Fairfield Now - Summer 2008
Pope Benedict's Visit:
Reflections from campus theologians
In anticipation of Benedict's visit
Whether in New York or Washington, Benedict is addressing a country that counts a majority of Catholics on the highest court, jurists who are certainly aware of the sophisticated Catholic tradition of faith and reason, and the ways in which it has and can set aside strictly faith-based arguments and serve to constructively inform public dialogue. This tradition presents a timely resource for reflection on civic life, offering a way through the logjam of American anti-intellectualism. For this young and pragmatic country, Benedict's visit will be of genuine service, if he can present a pastoral, substantive, and publicly compelling Catholic Christianity as a valuable mode of engagement with a globalized world.
Three years ago, the College of Cardinals chose Joseph Ratzinger, known as a guardian of orthodoxy, to be the next pope. To the surprise of many, he chose the name 'Benedict', a name most strongly associated with the sixth-century monastic known for his wise and pastoral approach to community life.
Benedict will meet a church weary from the sex abuse crisis and hungry for a message that transcends the never-ending culture wars. Indeed, after years of the sense that being Catholic is a smudged proposition, U.S. Catholics might just be ready for the high road.
Dr. Nancy A. Dallavalle is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies.
Look to American Catholics
Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the U.S. can be seen as either a moment for American Catholics to acquaint themselves with his enigmatic personality or as a time for Benedict himself to teach and challenge a faith community fraught with change and turmoil.
But, perhaps most importantly, it is also a chance for the American church to show itself as the vibrant religious reality that it is, and for the pope himself to take some lessons to heart.
For its entire history, the American church has shown amazing loyalty to faraway Rome. At the same time, it has championed a distinctly American set of priorities that have not always met with resounding approval from the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII's 1899 encyclical letter condemning "Americanism" is only the best-known and most formal effort to challenge the reconciliation of American cultural values and age-old Roman practices.
The challenge for Benedict XVI is to recognize - in this eclectic, pragmatic, multicultural, and frankly, sometimes not very thoughtful community - something that recommends it as at least one working model of contemporary Catholicism. For it remains one of the better-functioning national churches in the world, perhaps the most active one among the so-called developed nations.
Dr. Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., Professor of Catholic Studies.
The moral foundations of human rights and the UN itself
Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pope Benedict XVI devoted most of his UN General Assembly speech to a philosophical explication of the moral foundations of human rights and of the UN itself. He called on the UN to attend to the moral anchors that produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his exploration of the roots of human rights he articulated the following key ideas:
Subsidiarity: The principle of subsidiary, he suggested, should inspire and govern the work of the UN. This principle says that nothing should be done at a level higher than is necessary.
Pope Benedict XVI greets well-wishers from the Popemobile.
The Right To Protect: Basing himself on this perspective of subsidiarity, the pope put a surprising emphasis on what many consider a new principle in international relations: the right to protect. He said the right to protect was already present implicitly at the founding of the UN and at the origin of international law. One of the essential functions of the state is to protect its own people. If the state is unwilling or unable to guarantee that protection, then the international community must intervene through the juridical power provided in the UN charter and in other international instruments.
The Powerful Few: Alluding to the lock that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have on these kinds of decisions to intervene, the pope suggested that these decisions are "subordinated to the decisions of a few" instead of "collective action by the international community."
Not A Matter Of Law Alone: Respect for human rights, he said, has become an important indicator of whether a society has attained the social conditions where human beings can fully develop and flourish. These social conditions, however, cannot be reached merely through legislation and rule-making. It is not, at its heart, a matter of managing or "balancing" competing human rights.
Nor should human rights be presented purely in terms of legality or, as he said, human rights "risk becoming weak propositions divorced from their ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and goal." Rights must be seen as an expression of a common sense of human justice universally applicable in every society.
Right To Religious Freedom: The pope noted that human rights must also include the right to religious freedom, which is more than freedom of worship. Religious freedom must also include the freedom of all religious believers to participate fully in society, contributing to the common good. It should never be necessary, he said, "to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights."
Interreligious Dialogue: The pope sees great benefits flowing from conversations between religions. The United Nations should support these dialogues, but the conversations should be divorced from the political forum of the UN.
Accepting The Entire Declaration Of Human Rights: The pope expressed concern about efforts to reinterpret the foundations of the Universal Declaration in order to serve "particular interests." By this he was probably referring to attempts to treat the Universal Declaration as a "cafeteria" document, where governments can pick and choose which human rights they want to promote.
Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., is professor of sociology and international studies and director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University. He was appointed as advisor to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations.
The pope meets with leaders in Catholic education
University Trustee Christopher Quick '79 and his wife, Ann, present the gifts at the Solemn Pontifical Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20.
The occasion of Pope Benedict's address to Catholic education leaders at the Catholic University of America was something of a reunion for Catholic college and university presidents, who turned out in their hundreds to hear the pope, together with diocesan directors of Catholic education. Twenty-five of my 28 colleagues, presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities, were in attendance. Security requirements that we be there no later than three o'clock for a five o'clock address ensured ample time for renewing acquaintances and discussing matters of mutual interest.
Of course, the most important reason for our being there was to hear what the Holy Father had to say to us. Certainly there was much anticipation to what Benedict XVI, himself a former university professor and distinguished theologian, might have to say to this group. And certainly, we were not disappointed, for his address was characteristically reflective and scholarly, and he struck important themes we have heard from him before: the unity of faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of truth as an act of love. He used the concept of "intellectual charity" to describe the role that the Catholic educator must play in leading students to the truth.
The pope clearly appreciated the opportunity and the challenge that faces Catholic education in our country. He called Catholic education "a powerful instrument of hope," and "integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News." He emphasized that the Catholic identity of our institutions is not simply a question of statistics (i.e., numbers of Catholic students or faculty), nor can it be "equated simply with orthodoxy of course content." Catholic identity is above all a matter of conviction and making faith tangible in our institutions.
Pope Benedict XVI makes his way through throngs of the faithful after celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium.
The pope concluded his remarks by thanking Catholic educators for all that they sacrificed to make Catholic education available to so many students at every level. This was perhaps the most moving part of his address to those of us who know how much this sacrifice has involved.
The Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., is president of Fairfield University.