faithful Catholic education remains essential—Pope Francis said it is “key, key, key”—to the New Evangelization. Not only our bishops, but all of our clergy, religious, educators and especially parents need to believe that. Taking up Archbishop Viganò’s timely challenge, we must make it a priority to build and support authentic, formational Catholic education that brings young people to Christ.

Our Church and society depend on it.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

newspapers

Fire Theologians, Not Columnists

There is more than irony in the recent attempt by several theologians to discredit New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, because he dared to write about the tragic confusion surrounding the Synod on the Family without having a theologian’s “professional qualifications.”

There is great desperation in the move — and hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy lies in the demand for credentials, when the field of theology is itself seriously lacking in that regard.

About half of Douthat’s critics are professors of theology at Catholic colleges and universities. Under canon law, they must have the mandatum, a recognition from their local bishop that they pledge to teach in fidelity to Catholic doctrine. But do they? At least a few seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

Under current policy in the United States, it’s difficult to know whether a theology professor has the mandatum, because most theologians won’t say — and neither will their college employers or their bishops. The mandatum is deemed a private matter between the theologian and the bishop, and even many Catholic colleges do not require the mandatum for employment. Students who need to know whether or not a professor has complied with canon law are in the dark.

In James Caridi’s 2011 survey of U.S. Catholic college and university leaders, 36 percent said they did not know whether their theology professors have received the mandatum, 10 percent said some but not all of their theologians have received it, and another 6 percent said no professors have it. When The Cardinal Newman Society followed in 2012 with a request to America’s 10 largest Catholic universities to disclose which of their theology professors have the mandatum, the few that responded admitted that they do not collect such information.

Pope Benedict XVI pressed the issue in May 2012 during the ad limina visit of several American bishops. Urging “compliance” with Canon 812, which requires the mandatum for teachers of theology, the Holy Father said:

The importance of this canonical norm as a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity in the Church’s educational apostolate becomes all the more evident when we consider the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership: such discord harms the Church’s witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, when he was prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and Rome’s chief expert on canon law, told the Newman Society that “tangible” means the mandatum should be publicly acknowledged:

It’s tangible in the sense that it’s a public declaration, in writing, on the part of the ecclesiastical authority that a theologian is teaching in communion with the Church, and people have a right to know that so that if you, for instance, are at a Catholic university or parents are sending their children to the Catholic university, they know that the professors who are teaching theological disciplines at the university are teaching in communion with the Church.

There is, of course, no similar requirement in canon law that a New York Times columnist be properly credentialed by the Church to opine on Church matters. So it is preposterous that theologians would demand “professional qualifications” from a journalist, while their own profession apparently lacks compliance with the Church’s canon law.

So why attack Douthat? The answer may lie in the theologians’ second charge, that Douthat favors a “politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is.” This seems to be another case of the pot calling the kettle black; the driving motivation behind today’s “progressive” Catholics seems to be quite political and secular, and not rooted in faith. The loosening of Catholic mores with regard to sexuality and marriage for “pastoral” reasons has been a key objective of both political and religious progressives since the 1960s.

That’s where I see desperation in the theologians’ move against Douthat. He has challenged the apparent scheming by some parties to control the outcome of the Synod, which centered on this loosening of attitudes toward marital and sexual sin. Pope Francis had opened the doors wide to frank discussion and debate. The progressives saw the opportunity to bum-rush the Church.

But that largely failed. And now that Douthat is issuing warnings that could help thwart anything they hoped to gain, the ivory-tower theologians have lashed out in despair.

The response of many Catholic pundits has been to rush to Douthat’s defense, and rightly so. But I propose something more:

It’s time for Catholics to demand that those who teach theology in Catholic institutions commit to complete fidelity to Catholic teaching, make that commitment publicly known, and refrain from using their academic prowess to oppose those who faithfully seek the good of the Church.

And if theologians can’t abide by those expectations, they should at least find an ivory tower that doesn’t bear the label “Catholic.” Or become columnists.

This article was originally published by National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.

Cardinal Burke Urges Genuine Catholic Education to Renew Culture

Cardinal Raymond Burke last week gave us yet another trove of wisdom to contemplate, just as the Synod on the Family came to a close. This time, it was about Catholic education, and it came with a stern warning.

In prepared remarks last week given to representatives of Voice of the Family, Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, warned parents about the threats to their children from wayward Catholic schools while arguing that faithful Catholic education at home and in schools is needed to transform the culture. 

“Today, parents must be especially vigilant, for sadly, in some places, schools have become the tools of a secular agenda inimical to the Christian life,” he said. Corrupted Catholic institutions can lead young people “to their slavery to sin … profound unhappiness, and to the destruction of culture.” 

Cardinal Burke has received a lot of attention for his courageous opposition to those who sought to hijack the Synod in support of Communion for remarried, divorced Catholics. So it may seem odd that he chose to focus on Catholic education during the Synod’s last week. The topic of education got surprisingly little attention at the Synod, even after scholars Theresa Farnan and Mary Hasson publicly urged the Synod fathers to devote more time to it. 

But education and the good of the Catholic family are essentially linked, and Catholic education is a key solution to the challenge of secularism. In a lecture last week at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio — which is a model of faithful education — I expressed my concern that we not limit the New Evangelization to strategies that excite young people about the Faith, but also focus more attention to the renewal of Catholic education. It is in Catholic education that young people experience the deeper formation that prepares them for sainthood in a difficult and often hostile culture. 

The timing of Cardinal Burke’s comments also are relevant to today’s 50th anniversary of the Vatican II declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum Educationis. Next month, the Vatican will celebrate the documents while addressing the “crisis of education” in the modern world, meaning the modern failures to truly bring young people to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. The result is a deep despair and aimlessness in today’s societies — what Cardinal Burke calls a “profound unhappiness.” 

And ultimately, happiness in God is the promise of a genuine Catholic formation. 

It is important that “children know happiness both during the days of their earthly pilgrimage and eternally at the goal of their pilgrimage which is Heaven,” said Cardinal Burke. And it is no contradiction that such happiness means preparing for the Cross. 

“Education, if it is to be sound, that is, for the good of the individual and society, must be especially attentive to arm itself against the errors of secularism and relativism,” Cardinal Burke stated, “lest it fail to communicate to the succeeding generations the truth, beauty and goodness of our life and of our world, as they are expressed in the unchanging teaching of the faith.” 

He addressed particularly the modern confusion in sexuality, including the “so-called ‘gender education’ in some schools, which is a direct attack on marriage at its foundation and, therefore, on the family.” 

“Good parents and good citizens,” said Cardinal Burke, “must be attentive to the curriculum which schools are following and to the life in the schools, in order to assure that our children are being formed in the human and Christian virtues and are not being deformed by indoctrination …Today, for example, we sadly find the need to speak about ‘traditional marriage,’ as if there were another kind of marriage.” 

He referred to Gravissimum Educationis in support of parent-directed education: “As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family.They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.” 

And most profoundly, he reminded his audience of the encyclical by Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, and the task of Catholic education to form “the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatual light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character.”

In light of the confusion surrounding the Synod and the greater confusion in the world about marriage, family and even the value of human life, we are in great need of Catholics with this sort of formation. Renewing Catholic education should be among our highest priorities. 

This article was originally published by National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.