As Pope Benedict XVI visits Washington, D.C., to call for stricter adherence to Catholic doctrine by U.S. Catholic universities, Georgetown stands at a crossroads between its Catholic identity and the demands of secular academia.

Yesterday at Catholic University, the pope, who has been known for adherence to traditional Catholic principles, stressed the importance that Catholic universities maintain their religious identities.

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia was one of more than 200 Catholic school presidents in attendance at Benedict’s speech. The Pope invited the president of all 224 Catholic universities in the United States for his speech, which was the first time a pope addressed Catholic education in the United States since 1987.

In Benedict’s address, he said that Catholic ideals can be lost in a time in which Western society is becoming more secular.

“With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith, he said. “This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision.”

For Georgetown, the oldest Catholic university in the country, Benedict’s speech was not the first time that it has faced a tension between progressivism and Catholic tradition. The university has a reputation of being a relatively progressive Catholic university, and has drawn fire from many Catholic officials and conservative groups for losing track of its Jesuit roots. In the past, Georgetown has come under scrutiny for allowing Hustler publisher Larry Flynt to speak on campus in 1999, funding Law Center internships at pro-abortion rights organizations, and the planned LGBTQ resource center scheduled to open this fall.

Several progressive groups on campus have felt the strain that Georgetown’s Catholic roots have sometimes imposed on them, including H*yas for Choice, GU Pride and Take Back the Night. These groups, along with others, displayed a mural endorsing an acceptance and inclusion yesterday to coincide with the pope’s speech.

“Some of our strongest members are very Catholic themselves and they don’t necessarily see a conflict between Catholic teachings and their sexual identity,” GU Pride Co-President Jack Harrison (SFS ’09) said. “The tension is definitely there, and it definitely does affect us.”

any have held that the pope’s decision to speak at CUA while in the District and not at Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, was significant. But University Provost James O’Donnell said that Georgetown has consistently upheld its religious identity.

“Georgetown is deeply rooted in its commitments as a Catholic and Jesuit university, and I have every confidence that we will continue to live those commitments in a way we can all be proud of,” he said.

Georgetown’s Web site stresses that its Catholic identity comes forth through various programs and initiatives, such as its core curriculum – which includes theology requirements – Catholic studies program and the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Institute of Ethics.

“There is a wealth of programs and courses, an excellent campus ministry program, a significant number of experts on various aspects of the Catholic tradition,” said John Langan, Cardinal Bernardin chair and chair of Catholic social thought in the Institute of Ethics. “Of course, we could use more resources [for promoting Catholicism].”

The Cardinal Newman Society, which serves as a watchdog for higher-education Catholic institutions, has strongly and publicly disapproved of some of Georgetown’s actions. Two years ago, Patrick Reilly, president of the organization, came to campus to argue that Georgetown has ignored its Catholic identity.

“[H*yas for Choice] is very much a problem,” Reilly said in an interview on Wednesday. “Even as an unofficial club, it promotes activities contradictory to the Catholic Church and promotes the killing of innocent children.”

Reilly went on to say that Georgetown is an anomaly among Catholic universities because H*yas for Choice remains active on campus. Although the university does not sanction the organization, it distributes condoms on campus and hosted Choice Week earlier this month.

“It is very rare to see these clubs at other Catholic universities. I’m not aware of a single undergraduate school that allows a pro-abortion [rights] club, school-affiliated or not, besides Georgetown,” he added.

Benedict said that meaning of love is diminished by today’s sexual education, which tends to put particular weight on the hazards of sex.

“Particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of `risk,’ bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love,” he said.

Georgetown has also come under fire for the planned creation of a center that would provide support and resources for LGBTQ members of the campus community. The university has maintained that the center does not defy Georgetown’s Jesuit roots because the Church scorns sexual interaction between LGBTQ individuals and not these individuals themselves.

Reilly said that providing this kind of support should be frowned upon.

“This activity tends to celebrate the homosexual lifestyle that leads to sinful activity,” he said.

While Georgetown stands in the face of such criticism, it is a Catholic university that has demonstrated the belief that it is possible to combine an increasingly secular approach to academics and historical Catholic teachings. The university has a history of being caught in the balancing act between secular academia and traditional Catholic morals, and although some Catholic experts have been critical of its performance, those on campus have defended its choices.

David Gregory (COL ’10), grand knight of the Georgetown chapter of the Knights of Columbus, said the LGBTQ resource center fosters acceptance of all people, which the Church teaches.

“As long as this new resource center is solely meant to foster belonging and safety for the homosexual community on campus, I personally do not believe that the university is contradicting the Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality,” he said.

When theology professor Fr. Peter Phan was rebuked last year by a U.S. committee of bishops for his book, which discussed the possibility that other religions could provide salvation, the Georgetown administration said that it upheld the right for academic freedom and expression.

Gregory said that he believes progressivism is not a contradiction to Church teachings but is rather inherent in them.

“Progressivism also means that the Catholic Church has to apply its moral teachings to social circumstances as they arrive and these moral standards can’t be compromised,” he said.

DeGioia commented in a recent Washington Post article about the pope’s anticipated remarks that Georgetown wants “to ensure that there is the opportunity for both academic freedom and for the free exchange of ideas and opinions across all issues.”

Harrison said that he sees the administration as having been extremely supportive of GU Pride and other more progressive groups.

“We really appreciated President DeGioia’s remarks when the pope was first coming out with these statements related to his visit and . just DeGioia’s continued support for the free flow of ideas in an academic setting because that really is what we believe,” he said.

– HOYA Staff Writer Michele Hong contributed to this report.

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