Home > fr. joaquin bernas sj, reproductive health, RH Bill 5043 > ateneo upholding academic freedom : “The university has its own purposes which cannot be subordinated to other objectives”

ateneo upholding academic freedom : “The university has its own purposes which cannot be subordinated to other objectives”

 

Understanding Catholic universities

by: fr joaquin bernas sj

In discussing Catholic universities one must  begin with Canon 808 of the Code of Canon Law which says: “Even if it really be Catholic, no university may bear the title or name Catholic university without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.” In that technical juridical sense, the Ateneo and almost all other institutions in the Philippines, save one perhaps, which are publicly regarded as Catholic, are not in juridical terms Catholic. But are they Catholic in any other sense?

Even Canon 808 suggests that institutions which do not have the ecclesiastical title of Catholic can in fact be “really Catholic.” The appellation of Catholic can come from various sources. It can come, for instance, from its origins as founded by various religious orders of men and women. That in fact is how most Catholic institutions in the Philippines started. The appellation also comes from what in fact they do. For this reason these institutions are recognized as affiliated with the Church even if not “canonically Catholic.”

It must also be said that a canonical title is not the litmus test for being truly Catholic. Pope John Paul II in fact looks for more in a Catholic university. In a speech before Catholic universities in the United States, both canonically recognized and not, he said:

“A Catholic university or college must make a specific contribution to the Church and to society through high-quality scientific research, in-depth study of problems, and a just sense of history, together with the concern to show the full meaning of the human person regenerated in Christ, thus favoring the complete development of the person. Furthermore, the Catholic university or college must train young men and women of outstanding knowledge who, having made a personal synthesis of faith and culture, are both capable and willing to assume tasks in the service of the community and of society in general, and to bear witness to their faith before the world. And finally, to be what it ought to be, a Catholic college or university must set up, among its faculty and students, a real community which bears witness to a living and operative Christianity, a community where sincere commitment to scientific research and study goes together with a deep commitment to authentic Christian living.

“This is your identity. This is your vocation. . . .  The term ‘Catholic’ will never be a mere label, either added or dropped according to the pressures of varying factors.”

Briefly, a Catholic university is not just an institute for teaching catechism.

Further, in the same speech, John Paul II emphasized the importance of academic freedom:  “As one who for long years have been a university professor, I will never tire of insisting on the eminent role of the university, which is to instruct but also to be a place of scientific research. In both these fields, its activity is deeply related to the deepest and noblest aspiration of the human person: the desire to come to the knowledge of truth. No university can rightfully deserve the esteem of the world of higher learning unless it applies the highest standards of scientific research, constantly updating the methods and working instruments, and unless it excels in seriousness, and therefore in freedom of investigation.”

It is in this context that Fr. Jose “Jett” Villarin has defended what the Ateneo professors have been doing. At the same time, this is the measuring rod according to which Ateneo professors, and other professors of Catholic universities, must examine their individual consciences. Similarly, those who criticize them must meet them in the context of the field of expertise from which they write and not only in the limited context of the Baltimore Catechism.

One might also ask, is Father Jett being faithful to the teachings of the Society of Jesus? We Jesuits tend to disagree among ourselves about almost everything. As an Italian saying goes, Tre Jesuiti, quattro opinioni. Perhaps cinque or even more. But I think if we surveyed the opinion of Jesuits in school work we will find them overwhelmingly in agreement with the words of the superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach in an address titled “The Jesuit University in the Light of Ignatian Charism.” He said: “Far be it from us to try to convert the university into a mere instrument of evangelization or, worse still, for proselytizing. The university has its own purposes which cannot be subordinated to other objectives. It is important to respect institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and to safeguard personal and community rights.” Father Kolvenbach goes on to insist that there is no inherent schizophrenia in the identity of a Jesuit college or university. “In a Catholic university, or one of Christian inspiration, under the responsibility of the Society of Jesus, there does not exist—nor can there exist—incompatibility between the goals proper to the university and the Christian and Ignatian inspiration that should characterize any apostolic institution of the Society of Jesus.”

Father Jett told me at supper that Archbishop Chito Tagle, at the wake for Jesse Robredo, condoled and commiserated with him (probably with a wink!) as he parries the slings and arrows coming his way from “loyal Catholic catechists.”  Jett can take it. He is young and was valedictorian of the same Ateneo college batch as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

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