Last week, Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) wrote an interesting column (“Distorted Religious Identity Divides GU,” A3, Sept. 14, 2012) in which he explored how Georgetown can more fully express its Catholic identity. With this piece, Tisa did a great service to our campus community, and people are now talking about what it means to live and work at a Catholic university.

Tisa astutely identified contentious areas where more work is needed for Georgetown to live out its Catholic mission: De facto segregation indeed threatens the campus community, true political discussions are rare outside the classroom and the administration should consider removing undue barriers to student speech.

Yet while Tisa was right to draw attention to these issues, some of his recommendations were off the mark. He argued that Georgetown should formally recognize student organizations that advocate for issues directly in conflict with Catholic teachings and claimed that by not granting these groups full benefits, the university stifles meaningful debate. But in reality, granting university recognition and resources to these groups would not enhance Georgetown’s Catholic identity; it would detract from it. This point is better explained by exploring a broader question that Tisa addresses: What does it mean to be a Catholic university?
As a Catholic institution, Georgetown formally professes its belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church. It maintains that these teachings are both true and comprehensible. Each individual obviously need not agree with all of these teachings to attend a Catholic university and be a valued member of its community, but the official tenets of Catholicism are — or at least should be — the guiding force behind every major university decision. As long as the university claims to support the Catholic Church in mission, it must also do so in action.

Tisa is absolutely right that the university cannot shy away from dialogue with those who disagree on fundamental issues. That is why Georgetown invites speakers who are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage to campus. In the Georgetown College video “Jesuits at Georgetown,” Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J., says, “We welcome diversity, because we’re not afraid of questions and we’re confident in the answer.” The moment Georgetown ceases to hold this value will be the moment when it stops being a university at all.

Georgetown also has a unique mission. As the theologian Fr. Erich Przywara, S.J., notes, Jesuit universities have a mission both to interpret the Church to the world and to interpret the world to the Church. This means that, while Georgetown should foster open dialogue on all issues, it must never withdraw its support for the most challenging claims of the Catholic faith. As long as the Catholic Church maintains that abortion is a moral evil and that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman, Georgetown cannot grant funds or benefits to groups that explicitly argue otherwise without ignoring the Church’s mission.

Groups like H*yas for Choice certainly make valuable contributions to the campus community. They should continue to express their views through their right to free assembly and free speech. As Tisa rightly notes, a Catholic university should never suppress the views of students simply because they disagree with specific Church teachings.

And while this university cannot directly support such groups without betraying its Catholic identity, productive dialogue is not impossible. By inviting all students into an ongoing conversation about the significance of Georgetown’s Catholic identity, we can help our university better live out its unique mission. That is a goal that all members of Georgetown’s community, Tisa and myself included, should work toward every day.

Luke Carter is a junior in the College.

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