Educators Urged to Balance Faith, Academic Freedom

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Byline: Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday told hundreds of Catholic educators that academic freedom is not an excuse to stray from Roman Catholic teachings or the responsibility to ensure that Catholic doctrine and practice "shapes all aspects" of university life.

Standing in front of gold-colored drapes, the pope spoke to about 400 Catholic college and university presidents and leaders of Catholic elementary and secondary schools, in a crowded hall at the Catholic University of America.

"I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom, you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you," Benedict said. "Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission."

In his speech at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, the pope struck an overall positive tone, education leaders said, describing the value of Catholic education at all levels and the important role it plays in the Church and society.

"Education is integral to the mission of the church to proclaim the Good News," he said, thanking and encouraging all Catholic educators, and expressing "profound gratitude" for their "selfless contributions," one of two occasions on which he was interrupted by applause.

"Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics," he told them. "Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith."

The 1990 Vatican document Ex Corde Ecclesiae aimed to reassert bishops' authority and the Catholic character of the church's universities. But many Catholic universities have come under fire for such activities as rallies and speeches for pro-choice political candidates and performances of "The Vagina Monologues."

In yesterday's wide-ranging speech, Benedict highlighted the particular importance of Catholic education in today's "relativistic" environment where "nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive." He said it's "particularly disturbing" to witness sex education that focuses on "management of risk. …