The Editors
The publication in 1990 of the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae has been the inspiration for continuing conversation within the Catholic higher education community in the United States. The leadership of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and its member institutions have explored ways to deepen and enrich the distinctively Catholic religious and intellectual traditions that identify the more than 200 Catholic institutions of higher education. Ex Corde Ecclesiae itself was the product of a continuing conversation that began with the circulation in 1985 of a preliminary draft and culminated in an international conference held at the Vatican in April 1989. After the publication of the final text in 1990, similar consultation among bishops and college and university presidents led to the development of regional norms for the application of the apostolic constitution to the United States.

Recognizing the value of such conversations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a standing committee of bishops and presidents that meets twice a year to discuss issues that relate to Catholic higher education in the United States. In a memorandum dated Jan. 30, 2006, the retiring chair of the committee, Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., spoke for the entire committee in writing to those U.S. bishops who are identified as ecclesiastical advisors to the Cardinal Newman Society. The society purports to measure the actual state of Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. The Bishops and Presidents Committee has regularly monitored the publications and positions of the Cardinal Newman Society, Archbishop Vlazny notes, and has found them often aggressive, inaccurate, or lacking in balance. The archbishop urges the ecclesiastical advisors to look more closely at the methods of the society, which the committee has found to be often objectionable in substance and in tone, misrepresenting the Catholic colleges and universities in the United States that it criticizes.

What have been the methods of the Cardinal Newman Society that the Bishops and Presidents Committee find so objectionable? The Cardinal Newman Society keeps a close watch on how Catholic campuses observe the society’s self-defined and rather narrow view of what constitutes Catholic orthodoxy. Their litmus tests include: whether any campus group has sponsored a presentation of The Vagina Monologues; whether any politician who does not favor criminalizing abortion is invited to speak at a campus event; whether the institution has sponsored a support group for gay and lesbian students; and, most recently, whether faculty or staff at a Catholic institution supported John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in the 2004 elections.

In pursuit of its skewed view of orthodox Catholicism, the Cardinal Newman Society has been reckless in its caricature of opposing viewpoints, misrepresenting the positions of those with whom they disagree. Even sadder, however, is the assumption behind their watchdog tactics. The test of a Catholic institution implicit in those tactics is a negative one.

The authenticity of an institution’s Catholic identity can be judged, as the Newman Society sees it, merely by what it does not do: no feminist drama, no unapproved speakers, no heterodox honorees, no support for homosexuals and no backing of left-leaning candidates.

The application of such negative litmus tests distorts and diminishes the importance of the Catholic identity and mission of a college or university. The vitality of life on a Catholic campus should be measured far more by the positive initiatives the institution takes than by the narrow boundaries it observes. The Catholic intellectual and religious tradition should be the source of programs and projects on Catholic campuses that other colleges and universities would have neither the interest nor the resources to promote.

Furthermore, a Catholic institution, confident in the strength of its traditions, will not retreat from the challenge of engaging competing ideas in the dialogue that is at the heart of a lively university culture. Many Catholic institutions have established programs and events that promote the dialogue between Catholic tradition and contemporary culture, between faith and science, that Ex Corde Ecclesiae identified as central to the mission of Catholic institutions. Happily the Bishops and Presidents Committee understands the importance of this mission.

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Comments

REV. VINCENT POIRIER | 3/23/2006 - 3:54pm
Dear Editor:

John Henry Cardinal Newman, the convert hounded by the conservative wing of the English Church, the author of AN ESSAY on the DEVELOPMENT of CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, and the darling of Vatican II, now the adopted mascot of the Cardinal Newman Society? This is revisionism run amok. If he were alive today, he'd be the target of this organization that dares appropriate his genius in the cause of intellectual and religious stasis.

Sincerely, (Rev.) Vincent Poirier, Retired, Boston Archdiocese

Fr. Edward J. Enright, O.S.A. | 4/7/2006 - 4:06pm
The following letter to the Editor comes from a board member of the Venerable John Henry Newman Association who, along with other members of this Association and the Director and Staff of the National Institute of Newman Studies, is concerned that these two organizations closely allied to one another are not confused with the Cardinal Newman Society. The VJHNA and NINS exist to promote the study and to disseminate knowledge of the life and thought of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, and to encourge prayer for the success of his beatification and canonization. VJHNA promotes these purposes by its annual convention, this year at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois, August 3-5, the theme being Newman in the 21st Century. For more on the VJHNA see out website at www.udallas.edu/newman. NINS, headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA has the same purpose as the Association, but accomplishes it through its Newman Research Library, the Newman Scholarship Program and publishing the Newman Studies Journal.

Fr. Edward J. Enright, O.S.A. edward.enright@villanova.edu

Lawrence S. Cunningham | 2/23/2007 - 9:15am
I read with interest your editorial about the Cardinal Newman Society, “Measuring Catholic Identity” (3/27). That organization does not seem to recognize the irony of choosing as their patron a holy priest who himself was the subject of much vilification and animus by persons not unlike those who make up the current membership of that organization.

My suggestion would be that they rename themselves as the Msgr. George Talbot Society. Talbot, like Newman a convert from Anglicanism, was a domestic prelate to Pope Pius IX for nearly two decades and, in that capacity, besmirched Newman’s reputation in the papal household, accusing him (falsely) of being a supporter of Garibaldi, thwarting Newman’s desire for a Catholic College at Oxford, picturing him as being disloyal to papal authority and calling him the most dangerous man in Europe. He served as the Vatican agent of those in England who had no love for Newman, especially Cardinal Henry Edward Manning. Talbot, if he is remembered at all today, is remembered as the one who said that the laity’s role in the church was “to hunt, to shoot, to entertain.”

Providence, however, works slowly but surely. Talbot had a mental breakdown and ended his days in an asylum near Paris. Newman eventually became a cardinal and is now on the way to canonization. For all that, it is terribly sad to see Newman’s name associated with such persons, who are not at all unlike those who served as watchdogs of Orthodoxy against Newman in the 19th century.

Fr. Edward J. Enright, O.S.A. | 4/7/2006 - 4:06pm
The following letter to the Editor comes from a board member of the Venerable John Henry Newman Association who, along with other members of this Association and the Director and Staff of the National Institute of Newman Studies, is concerned that these two organizations closely allied to one another are not confused with the Cardinal Newman Society. The VJHNA and NINS exist to promote the study and to disseminate knowledge of the life and thought of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, and to encourge prayer for the success of his beatification and canonization. VJHNA promotes these purposes by its annual convention, this year at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois, August 3-5, the theme being Newman in the 21st Century. For more on the VJHNA see out website at www.udallas.edu/newman. NINS, headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA has the same purpose as the Association, but accomplishes it through its Newman Research Library, the Newman Scholarship Program and publishing the Newman Studies Journal.

Fr. Edward J. Enright, O.S.A. edward.enright@villanova.edu

REV. VINCENT POIRIER | 3/23/2006 - 3:54pm
Dear Editor:

John Henry Cardinal Newman, the convert hounded by the conservative wing of the English Church, the author of AN ESSAY on the DEVELOPMENT of CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, and the darling of Vatican II, now the adopted mascot of the Cardinal Newman Society? This is revisionism run amok. If he were alive today, he'd be the target of this organization that dares appropriate his genius in the cause of intellectual and religious stasis.

Sincerely, (Rev.) Vincent Poirier, Retired, Boston Archdiocese

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