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The document that changed Catholic education forever

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July 25, 2017

Land O Lakes 061 1REFLECTION - Land O’ Lakes, the University of Notre Dame’s property on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, occupies 7,000 heavily-wooded acres with roughly 30 lakes. The area’s lush vegetation and placid waters invite visitors to leave daily anxieties behind to be enveloped in the serene, natural beauty. It was here that Catholic university leaders gathered in 1967 to produce a five-page document that has come to be known as the Land O’ Lakes Statement. The tranquil location of its genesis belies the stormy reception it has received over the years.

After the dramatic and—for many—stirring reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the International Federation of Catholic Universities asked its members to gather in regional conferences and reflect on Catholic higher education. In July 1967 a group that comprised leaders of major Catholic universities, several superiors from their sponsoring religious communities, some Catholic scholars and one bishop gathered at Land O’ Lakes, Wis., in response to this call, and in conversation with a pivotal document of the council: “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (“Gaudium et Spes,” 1965). The group subsequently released the Land O’ Lakes Statement, which offered a vision for Catholic institutions to be universities “in the full modern sense of the word.” As such, they asserted that each university must possess the “institutional autonomy and academic freedom [that] are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities,” and remain “an institution...in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative.”

Although most agree that the Land O’ Lakes Statement has had a pervasive influence on Catholic higher education over the last 50 years, many have seen its influence as unconstructive or simply pernicious. According to David O’Connell, former president of The Catholic University of America and now a bishop, the statement introduced“confusion” into the church. For Patrick Reilly, president and founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, the statement has led to the de-Catholicization of Catholic universities. “It is hard to imagine,” Reilly stated, “[that] such a simple document could have such devastating impact on Catholic higher education.”

The controversy over this statement has served as a proxy war for conflicting narratives about the legacy of Vatican II, the contemporary state of Catholic higher education and the exercise of authority in the church. From the perspective of 50 years on, with new controversies and a very different papacy, we can perhaps better understand the context, vision, limitations and legacy of the Land O’ Lakes Statement for Catholic higher education and for the church generally.

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Fonte: americamagazine.org

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