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Catholic Identity: Confusion Or Crisis?

One of Ave Maria University’s strongest appeal is its firm Catholic Identity rooted in Ex Corde Ecclesia. Identities held to such high standard, however, are prone to ridicule. The history of Catholic higher education has proven so. Has the Catholic identity of Ave Maria University been questioned? Yes. The Spring of 2015 proved this to the extent that multiple outside sources were portraying Ave Maria University in a negative light, explicitly ridiculing the Catholic identity.

Problems that seemed to be the cause of confusion last Spring were two-fold. On one side, there was a questioning of the Catholic identity specifically of the students. The other was a questioning of the relationship between faculty and administration and the cause for changes amongst them. What needs to be considered foremost, however, is what grants an institution a “Catholic Identity. ” The University of Notre Dame has been accused in recent years of betraying its Catholic Identity. What have the specific accusations been?

According to the “Crisis Magazine,” the University of Notre Dame has strayed from its Catholic Identity by offering “spousal benefits for same-sex couples. ” “The National Catholic Register” criticizes Notre Dames concerning the honorary degree the university granted pro-choice President Barack Obama in 2009 and furthers that “the fraying of its Catholic identity and the inability of the university to meet its declared objective of having a predominant number of committed Catholics on its faculty are the sources of many of [Notre Dame’s] major problems.

The Washington Post also stated that the consideration of no longer requiring philosophy and theology courses raised “concerns that such a change could endanger the institution’s Catholic identity. ” These faults of Notre Dame are direct violations of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution for Catholic universities: Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Ex Corde Ecclesiae specifically states that “…a Catholic University must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion…” Notre Dame has failed to speak the truths concerning same-sex marriage and abortion.

Ave Maria University, on the other hand, has firmly maintained the church’s stance on both of these cultural issues. Additionally, concerning the Catholic Identity issue of requiring philosophy and theology course, Ave Maria University is certainly aligned with Ex Corde Ecclesiae as students are required to take three courses in each field. Furthermore, the Cardinal Newman Society noted in February of 2015 that Notre Dame’s faculty is less than 50% Catholic while Ave Maria University maintains a faculty of approximately 92% Catholics.

A questioning of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, therefore, is quite just. Ave Maria, contrarly, has thus far upheld its Catholic identity. To examine where it might be faltering, Ex Corde Ecclesiae must be carefully considered. Ex Corde Ecclesiae maintains that there are four essential characteristics of a Catholic University. First, a “Christian inspiration. ” Second, “a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith” in research and study. Third, “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.

Fourth, an “institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family…” The accusations made against Ave Maria University were posted in May and June of this past year. First, the Naples Daily News claimed that the Catholic Identity was degrading based on the removal of Latin as a course requirement, allowance of co-ed visitation hours, the Angelus no longer being prayed in the cafeteria, loud parties, street harassment, public drunkenness, and a lowering of ACT and SAT required scores.

The National Catholic Register addresses some of these same issues and also includes that “…the administration has also been accused of not tolerating dissenting views and firing faculty members who disagree publicly with university policy. ” When considering these accusations, it is important to note that multiple Latin courses are offered each semester, co-ed visitation hours are heavily restricted, the Angelus is still prayed every day at daily noon mass, and there is an honors program for those who wish to challenge themselves more and the low professor to student ratio allows any student to seek further challenge.

Even if these weren’t the case, though, the Catholic Identity wouldn’t be debunked based on any of these terms. Latin, while it definitely enhances the study of theology and philosophy, is not imperative to the four characteristics of a Catholic university. Addistionaly, the Angelus is a beautiful Catholic prayer, but not saying it does not lessen a Catholic Identity. Co-ed visitation hours can actually deepen a Catholic identity as virtuous fellowship can be wrought from them.

It is also important to note that they are heavily restricted, and from a petition started by a student government representative, it is evident that students desire more freedoms concerning visitation hours, not that they are a problem. To address the “loud parties, street harassment, and public drunkenness,” Stacy Laffere, a spokeswoman for Ave Maria University, stated, “There is constructive criticism and then there is reckless criticism” and most of the complaints can be attributed to a “loud minority. ” Furthermore, it is absurd to think that Catholics are without sin.

We’re all sinners, so the fact that activities that might include sin occur is not something outside the norm. Additionally, as Ex Corde Ecclesiae addresses, the primary mission of the church is evangelization, so excluding those students who are allegedly “degrading the Catholic Identity” would seem to be a violation of the Evangelization clause. It is also interesting to note that Ex Corde Ecclesiae means “the heart of the church,” which literally could refer to Jesus’ sacred heart of mercy, which would welcome all sinners with open arms. Lastly, the final issue left concerns the “firing of faculty members.

As Dr. Mrs. Pakaluk stated at an open talk titled “The Catholic Identity” last Spring, Ave Maria University’s board is completely aligned with Ex Corde Ecclesiae. As the board determines the faculty, this accusation, thus, could not be problem of “Catholic Identity. ” Has there been tension. Yes. From the news articles and discussion last Spring and perviously, it would be naive to state otherwise. This tension, though, seems not to find ties to an issue of Catholic Identity. This Fall semester, however, has definitely seen changes. Most predominant are those changes within the music program.

According to music majors, there is no longer a chamber choir, a course in conducting is no longer required, keyboard benchmarks will no longer be integrated into the core classes but will be offered as a 1/2 credit course, the connection with the Philharmonic is no longer there (however, in a recent meeting with all music students, President Towey assured students that the connection is being restored), there is no longer a director to conduct a choir at mass, (students have been allowed to lead the choir though) and, according to senior music majors, the under classmen coursework has been lightened.

The newly hired director is a Christian but not a Catholic and the music department faculty has been reduced from 10 to 6 just this year. While it is hard to ignore the fact of change, it is also difficult to note that these changes stray from Ex Corde Ecclesiae. So, has there been discourse about a faltering Catholic identity. Yes. Are the issues being discussed really Catholic identity issues?

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