An Interview with the Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone

Catholic Education in the Service of Church and State
An Interview with the Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone
Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego
August 25, 2008

 

Q: In the Holy Father's recent address to Catholic college and university presidents, he called on Catholic educators to do all they could to ensure faithfulness to the teachings of the Church, while at the same time encouraging vigorous discussion of issues. What are your thoughts about that?

A: Basically, I agree with what's in the founding document of this college-that a Catholic institution's identity is defined by divinely revealed truth, with academic freedom as a necessary added-on special feature. This is opposed to the other way around that we find all too often, namely that Catholic identity is a special feature that gets added on. Catholic identity-it has to imbue everything. It's not the case that we can say, "We have an opportunity to do Catholic things in addition to everything else at our university; we have campus ministry, for instance; we have a students for life club; we have retreats; we have a chapel on campus." That makes Catholic identity merely a feature among other features, like "we have a gay pride student club." It's like putting them on the same plane. Rather, it has to be what imbues everything. Academic freedom-yes. But there have to be parameters. You know, there is this misunderstanding of freedom as license to do whatever you want without any consequences. But there have to be some kind of parameters based on the truth which, as we know, is of two kinds: divinely revealed truth and the truth found within nature. It is within these parameters that there has to be a vigorous discussion and there has to be scientific inquiry.

Q: What would you say to those-and there are many-who seem to make a false dichotomy between Catholic identity and academic freedom, as though they are mutually exclusive?

A: Well, they seem to be the ones guilty of stifling academic freedom. When I was thinking about this while preparing my homily for today, the thought came to me of the example of Larry Summers, the past president of Harvard, going back a few years. He said something as "outrageous" as that there might be a genetic difference between men and women, a genetic difference that might account for-possibly-why more men go into the field of science than women. And then he was excoriated for it.

As I understand it, there were other reasons, too, as to why he was finally dismissed as the president, but that was the one that got all the attention. Well, where are you on academic freedom then? Why didn't he have a right to say something which is a perfectly legitimate observation? He wasn't even saying it dogmatically; he simply said this might be one reason and he listed some others as well. So the purveyors of "academic freedom" have, I think, a more narrow understanding of what that means than we do.

Q: Another objection to an academic program that takes the teachings of the Faith as a guide-the way we do at Thomas Aquinas College - goes something like this: "You already have all the answers (from faith), so there can't be any rigor to the education." What is your response?

A: "You have all the answers" implies a certain arrogance, you know, like we don't think we have anything to learn from anyone. But if that were the case, why would one study Karl Marx? Why study Nietzsche? Why study all these other philosophers whose philosophies are so contrary to what we believe from divinely revealed truth?
But we do believe we have something to learn from everyone, even from those that do violence to the truth, even if it's by a via negativa. And it is important to have an understanding of their thoughts simply because of the influence their work has had on the world. One of the many great things about the Catholic intellectual tradition is that people in our world probe the understanding of those who think contrary to the way that we do-with examples as diverse as scholars of Martin Luther, or those who study Marxism, or those who study Islam. They study them thoroughly, not in order to condemn or to condescend, but to understand so that we can address their positions.

Q: You have been courageous in your defense of marriage, which is under unprecedented attack here in California and elsewhere in the country. Why do we so often hear it discussed as a matter of religion? And why do we hear so little about the natural law and about preserving marriage for the sake of the common good?

A: I think that results from an extreme individualist mentality. The common good is not opposed to the individual good. Indeed, the common good is what helps each individual as well as society as a whole to develop its full potential. But the prevailing individualistic mentality is so extreme-based on the idea of relativism-that inevitably it will destroy the understanding of marriage. Combine that with the depravity of sexual morals in the last several decades, and it can't help but do serious damage, if not destroy, the basic understanding of marriage.
We believe in marriage the way every human society has believed in it since the beginning of the human race, and yet we're accused of imposing our religious beliefs on everyone else-although we have to acknowledge, too, that there's no place where faith and culture more intertwine than marriage. But that already tells you something about how fundamental a human institution this is, and how important it is for the common good and for a strong society.

But if you believe in the natural law, you can't help but believe in marriage. Nature has designed the man and the woman to complement each other. Only the union of a man and a woman can produce a new life. That is what the purpose of marriage is. The ends of marriage are to procreate and raise the next generation of citizens, and for the mutual good of the spouses.

Contraception, however, has been the crack in the foundation that's brought down the building because it disconnected children from marriage, and once you do that everything's possible. All possibilities are now on the table. We're taking the most intimate, sacred, special gift God has given us, and using it just as a means of pleasure, even to the point of killing children, so we can indulge in this pleasure. It's horrific.

Q: Why is marriage important to the state? Why should the state take an interest in it one way or the other?

A: The state, or society in general, has always had an interest in marriage because marriage is about raising the next generation of citizens. For a society or state to thrive, its citizens have to be virtuous; they have to be honest; they have to be self-giving; they have to keep their promises, be honest in paying their taxes; they have to be restrained, not over-indulging; they have to be industrious. A society needs its citizens to have these sorts of virtues if it's going to be a strong, thriving society.

How do people acquire those virtues? By a good upbringing. What's the optimum upbringing for children? A mother and a father-ideally the mother and father who brought them into this world. But adoption is a viable option when that's not possible. So they see a father and a mother; they're both important for the child in a loving home. And of course you need the whole society around them; there is some truth to that principle, "It takes a village to raise a child." It's not a village in place of the parents, but the village in support of the parents. And so the school, the Church, the library they go to, the clubs and organizations they belong to have to be affirming of these good, virtuous values and reinforcing them for the children. And that's why marriage is important, because society rises or falls on its citizens, and citizens rise or fall on the families they grow up in.

Q: You spoke during the matriculation this morning about how Catholic education was so critical to making our nation great again. Do you see a connection between these two things, between the state of Catholic education and the state of marriage?

A: Education, in any authentic sense of the word, is for the sake of the whole person and for the sake of forming virtuous citizens. Young people are encouraged to be passionate about things, which is good, but it's not good if they're also not encouraged to be restrained. There has to be a sense of restraint in order to acquire virtue.

For example, I see something that doesn't belong to me that I like, and there's no one looking. Do I take it, or don't I? If I have a sense of restraint because of responsibility, then I'll leave it there. Which way is society better? If I take it, or if I leave it for the person to whom it belongs? And that's especially true in the whole realm of sexual behavior, and that's where most damage is done -because sex is for babies. We have this "bizarre" idea as Catholics that sex is for babies, and like I said earlier, it's contraception that made that separation and has given people the impression that it's just for fun, that babies are an option, if you want to use it for that.

The result is that kids are either brought into the world without fathers, or they have mothers who aren't attentive to them; or they grow up in abusive situations; or they're aborted, which does all kinds of harm to women and to the culture in general. It's all because of a culture of self-indulgence rather than a culture of virtue.

So, I would say yes, there is a connection between marriage and education, because again, education in the school and university should be reinforcing what should be taking place in the family, where children are trained to be virtuous.

It is common wisdom that's been accepted for generations in many cultures that the family is the foundation of society, and if that's true, then marriage is the foundation of the family. So if marriage is weak, families are going to be weak; and if families are weak, our society is going to be weak.

But how do we have strong marriages? Well, again, there has to be that sense of virtue, that sense of restraint -for the good of another-so people are capable of making a commitment and fulfilling the commitment. That's the best environment for children to grow up in, so then they can do the same when they become adults.

Q: You have been talking about the importance of forming good citizens. In the face of what seems to be an impending moral disaster in our larger society, why shouldn't Catholics just sort of form ghettos and call it a day?

A: Judgment Day. We're all going to have to render an account for our life. History is going to judge us, but the only thing that is really important is how God is going to judge us. What did we do when we were about to lose marriage? What did people of faith do in this generation? Did we run and hide, so we could have our comfortable little ghetto, or did we go out there and fight and take the hits we had to take. And even if we end up losing, God forbid (I don't think we will), but even if we did, at least we strived with all that we had to do what was right and just.

I don't know, maybe some day we will end up being not so much a ghetto, but an underground church. But we have to be wise. We can't retreat when we have a responsibility. We can't capitulate. We have the possibility to transform our society. There are still a lot of people of faith. In this state of California there are lots of people of faith. If we really came together, all of our brothers and sisters, not just Catholics but all people of faith, there are certain basic values and goods in which we all believe. We could transform this state.

I see it happening now. San Diego was the epicenter for the marriage initiative. There were different movements swirling around, and there's one within the Catholic circles, but also with the Evangelicals as well. The Evangelical world of San Diego is an epicenter. And they've now networked with churches all throughout the state, and now in Arizona and Florida they have the same amendment on their ballot, and now we're starting to work together. So on these kinds of issues, we have an ecumenical moment. There's a great opportunity for what I call "practical ecumenism." And if we lock arms and join forces, even in California, we can transform this state.