Catholic College Association Attempts to Scuttle Campus Life Conference

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Contact: Patrick Reilly, PresidentCardinal Newman Society(703) 536-9585

Catholic College Association AttemptsTo Scuttle Campus Life Conference

FALLS CHURCH, VA – The national association that represents most of America’s 230 Catholic colleges and universities has pressured its members to forego participation in a conference on reforming Catholic colleges’ policies and programs.

In a letter dated September 25 and mailed to Catholic college presidents, campus ministry directors, and student affairs officials, Monika Hellwig, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), lambasted the reform-minded conference and announced a competing ACCU-sponsored event scheduled for this Wednesday.

The conference under attack is organized by the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization that since 1993 has called for stronger Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. It’s a position that has embarrassed the ACCU, which for several years has vigorously opposed efforts by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The U.S. bishops finally approved national guidelines for Catholic colleges in 1999, rejecting efforts by the ACCU to nullify many requirements of Ex corde Ecclesiae while largely echoing the Cardinal Newman Society’s recommendations.

“We realize that our positions have always been controversial, especially among those who are uncomfortable with the Catholic mission of our colleges and universities,” said Patrick Reilly, founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “But I never expected such aggressive and un-Christian behavior from a Catholic academic association. We’re a grassroots organization on a shoe-string budget asking why Catholic colleges are harboring dissident faculty and hosting scandalous events, but instead of taking on these serious problems, the ACCU comes after us.”

The Cardinal Newman Society’s conference on November 9 is titled “Catholic Campus Life: A Conference on Recommended Guidelines for Student Life Policies and Programs”. College officials, faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and others will discuss a draft of “student life guidelines” that the Cardinal Newman Society has been circulating and improving for more than two years. (The guidelines are posted at The guidelines propose minimum expectations for Catholic colleges in the areas of residence life, campus ministry, student activities, student conduct, and other aspects of college life outside the classroom.

Hellwig called the guidelines “punitive” and “not realistic”. The guidelines take a hard line on sensitive topics such as overnight visitation and sexual activity in residence halls, and invitations to campus speakers who are abortion-rights politicians and activists.

“The tenor of the document is punitive and rests on the assumption that there is little moral education on our campuses, and that the culture is one of thoughtlessness and recklessness,” Hellwig complained.

“That nicely describes many Catholic colleges today,” Reilly said. “The fact that Monika is upset by these guidelines, which are common sense to most Catholic parents who have reviewed them, is itself cause for concern.”

In her letter, Hellwig claimed the Society is lobbying the bishops to adopt the guidelines as Church law. In fact, the Society will encourage the bishops to develop a document on Catholic campus life as a companion to their 1999 guidelines to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae. The Society hopes its student life guidelines will serve as a basis for preparing such a document, but the guidelines are voluntary and not binding on any college except in principle.

“It’s hard to say what it is about Cardinal Newman Society that frightens the ACCU into such action,” Reilly said. “Perhaps the guidelines have hit a nerve. Perhaps the ACCU is still resisting reform with the hope that a new Vatican regime might endorse the secularization of Catholic colleges. Perhaps they just don’t want anyone celebrating the likes of Tom Monaghan or Father Fessio.”

Following the “Catholic Campus Life” conference, Cardinal Newman Society will be hosting an awards banquet in honor of Thomas Monaghan, founder of Ave Maria University and Ave Maria School of Law. Other awards will be presented to Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., editor of Ignatius Press and chancellor of Ave Maria University; Curtis Martin, president of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; Victor Melfa, president of the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society; and the student editors of The Georgetown Academy at Georgetown University. Former U.S. Senator and retired Navy Admiral Jeremiah Denton will deliver the banquet keynote address.

For more information about Cardinal Newman Society and its November 9 conference and banquet, see or call 703-536-9585. Copies of Hellwig’s September 25 letter and the student life guidelines are available to reporters.

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