Saint Louis University: Catholic and Jesuit? Depends on whom you ask...
Over at Open Book, Amy Welborn has a post that has generated a bit of discussion. It’s not the usual hackneyed bash-the-Jesuits thing (well, some of the comments go that way), but a point of disapproval over a “Jesuitical” finessing of Establishment Clause law.
More to the point, the Supreme Court of Missouri has recently decided that
This may come as a surprise to Catholics and other
Mere affiliation with a religion does not indicate that a higher education institution is "controlled by a religious creed" for purposes of
's establishment clause. "Control by a religious creed" suggests that that the religious component dictates the institution's administration and oversight. "Control by religious creed" is likely to include a religious doctrine as the core decision-making model for the university and will also be marked by efforts to indoctrinate the faith or support a particular religious denomination. "Control by a religious creed" is not shown simply by a historical link to a particular religion or by devotion to the ideals of a sect. A university's motivation or aspiration to follow certain teachings does not indicate that it is "controlled by a religious creed" such that religion dictates the corporate management of the university. Appreciation for the ideals and ideas of a religious order do not show a university is "controlled" by that religion without a showing that adherence to those teachings directs the administration and operation of the institution. Missouri
This is indeed the central part of the argument. There are several implications:
1) SLU is merely affiliated with either the Catholic Church or the Jesuits.
2) For an institution to be religious means that a religious creed dictates administration, provides the “core decision-making model” for the institution, and seeks to indoctrinate that faith at the institution.
3) In the concrete this means that “adherence to” the teachings of the Catholic Church and ideals of the Society of Jesus, adherence that directs the “administration and operation” of the University, would put
Furthermore, the Court adds that “SLU’s president exercises restricted control over the university,” serving at the pleasure of an independent lay Board of Trustees. In fact then, SLU is run by a lay (or secular) board, a board that (and this is key to the argument) is independent from any direct influence of the Catholic Church or the Society of Jesus.
In the Court’s opinion, “SLU’s mission is education, not indoctrination, and its focus is on development of students, not on the propagation of the Jesuits’ faith.” The fact that there are many references to religion (e.g. “greater glory of God,” “God’s creation,” “spirit of the Gospels”) in SLU’s guiding documents does not change this.
SLU avoids violating the Federal Establishment Clause (which, apropos of Lemon v. Kurtzman means ‘excessive entanglement’ between religion and state) since it is not “an institution in which religion is so pervasive that a substantial portion of its functions are subsumed in the religious mission.”
A reading of this decision allows only two possible interpretations in my opinion:
1) Saint Louis University is only nominally Catholic or Jesuit, and despite any evidence in mission statements or what not, it is not substantially working for a religious mission, and is in fact a secular university that makes use of a few Jesuits as administrators (although always making up a minority of total administrators), and receives inspiration from the Catholic Church and Society of Jesus insofar as it assists its secular mission, “the encouragement of learning and the extension of the means of education.”
2) The Court has surprised us all with a very generous reading of the First Amendment, implying that only institutions that suffer dictatorial religious control shall not be supported by public funding. In other words, as long as the Government is not involved in the administration of a church or creed itself (which any institution serving “indoctrination” would thereby be subsumed under) it can involve itself all it wants in various religiously affiliated institutions.
At Amy’s blog, some readers have taken this as an opportunity to harangue the Jesuits (deservedly or not) for continuing to sabotage and abandon good Catholics and the Church, as well as condemning Jesuit schools of high learning in general for their heterodox ways.
I’ve defended the Society today elsewhere, so I’ll not repeat myself (other than to reiterate, the abuse does not justify negating the proper use).
However, according to this decision, and what seems to be the case, the Jesuits (today at least) are no longer really in control of their universities, but only merely affiliated. Of course individual Jesuits may be incompetent or may be exemplary in their respective positions, but as a corporate body, it seems that they cannot change these schools in any kind of direct way any longer. For me, this seems to point to the importance of having patience with the present attempts of the Society of Jesus to continue to faithfully live out its charism and renew itself, particularly in its educational apostolates.
Still, the question remains: can we call these (and most Catholic universities then) “Catholic”? Or are our Catholic universities in fact “secular” in mission and identity (at least, insofar as the Constitution may be concerned)?
What hasn’t been mentioned is, in my mind, the greater responsibility possessed by the local ordinary. It is his responsibility as Bishop to hold “Catholic” institutions accountable, as well as protect or warn his flock. A Bishop can always tell a University they cannot call themselves Catholic, offer the sacraments on campus, as well as tell the Jesuits not to operate in the diocese.
In the end, I am left wondering, what does it mean after all to be a
What I found most disappointing was SLU's own defense before the Court, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The school also pointed out to the court that despite its Jesuit tradition, the university does not require employees or students "to aspire to Jesuit ideals, to be Catholic or to otherwise have any specific religious affiliation. Of the 1,275 faculty-staff members at the university, fewer than 35 are Jesuit (which equates to approximately 2.7%). Fewer than half the students who attend SLU identify themselves as Catholic."