Religion in American culture and politics returns to the news this week in a big way with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
Since Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, he has launched an unapologetic global campaign to reinforce Catholic doctrine and teaching on moral issues. Ultimately, he declares, there is more to being a Catholic than simply calling yourself one — a message he is coming here to teach.
Some of Pope Benedict’s comments have not been widely discussed. Encouraging the Mass to be said in Latin is not likely to make political waves one way or the other in America. It is not what you consider headlining fare for network news.
But, forcefully calling on Catholics to be true to Catholic teaching against abortion and same sex marriage is sure to get attention. Using words like “sin” and saying that Catholics who publicly support abortion might be denied communion would definitely make the news if a governor or United States senator were denied the sacrament. And taking Catholic university leaders back to school may well lead to newsworthy developments.
Any surprises from the Pope’s visit may well come from that final subject. More than a few Catholic universities have strayed from Catholic teaching, and some have even flaunted their disobedience to the Vatican as “independence” or as being “progressive.” Many of these universities have bestowed honors upon public officials or other prominent individuals advocating positions on abortion, sexuality, definitions of family, and other matters that are diametrically opposed to Catholic doctrine. He will be meeting with university presidents who lead institutions of diverse levels of fidelity to Catholic teaching from Franciscan University to Fordham and Georgetown universities.
Pope Benedict has taken the unprecedented step of summoning the presidents of Catholic universities across America to meet with him this Thursday. It is widely expected that he will reason with and challenge these university leaders to stop glorifying those who oppose the church. After all, they are not simply universities, they are Catholic universities, and it is not too much to expect a religious institution would stay true to its calling.
The values being denigrated at too many Catholic universities are not solely Catholic. They do not concern distinctly Catholic doctrines such as those regarding the Virgin Mary or the authority of the Vatican. They are teachings about human nature, moral absolutes, and other issues shared by all denominations of the Christian faith and other non-Christian faiths as well.