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A Challenge From the Pope

Monday, March 17, 2008

Regarding the March 14 front-page article "Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message":

I could not disagree more with those who predict a "stern message" and a "rebuke" when Pope Benedict XVI addresses Catholic university and college presidents and diocesan education leaders at Catholic University on April 17. The fact that the pope, as teacher of the faith, takes on the compromises advanced within contemporary culture, pushes hard against moral relativism, and seeks to present the intelligibility of the alliance between faith and reason in the quest for truth does not constitute an attack on the Catholic academy. They are the very things that Catholic universities and colleges, too, should be considering, precisely because they are Catholic.

The pope is presenting a challenge to all of us in Catholic higher education to be authentic and faithful to what we say we are and what we say we do. No one should fear such a challenge or paint the call to authenticity as some sort of public reprimand. It is the pope's role and responsibility to lift up Catholic principles as goals to be achieved and as elements of truth, identity and mission for all institutions within the church.

Positive messages do not often make headlines. Controversies -- real or imagined -- do. The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational leaders is not only premature but also prejudicial. Instead of condemning Catholic universities and colleges for what may be perceived as failures -- and failures do exist -- the pope might very well thank Catholic educational institutions for being beacons of light in a society that sometimes prefers darkness.

VERY REV.

DAVID M. O'CONNELL

President

The Catholic University of America

Washington

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