When God makes way for gods

Emmanuel College in Boston began the New Year with what might be seen as a new resolution to ring out the Old Faith in order to ring in the arrival of new faiths. This appeared to be the message when the College’s Mission and Ministry opened a new prayer room for those who want to pray to gods other than God.

This bold initiative to welcome other gods to the college was pioneered by Father John Spencer, who was inspired to initiate the establishment of an “inter-faith prayer room” after attending a conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Washington. After realizing that Emmanuel College was the only one at the conference without an interfaith prayer room, he decided that it was time that his own school should follow the inter-faith fad.

“As we started to get more Muslim students, the parents were asking if we were getting a prayer room,” Fr. Spencer told a reporter for The Hub, the college’s student newspaper. He also added that students who did not belong to a specific faith wanted a quiet place to sit and reflect. Although other departments wanted to use the space that was eventually allocated to the prayer room, their plans were overruled by the powers that be, namely Sr. Janet Eisner and Sr. Anne Donovan, who agreed with Fr. Spencer that the space was needed for “inter-faith” purposes.

Fr. Spencer, using the clichés of progressive parlance, called Emmanuel’s support for non-Christian religion on campus “cutting edge.” This seems a little incongruous considering that Emmanuel College, by Fr. Spencer’s own admission, was the very last school among those attending the conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to allocate space for “inter-faith” prayer and reflection. Surely it’s more a case of jumping on a bandwagon than being “cutting edge.”

There is, however, one sense in which reducing Catholicism to being merely one faith among “equals” could be considered “cutting edge.” It is the cutting edge which severs the college from its true adherence to the Faith. Rather than preaching the Gospel and teaching that nobody comes to the Father except by way of Christ, Fr. Spencer explained how Emmanuel College now desired “to embrace all faiths.”

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, sees things a little differently. “I can’t see why a Catholic college would do anything proactively to provide for worship that is clearly heretical from a Catholic point of view,” he said. “It seems there are appropriate ways of welcoming and accommodating students who might not be Catholic, such as striving to find ways to help them identify local places of worship and even help them get there. But why formally dedicate space and resources to worship that is not Catholic? Why hire campus ministers to support and even promote non-Catholic religions (as is the case at some Catholic colleges like Georgetown)? That seems to violate Ex corde Ecclesiae, which says that all official actions of the university must be in accord with its Catholic identity.”

Nobody is suggesting that non-Christian students should be prevented from practicing their faith, but why is it incumbent upon the Catholic school to actively provide for the practice of beliefs that the Church teaches are erroneous? Why should a Catholic institution provide for the worship of false gods, or the practice of religions which deny the divinity of Christ? Such an “accommodation” is not a Catholic school’s responsibility, or its purpose, or its calling. Indeed, it represents a clear violation of its calling. Non-Christian students who freely choose to attend a Catholic school (and nobody is forcing them to do so) should accept that Catholicism will inform the culture, the curriculum of the school, and its modes of religious expression. They should expect to get what they are paying for. If they are paying for a Catholic education, in preference to a secular education, they should accept the consequences of such a choice.

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal. He is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn and Belloc.

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