While THE HOYA did not release a printed copy last Tuesday, I nevertheless found an interesting and amusing article on the newspaper’s Web site. D. Pierce Nixon, in the usual eloquence that characterizes his pieces, managed to criticize a speech that has yet to be given. Pope Benedict XVI is making a highly anticipated trip to Washington, D.C. in April and is expected to make a major speech at Catholic University on the state of education at Catholic institutions of higher learning.

I am afraid that Nixon has jumped the gun in his preemptive critique of what the Pope may or may not say. Nixon seems to believe, based on an article in The Washington Post, that the Pope will deliver a speech critical of Catholic institutions, like Georgetown, that permit the performance of The Vagina Monologues or allow H*yas for Choice to meet on campus. If the Pope does deliver such a speech, then I commend Nixon and The Washington Post on their foresight, but I think it is only fair that the Pope makes this speech before there is a response to its content.

Nixon, based on the concerns he articulates in the article, seems to accept the media’s portrayal of Benedict as a hardliner obsessed with hot-button social issues. In reality, he is an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent individual who, before taking a post in the Vatican, was a college professor. His first three encyclicals are entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), and Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth – confronting the needs of the developing world). Sure, he has brought up issues many consider “divisive,” but who can deny that there is an appropriate time for the Holy Father to promote the Church’s teachings, even the unpopular ones?

The most puzzling part of the article, however, is Nixon’s assertion that the Pope expects “blind faith” among students at a Catholic university. This is quite a statement to make about the man who gave one of the greatest lectures on the relationship between faith and reason, the Regensburg Address delivered in September of 2006. While this speech is mostly remembered for the violent reaction it prompted in the Muslim world, it is an amazing defense of the reasonableness of faith and the rational nature of God. The Pope quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel II: “Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.”

As Joe Zwosta (COL ’07) pointed out in his letter to the editor last Friday, the Pope, and Catholic teaching, reject the idea that “blind faith” is a legitimate aspect of Catholicism. In fact, Christians believe that God is by characterized by logos, divine reason (thank you, Fr. Schall!). Therefore, neither God nor any religious authority can force faith upon someone; it must be assented to independently. The Pope said in his lecture: “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” Nixon wrote that the Pope wants to criticize schools like Georgetown for “failing to force their students to abide by Catholic teachings.” This fundamentally contradicts the Pope’s belief that only reason, and not force, can lead to faith.

To address the specific issues that Nixon raises, which are the usual ones Catholic universities wrestle with today, it is wrong to characterize the Pope’s strong stance on them as forcing “blind faith.” Georgetown, as a Catholic university, has certain obligations to which it must comply as an institution, but that does not translate into forcing Catholicism down its students’ throats. The university gives full voice, as it should, to opposing views without providing them with overt or tacit approval. The institution’s faithful adherence to the Church in no way forces its students to do the same.

Nixon rightly points out that Georgetown is an excellent example of faith in action with our emphasis on social justice. However, we must acknowledge that this is just one aspect of the Catholic faith, and our university is called to promote other aspects as well. Nixon writes in regards to social justice: “Georgetown will be on the other side of town applying the teachings of the Catholic Church that actually make the world better.” It is wrong to imply that the teachings of Catholicism that Pope Benedict might choose to emphasize, such as the relationship between faith and reason or the Church’s moral teachings, cannot “make the world better.”

I believe that the Pope is a very reasonable and compassionate man who cares deeply for the students at all Catholic universities. He has said on many occasions that authentic faith cannot be forced upon anyone, so I doubt his upcoming speech will advocate that. Nixon, and other critics of the Pope, should not assume what the Holy Father will say and should wait before offering any more criticisms of the speech.

Stephen Kenny is a senior in the College. He can be reached at kennythehoya.com. AGAINST THE WIND appears every other Tuesday.

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