The professor of law at Gonzaga University's law school weighs in on the increasing problem of universities founded with religious missions becoming secular.
Gonzaga University doesn’t always have to be Catholic, said Dr. David DeWolf, professor of law at Gonzaga University’s law school, in an article published by the 1887 Trust, an organization committed to strengthening the Jesuit University’s Catholic identity.
He pointed to other colleges and universities, which were created with a religious mission, but in time, became secular universities.
“As Yale ceased to be Congregationalist, and Duke ceased to be Methodist, Gonzaga could cease to be Catholic,” he said. “It would happen because the will to be different was replaced by the will to fit in with the rest of the crowd and the path of sameness was chosen rather than the path of distinctiveness.”
DeWolf wrote that he prays that this will not happen at Gonzaga, but added that “we can only reap the benefits of being Catholic if we are willing to do the work that is required to be Catholic.”
In an exclusive interview with Catholic Education Daily, DeWolf elaborated and said that this problem is not only at Gonzaga but occurring now at many Catholic institutions. He added that the bishops share at least some of the blame.
“The bishops would understandably prefer a positive relationship with the universities in their dioceses—institutions that were there before they arrived and will continue after they leave—and they are reluctant to be perceived as the ‘bad guy’ who picked a fight with them,” he said. “The bishop should be actively involved in the life of an institution that claims to be ‘ex corde ecclesiae’—from the heart of the church. And if it is drifting in the wrong direction, he needs to be pro-active in setting it on the right course.”
He admitted that sometimes the situation is complicated when a college or university is operated by a religious order that does not answer directly to the bishop. But he said that ultimately the bishop is responsible for declaring which institutions in his diocese deserve to call themselves “Catholic.”
DeWolf pointed to the recent canon law petition against Georgetown as a positive step. “But,” he added, “it shouldn’t require the complaints of lay people to bring these matters to the bishop’s attention.”
One of the major issues Catholic colleges face he said, is hiring Catholic faculty. A recent editorial in the student newspaper posited “it is not imperative that Gonzaga keeps a majority Catholic faculty in order to honor its Catholic identity.” It touted the importance of “diversity.”
DeWolf countered in his piece posted on the 1887 Trust’s website, saying:
DeWolf told Catholic Education Daily that some Catholic colleges and universities have sadly reached the point where there’s a dominant anti-Catholic majority. DeWolf said he’d like to see the bishops make compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae mandatory, asking, “Unless a university is in compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae or has a plan for getting there, why should they be called Catholic?”