It looks like Georgetown is not on the Holy Father’s nice list.

During a visit to Washington, D.C. next month, Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to deliver a speech at Catholic University about the state of Catholic higher education in the United States. According to the Washington Post, the pontiff is expected to use the event to lambaste the scores of Catholic colleges and universities that are not living up to church’s standards by failing to force their students to abide by Catholic teachings.

The Church takes issue with the growing tendency of American Catholic schools to tolerate or even promote activities and groups whose messages run contrary to traditional Catholic teachings.

Schools like Notre Dame and Georgetown have offended the Holy See by allowing student groups to organize productions of the Vagina Monologues on their campuses. Georgetown has apparently ruffled a few more holy feathers by refusing to ban the pro-abortion rights group H*yas for Choice from campus. And it didn’t win any indulgences for its plan to open a resource center for the LGBTQ community next year.

Of course, that’s nothing new. For many years, conservative Catholic groups have criticized Georgetown for permitting its students to live in ways that are considered unorthodox. One such group is the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization that, according to its Web site, is frustrated with what it sees as a trend by Catholic colleges to retreat from rigid enforcement of Catholic dogma “for the sake of a mistaken notion of academic freedom.”

But if there is a mistake to be made in Catholic higher education it would not be the willingness to change the conversations within our schools from a chorus of tired catechism into one of many, different views. It would be the type of blanket rejection of opposing voices that the Pope and the Newman Society seem to advocate.

During a 1987 visit to Xavier University in New Orleans, the late Pope John Paul II explained that “society and groups within society must respect those who have a different outlook from their own.” By creating fora for presenting the Church’s messages, American Catholic universities do play an important role in preserving Catholic identity, but the universities and their leaders can privately and publicly maintain their faith in Catholicism without banning other beliefs from the campus community.

When Catholic schools allow the presence of opposing ideas, it shows confidence in the viability (and, sometimes harder to demonstrate, applicability and relevance) of Catholic teachings.

One way Georgetown reveals the merits of Catholic though this is through the university’s strong commitment to teaching social justice – an idea which most clearly connects the mysteries of Catholic thought to the challenges of the world today.

Georgetown contributes to the value of Catholic teachings by inviting its students to examine and challenge Catholic ideas, to ask questions and choose for themselves. In this way, Catholic universities have a chance to present why so many of us believe that Catholic teachings are closest to a real, universal truth.

If the Newman Society and Benedict had their way, there would be no “why,” only a “because.” As students, we would act the way we are told because we have blind faith or are afraid of our school’s retribution. In that way, Catholic teachings become stale and unappealing.

Georgetown’s social pluralism introduces to its academic community the experiences of people who see life from outside the Catholic worldview. It provides a real connection between Catholic thought and those who follow its tenets. And when its students choose for themselves to adopt Catholic lifestyles, it means much more than if our school simply produced Catholic drones.

If Pope Benedict’s speech at Catholic University does, indeed, denounce schools like ours, his message will hopefully fall on deaf ears. Georgetown will be on the other side of town applying the teachings of the Catholic Church that actually make the world better. We will continue to learn about other cultures and beliefs in order to better ourselves, stand up for the overlooked and powerless regardless of their religion, and use the arts and sciences to advance within the political sphere a message of social justice.

And I won’t be surprised if the Vicar of Christ is not eager to come help out.

D. Pierce Nixon is a senior in the College and contributing editor for THE HOYA. He has been enrolled in Catholic schools for more than twenty years. He can be reached at DAYS ON THE HILLTOP appears every other Tuesday.

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