|Bishop Barry Knestout|
Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, Georgetown University has, historically speaking, religious roots. So, too, do Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Over time, though, as has happened with these Ivy League institutions, Georgetown has undergone a secularization, due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching. Many are quite clear that they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age.
Thus the selection of Secretary Sebelius for special recognition, while disappointing, is not surprising. Blessed John Paul II, in his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, invites Catholic universities into a relationship of faith and excellence. He calls them to share in the Church's task of bringing the Gospel and Christian values into the culture of our day. He reminds us that a Catholic university is "a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism....Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic University are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church," among them, "dialogue with culture that makes the faith better understood" (ECE I: B.4.49). One can only wonder how the selection of Secretary Sebelius for such a prominent role as a featured speaker can be reconciled with the stated Catholic mission and identity of Georgetown University. Secretary Sebelius' vision on what constitutes faith-based institutions presents the most direct challenge to religious freedom in recent history. On the same weekend that the Georgetown announcement was made, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of Catholic education and the intellectual and cultural challenges of the New Evangelization in the context of contemporary American society. The Holy Father recalled that during his pastoral visit to America in April 2008, in his homily at the Mass at Nationals Stadium, he called on the Church in America to cultivate "a mindset, an intellectual culture which is genuinely Catholic". Last weekend he reiterated the need for American Catholic institutions of higher learning to commit to "building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America's civic and cultural heritage". With all of the people struggling so hard to preserve freedom of religion, and with all that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in defense of this important value, Georgetown's choice of the architect of the radical challenge of such freedom for special recognition can only be seen as a statement of where the university stands - certainly not with the Catholic bishops. Georgetown University's response to the commencement speaker decision is disappointing, but not surprising. When the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching, there are, of course, disappointing results.