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Educators want social teachings on campus

Special to the National Catholic Reporter
New Rochelle, N.Y.

Peace and justice matters might hold a significant place in the realm of Catholic teaching, but few Catholic colleges and universities pay much formal attention to such issues, according to peace and justice educators who met here recently.

The educators gathered to discuss ways to incorporate church teachings into the curriculum of Catholic colleges and universities and to combat the apathy and opposition that often greet such programs.

Courses in peace and justice are “essential” if the church is to communicate its social teaching to future generations, retired Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis told educators at the national symposium “Peace and Justice Education on the Catholic Campus” June 25-27 at Iona College. About 200 representatives of 60 Catholic colleges and universities attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the college.

But such courses are not part of the curriculum at most of the nation’s 220 Catholic colleges and universities. While 32 institutions in the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities offer courses in peace and justice education, most schools address such issues in campus organizations rather than in the classroom.

Conference participants heard from a half dozen schools that have implemented peace and justice education pilot programs sponsored by the association.

A growing percentage of students and faculty at Catholic institutions are not Catholic, speakers noted, and those who are Catholic are often unaware of, or resistant to, the church’s social teaching in areas such as just war, human rights, welfare reform and labor.

Many professors are like “monks,” said Joseph Fahey, a Manhattan College professor who taught in the first Catholic peace studies program there. They make good lecturers and researchers but “don’t want to be priests or prophets,” he said.

Carl Procario-Foley, who directs campus ministry at Iona, said peace and justice teachers are often seen as “countercultural or the liberal bastion” by their peers.

Although research by the University of San Diego on last year’s freshman class revealed that 75 percent have done volunteer work, “there is a great disconnect between their voluntarism and their knowledge of Catholic social thought,” said Kathleen Maas Weigert, who heads the Office of Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame. Catholic schools must find a way to reconnect the church’s teaching to areas of service and citizenship, she said.

Association director Monica Hellwig suggested following up the “radicalizing moments” of students’ voluntarism with “heavy analysis and reflection” on the systemic causes of human suffering. This requires investigating what it is “in economic structures that leads to unemployment, homelessness and poverty in generation after generation,” Hellwig said, including examining how the U.S. economy contributes to poverty overseas. She urged that such analyses take an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on the social and physical sciences, to create a more “intellectually focused next generation.”

Activities within the Catholic church and its educational institutions can be an obstacle to those who want to pursue peace and justice studies, Fahey said. His list of concerns include the tension between the current generation of women and the church; the policy of restricting collective bargaining at many Catholic colleges; and the fact that many Catholic colleges welcome ROTC programs and job recruitment by military-industrial corporations.

“Catholic schools have to get out of the war business,” Fahey said. “War is legitimate mass murder. Those who engage in it are serial killers, and we have to say so.”

What many scholars see as threats to academic freedom from church officials also present difficulties, Fahey said.

Hellwig acknowledged that relations between scholars and the hierarchy are not ideal. “The church believes it has the truth, and the truth is unchanging,” as if it is saying, “ ‘We have given you the truth in sufficient formulations. You need only apply it,’ ” she said.

However, she said, divine revelations unfold through a “never-ending process” of history, experience, consciousness, questioning and tradition. Hellwig urged patience in dealing with Rome, in “doing the doable and moving things a little.”

Roach, who led the U.S. bishops’ task force in a new effort to communicate the church’s social teaching (NCR, July 3), saw less difficulty dealing with Rome than with the resistance in American society to the church’s taking an effective stand on public policy. “If the church doesn’t stand for gospel principles in public policy, then gospel principles aren’t going to be enumerated,” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, July 31, 1998