Having recently published a book on the idea of a Catholic university [see review, page 24], I was asked by the Chicago Tribune what role Catholic universities and colleges should play in the sex-abuse crisis enveloping the American church. The answer: "They should discuss all those things that the pope thinks are undiscussable." Whatever sense prohibition against discussion may have for ecclesiastical piety and politics, it makes no sense at all for universities. Thomas Aquinas thought it was worth discussing whether or not God exists, which is about as fundamental a discussable as one can imagine.
Discussion is not, of course, decision and agreement. Given even the faintest of ecumenical urges, one must discuss the ordination of women whether one thinks it a good idea or not. Nor is this issue-and a rather long list of others-a mere courtesy toward "separated brethren." Too many dicta from Rome seem based on the thinnest of theological or philosophical ice. Garry Wills rightly judges that the major papal "sin" has been shabby argument. And that leads us back to the role and origin of universities.
A scholar writing recently on the origin of the universities in the Middle Ages makes the following interesting point:
The most surprising difference between medieval Europe and other civilizations: despite its religious faith and its intolerance of other beliefs it lacked confidence in its own...