Anne Hendershott explores the issue of Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, and how this identity has come to be dropped or barely acknowledged.
When Catholic colleges were originally founded, they had no trouble being identified as such. Harvard, Yale and other Protestant colleges and universities proudly wore their religious identity but soon gave into secular influences and began to drop their religious identity. Some Catholic professors and administrators wanted to be just like their secular colleagues at these once-religious colleges, so they began working to reduce or drop any sign or notion of their colleges’ Catholic identity - thus the title of Status Envy. They wanted to run with the secular herd and felt that if they wanted to be considered on a par with their secular or non-Catholic colleagues, they had to drop their religious identity. Their colleagues considered Catholic colleges as not being equal to their own.
There are over 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, the most in any country in the world. According to Hendershott and others, many have dropped or lost their Catholic identity. Pope John Paul II in 1990, with his Apostolic Constitution Ex
Corde Ecclesiae, required Catholic colleges to remain loyal to their Catholic identity in order to be truly considered Catholic. Ex
Corde Ecclesiae required the local bishop to be involved with and accountable by the college; all professors who teach theology at a Catholic college are to have a mandatum, or mandate, from the local bishop, a “license or certificate” saying the professor is loyal to Catholic Church teachings and will not deviate from that. Many theology professor and other faculty and administrators opposed this and refused to abide by the Pope’s requirements.
Other issues defy Catholic colleges’ Catholic identity, such as pro-abortion theologians and activists on campus who argue that abortion is acceptable and that Catholic theology has historically allowed for abortion. Some theologians teach things totally contrary to the approved teachings of the Church, like abortion, birth control, homosexual activity, and secularism.
Hendershott writes that Liberation theologians and feminist theologians teaching at Catholic colleges are contradicting the teachings of the Church. Unfortunately, many students attending Catholic colleges do not have a solid foundation in the teachings of the Church, leaving them confused and led away from the Church by such theologians.
Hendershott explores how presidents of Catholic colleges and universities have been disloyal to the Church and unsupportive of their college’s Catholic identity. She posits that many are fearful of faculty who protest on the grounds of academic freedom and say that Ex
Corde Ecclesiae infringes on this right. Rather than standing up for the teachings of the Church and enforcing them, these presidents instead give in to the status quo or liberal theologians.
Are Catholic colleges and universities ashamed of their Catholic identity? In their publicity and mission statements, many do not mention their Catholic identity. Some colleges operated by religious orders will say they are Jesuit, Dominican, or Benedictine and will stress such over being more broadly Catholic. Often colleges with Catholic name like St. so and so are far from being Catholic, in reality secular. Some have even been dropped from the official Catholic directory by their local bishops.
Hendershott points out that one of the most notorious occasions on which a Catholic college can deny its Catholic identity is to invite pro-abortion rights speakers to their commencement ceremonies, or to honor such activists with honorary degrees as Notre Dame University did this past May by honoring President Barack Obama. Also refuting their religious identity: allowing anti-Catholic plays to be performed on campus, allowing gay/lesbian festivals, and allowing pro-abortion rights or gay/lesbian student groups to organize on campus.
Hendershott includes a chapter on colleges that do live up to their Catholic identity, and it seems to be a very short list. The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative watchdog of Catholic colleges, publishes a list of those colleges it has determined remain loyal to the Church’s teachings and are truly Catholic. The second edition of this guide notably omits Notre Dame. This reviewer’s university of St. Gregory’s does make the Society’s list.
Why are anti-Catholic and/or liberal theologians, faculty, and administrators allowed to have such power to control Catholic colleges? Why aren’t they removed from their positions of power or influence but instead tolerated? Much of it has to do with the issue of academic freedom and tenure. That educators who do not embrace the Catholic identity of these colleges would seem to be themselves more comfortable elsewhere. Some conservative Catholics may consider this a sign of evil in the midst of a Catholic college which must be combated and defeated.
Some of the material presented here was included in a previous book on the topic of abortion. Liberals and anti-Catholics may see this book as a diatribe; conservative Catholics will view it as a careful examination of the situation in Catholic colleges. Status Envy includes endnotes at the conclusion of each chapter and an index.
Anne Hendershott is a professor of urban affairs at The King’s College in New York City and also taught sociology at the University of San Diego. She is the author of Politics of Abortion (2005), Politics of Deviance (2002), Reluctant Caregivers (2000), and Moving for Work (1995). This book is highly recommended to those concerned about the issue of Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities.