Catholic universities, Pius XII

PRESCIENT & PROPHETIC

I applaud James L. Heft’s thorough analysis of the situation of Catholic universities (“Distinctively Catholic,” March 26), as well as his call for greater “boldness” and freedom on the part of administrators, scholars, and professors.

I would like to add two observations. As Heft suggests, Catholic universities and colleges have been overly receptive to market models of operation, creating environments in which students assume the role of consumers, and professors the role of strategic suppliers. Faculty are encouraged to see the syllabus as a “contract” with students, and are rewarded for articulating on their syllabi effective “outcomes”—an effective outcome being one that can be observed and accurately measured at the end of the semester. To be sure, all teachers desire their students to have gained certain knowledge and skills that may be objectively measured at the conclusion of a course; still, the most significant learning is often neither readily observable nor quantifiable. In fact, the vocation of teaching is notoriously slow in “showing” results: teachers cast seeds that may take a long time to emerge on the surface, to come to fruition. The vocation nibbles upon risk and trust, not the solid food of bottom-line assurances.

What if a professor (in any department) at a Catholic university were bold enough to include on his or her syllabus the goal (not the outcome) of instilling in the student “the love of learning and the desire for God”? Would it be met with embarrassment by colleagues—dismissed as fluff perhaps—even though it emerges from within the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition? Would administrators, deeply in bondage to accrediting agencies, cringe with chagrin? And how would our students react? Formed with consumer expectations, they would likely be more interested in knowing on the first day of the course whether the professor provides study guides for the exams, and whether they can be guaranteed a grade that will help them get into a prestigious law or business school. Can such damage be undone? I think so, but Heft rightly intimates that courage will be needed.

Second, Heft reminds us that the Catholic intellectual tradition is embedded in specific beliefs and practices. These practices include liturgical rites and prayer. Catholic identity and distinctiveness substantially suffers when a university loses its liturgical center, when the opening Mass of the academic year is attended by only a very small fraction of faculty and students, and when an emphasis upon competitiveness in the intellectual “market” or social-justice activism leaves no room for the purifying discipline of prayer and contemplation.

May Heft’s prescient and prophetic piece be read widely and discussed across Catholic campuses.

MICHON M. MATTHIESEN
Los Angeles, Calif.


WHAT RUSH?

In his article “Why the Rush?” (March 12), Peter Quinn suggests that while Pope Pius XII wasn’t a villain, “he was a man of his time, defined (compromised?) to one degree or another by his career as a diplomat and church official with commonly held values and views, including a low opinion of Jews and Judaism.” In fact, Mr. Quinn’s suggestion that the pope might have had a low opinion of Jews is contradicted by a lot of evidence.

Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, actually went to school with Jews such as Guido Mendes. In 1939, the Vatican helped Mendes and his family obtain exit visas so they could escape to Palestine. Mendes settled in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan and became a prominent physician in Israel. When Pius XII died on October 8, 1958, Dr. Mendes fondly remembered his classmate in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

While he was still serving as aide to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, Pacelli helped organize a meeting between Pope Benedict XV and Nahum Sokolow, the Zionist leader, in 1917. In March, 1940, when Italy’s anti-Semitic laws went into effect, Pope Pius XII appointed several displaced Jewish scholars, including the geographer Roberto Almagia, to posts in the Vatican Library. An editorial in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle (March 29, 1940) said that these appointments showed the pope’s “disapproval of the dastardly anti-Semitic decrees.”

An article from the Congress Weekly (July 14, 1944), the journal of the American Jewish Congress, reported that the pope helped secure kosher food for Jewish refugees who were being sheltered in the Vatican during the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943–44. After the Allies liberated Rome, the pope even blessed a Jewish soldier from Palestine in Hebrew. In 1957, during an audience granted to members of the American Jewish Committee, the pope issued a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and praised the committee’s work in fighting bigotry in the United States.

As we consider Pius’s worthiness for canonization, I think we should also remember his other achievements, many of which have been forgotten. He encouraged scholars to use scientific methods to analyze biblical texts, agreed that Catholics could accept the theory of evolution, called on women to enter public life, and opened the door to replacing Latin in the liturgy with the vernacular. Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have all credited Pius XII with laying the theological groundwork that made the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) possible.

The cause for Pius XII’s canonization was introduced in 1965. It seems odd, then, for Quinn to suggest that the process has been rushed. In order for the Vatican to canonize Pius XII, two miracles attributed to him have to be verified. In effect, the canonization process is now in the hands of God.  

DIMITRI CAVALLI
Bronx, N.Y.

[Read more: The Audience: What Was Pius XII's Opinion of the Jews? By Justus George Lawler]

Published in the 2010-05-07 issue: 
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