The concerns expressed by the Cardinal Newman Society and others regarding the Catholic character of Catholic colleges and universities in the United Sates is of personal interest to me. For the past four years at Notre Dame, where I'm a senior, the debate about Notre Dame's Catholic character or lack there of has focused squarely on the University's sponsorship of two events: the Vagina Monologues, and the Queer Film Festival.
In other words, Notre Dame's Catholic character, something inherently difficult to quantify or define, has been strictly defined, not in terms of church attendance or the seriousness with which the student body approaches their faith, but in terms of hot button issues involving sexual sins, and not, mind you, the sexual sins of heterosexual men and married people, but the sexual sins of single women and gay people.
Every year a men's dorm on campus puts on a comedy review full of raunchy straight guy sex jokes, certainly un-Catholic in their character, and yet the review is rarely mentioned in Notre Dame's "Catholic character" debate. It's not seen as any kind of threat, but rather, as free expression. In short, it's curious when and where a university's Catholic character is invoked. No one speaks of it when a university is building a business school or accepting money from the government that may go towards weapons research, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to feminists and dating.
Too often Catholics themselves define what Catholic is, in the same tired and reductive ways that non-Catholics do. That is, being Catholic is all about being against things, think, abortion, and gay marriage. Accepting such a limited definition we become caricatures of ourselves, and do violence to the mysteries and complexities of our faith. Catholic colleges and universities should not be safe havens from mainstream culture where students are never asked to encounter anything with which they do not already concur. Rather, they should be places where the ideas and tendencies of mainstream thought and culture are brought into conversation, perhaps correctively so, with the ideas and tendencies of the Roman Catholic Church.