Freedom is not opting out, Pope says


‘It can never be attained by turning from God’

Pope Benedict XVI, the long-time university professor, returned to his favourite forum yesterday to emphasize the mission of Catholic universities to be places of both religion and scholarship.

In an address veteran Papal observers said was closest to the Pope’s own heart, Benedict dwelled at length on the need for faith to fully answer the deepest questions posed by reason. It is for this reason, Benedict argued, that the very idea of the university was historically born from the heart of the Church.

Addressing more than 200 Catholic university presidents at the Catholic University of America, he characterized their work as “intellectual charity,” in which “to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love.”

In his most direct criticism on this trip of American Catholic practice, Benedict addressed the key question of theological dissent in Catholic universities.

“I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom,” the scholar-Pope said. “In virtue of this freedom, you are called to search for truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. 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 teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission, a mission at the heart of the Church’s teaching mission and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.”

Many prominent Catholic universities, including Georgetown here in Washington, have long argued that their scholarly mission is separate from their Catholic identity. The Pope forcefully rejected that view, saying that Catholic students were entitled to authentic Catholicism both in class and on campus.

“Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice,” Benedict said. “This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the gospel and upheld by the Church’s teaching authority, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.”

I knew Father Ganni. We studied in Rome at the same time and met on a few occasions as we had mutual friends. He knew the dangers, but declined to take a position in Europe, preferring instead to return to Mosul in solidarity with his people, and with his archbishop.

“We all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually,” said Benedict, who still keeps in touch with his former students. “While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently, we observe with distress the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not opting out. It is an opting in — a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves.”

On the same theme of Catholic education, Benedict made an appeal “not to abandon the school apostolate ... particularly in the poorer areas.” In many major American inner cities, the Catholic Church operates the only successful schools, usually for largely black, nonCatholic students. The prohibitive cost means that many of these schools, which operate without government funding, are now closing.

Earlier, the Pope met in the chapel at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington with a small number of people who were sexually abused by clergy, the Vatican said in a statement.

The group prayed together and the Pontiff then listened to the stories of the victims, and “offered them words of encouragement and hope,” it said.

Benedict also offered Mass at Nationals Stadium for a festive, sun-drenched congregation of 45,000, calling upon American Catholics to be evangelists of their culture and be “renewed in zeal for the extension of God’s kingdom.” Massed choirs provided music from contemporary settings to black gospel, and Placido Domingo sang the traditional Panis Angelicus, after which he knelt before the Pope in a moment that electrified the stadium.

It was Benedict’s first encounter with ordinary Catholics, who gave him a thunderous welcome as he arrived in the popemobile. After Mass, a beaming Benedict moved among the crowds, shaking hands, caressing children and blessing families. It was an answer to the oft-asked question about whether ecstatic Papal crowds were a singular phenomenon created by Pope John Paul II, or characteristic of how Catholics in general greet their chief shepherd.

Returning to the sexual abuse crisis for the third time in three days, Benedict asked American Catholics “to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt.” He also asked them to love their priests.

Today, Benedict flies to New York and addresses the United Nations General Assembly.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Freedom is not opting out, Pope says." National Post, (Canada) April 18, 2008.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 National Post

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