Pope challenges universities, meets with abuse victims

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 17, 2008

{mosimage}WASHINGTON - Day three of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington and New York covered the gamut of events and emotions — from the joy of a papal Mass to a no-nonsense challenge to Catholic universities, to a tear-filled visit with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In an April 17 address at the Catholic University of America, Pope Benedict XVI said he believes in academic freedom, but at a Catholic university, it has limits. And he drew a line in the sand in a speech to leaders of the United States' Catholic education institutions.

“I wish to affirm the great value of academic freedom,” he told the gathering.

“In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the 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 the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission.”

The Pope's speech came at the end of day three of his six-day visit to Washington and New York. In the morning he celebrated Mass with 46,000 Catholics at the Nationals' Stadium. At the university, he addressed 200 university presidents and 195 superintendents of Catholic elementary school districts across the United States.

Links for the full text of Pope Benedict’s speeches for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sandwiched in between the large events was an unscheduled private meeting at the papal nunciature (embassy) in Washington with "a small group of persons who were sexually abused by members of the clergy," according to a statement from the Holy See Press Office The group was accompanied by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, which was the epicentre of the abuse scandal.

"They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope," the statement said.

"His Holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse."

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican press spokesman, told journalists the meeting involved five or six victims, men and women from the archdiocese of Boston, and lasted about 25 minutes. During the encounter, each of the victims had a chance to speak personally to the Pope, who spoke some "very affectionate words," he said. Lombardi said it was a very emotional meeting; some were in tears.

At the end of the meeting, O'Malley gave the Pope a book listing the first names of the approximately 1,000 victims of sexual abuse in the archdiocese within the last several decades, Lombardi said, so the Pope could remember them in his prayers.

While sexual abuse has consumed much of the Pope's attention on this visit, he had especially charged words for the Catholic education leaders.

The nature of academic freedom in a Catholic university has been subject to heated debate in the United States. Most disputed has been a requirement, implemented under the apostolic exhortation Ex Corde Ecclesia, that every theologian must have an official mandate from his or her bishop.

The mission of the university, the Pope explained, involves inculcating a deeper sense of truth in students than what they receive from secular education.

“Truth means more than knowledge; knowing the truth leads us to discover the good,” he said. “Far from being just a communication of factual data — 'informative' — the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing — 'performative.' With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and His goodness.”

The Pope observed that secular society seeks to limit the definition of truth, to “drive a wedge between truth and faith.” It is the role of the Catholic educator to challenge such limits.

As part of this task, “teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice,” he said. “This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the church's magisterium, 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.”

The Pope said the universities must support the church's mission of evangelization to the world. He said youth are crying out for guidance in a secular world that challenges all objective truths. He asked whether Catholic universities were truly living out a Catholic ethos.

“A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students,” he said. “It is a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools?

Earlier that day, under a cloudless sky in Washington's new baseball stadium, the Pope praised American Catholics for their strong faith. He also urged them to deepen their commitment to Christ and have hope in His mission of salvation to the world.

“Hope for the future is very much part of the American character,” he said. “And the Christian virtue of hope — the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and His saving plan — that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.”

For the third day in a row, Pope Benedict also acknowledged the seriousness of the clergy abuse crisis which rocked the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” he said. “Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the church.”

He urged the Catholic laity to work with their priests and bishops to “do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt.”

The Mass was a joyful affair. It featured four choirs with 570 singers and solo performances by Denyce Graves and world-renowned tenor Placido Domingo, who sang Panis Angelicus.

More than 300 priests and deacons helped distribute Communion throughout the stadium.

At the end of the day, Pope Benedict participated in an interfaith meeting at the John Paul II Cultural Centre. An audience of some 220 individuals representing five religions: Buddhism, Hindu, Islam, Jainism and Judaism, listened to him give a short address.

The Pope talked to them about protecting religious freedom and interreligious dialogue.

“I therefore invite all religious people to view dialogue not only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also as a way of serving society at large,” he said. “By bearing witness to those moral truths which they hold in common with all men and women of good will, religious groups will exert a positive influence on the wider culture.”

The Pope also had a short meeting with Jewish leaders and presented them with a short message of greetings of peace as they prepared to celebrate the annual feast of Pesah.

(With files from Catholic News Service)

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