Catholic universities face a challenge in living up to two principles: the religious and moral responsibility that is Catholicism and the public responsibility to their students, regardless of religion, to enable education with free, open discussion.
For the most part, these principles are not in conflict – but there are the few cases in which allowing the unrestricted freedom of one undermines the other. In these cases, it is the Catholic university’s responsibility to act in the secular role of university alone.
The university role of the “Catholic university” is vulnerable to deformation at the hands of religious imposition.
This does not apply only to Catholicism, and not even exclusively to religion: any bias infecting the university setting strips the students of their right to discussion and thus compromise the university as a whole.
The church is the environment for dogma, where religion can express its belief and build its rules in any way it pleases, regardless of what the secular world thinks.
This dogma, though, can and should be open to questioning at the university – even at a place like St. John’s.
But this is not to say that dogma should be abandoned at the first sight of conflict; in fact, dogma should not be abandoned at all.
Liberals can seem just as stubborn as they accuse the devoutly religious of being when they take lightly the idea of dogma, as if it is something that can be turned on and off, or left at home.
Dogma is dogma for a reason: it is held dearly and truly by those who accept it. It cannot just be thrown away. But this argument does not call for that; it calls only for free, open discussion. While this includes the ability to challenge that dogma in the university environment, it does not mean that it cannot exist.
The Catholic university should give its Catholic students credit in their ability to make up their own minds and weigh conflicting arguments for themselves.
Diverse religious (and nonreligious) views make up a rich mosaic wherein all can learn and practice the human cooperation that they are taught in church.
The Catholic university, and the Catholic students who attend it, should not only tolerate, but also embrace the diversity that the University environment offers.
It is a way to learn and collaborate. Even if there are challenges to the Catholic dogma, to allow and enable their existence preserves the university and also extends an attitude of openness and accessibility on the part of the Catholic Church.
For its own health, Catholicism should not be cloistered to only its own members.
Catholics should be challenged, to strengthen their own faith, and perhaps even find some agreement with those of other faiths (and atheists, as well) that ultimately contributes to the Catholic goal: peace around the world, overcoming difference.
When actual conflicts arise, the Catholic university has to stand up and answer real questions that do seem to challenge their faith: Should we allow a pro-choice student group to organize on campus? What about a gay alliance club? Should we hire an atheist as a professor in our philosophy department?
The answer should be a resounding “yes” in favor of open discussion every time – for the sake of both the Catholic principles and the university principles that make up “the Catholic university.”