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THE IMPACT OF VER/TATIS SPLENDOR ON CATHOLIC EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY AND SECONDARY LEVELS* CARDINAL PIO LAGHI Prefect of the Sacred Congregationfor Catholic Education INTRODUCTION T HE TOPIC which has been proposed to me, "The Impact of Veritatis Splendor on Catholic Education at the University and Secondary Levels,'' requires a note of clarification with regard to the word impact. When this Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II appeared, it was received with much comment, both positive and negative, on the part of the press and the other media. This is one aspect of the topic proposed : to trace in a synthetic way a picture of the reactions which the document stirred. Such would certainly be an interesting study, but I would perhaps be led to traverse much terrain before arriving at the nucleus of what I feel is my duty to say to you. I shall limit myself, therefore, to commenting on two positive reactions appearing in Italian newspapers immediately after the publication of the Encyclical. The first was in the well-known Roman newspaper, Il Tempo, under the title, "An Act of Consistency in an Epoch of Doubt." It states: "If lighthouses had been moved every month, the sailors in the night would have seen the ships of history dashed against the rocks; and no voyager would have reached his homeland again if the North Star, within the Zodiac, had to obey vacillating positions of fashions and ideologies.... The papal document stirs discussions.... Nevertheless it is very much of current interest. While many ships finish on the rocks because they have * This paper was originally presented at the Forum on Catholic University Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, 3 November 1995. 1 2 CARDINAL PIO LAGHI sailed following fireflies instead of lighthouses and while the ruling classes have shipwrecked for having chosen compasses that lie, there is abroad a need to see the permanence of certain values recognized in the midst of all that changes, the necessity of an ethical nucleus linked to principles of the human person, honesty , freedom and responsibility." This is a positive reaction, then, which welcomes the Encyclical as a text which says things that have to be said, giving basic directions for a journey, and stating the things no one dares to speak but of which everyone knows the necessity in daily living. This is also the substance of another comment on the Encyclical that I think it would be useful to cite. Carlo Bo, a university professor and a well-known figure in Italian intellectual life, writes: "Modern culture no longer has objective criteria for distinguishing good from evil,'' and he adds, "John Paul II has fought against Communism in defense of freedom; now he criticizes Western culture, which makes of freedom an absolute value.... The exaltation of freedom leads to ethical relativism, against which the Pope raises his voice." Agreement and basic approval are transparent in these lines, but the title under which they appear is "A Call to Order." Immediately the image is evoked-negative to the sensitivities of our times-of a commander intent on imposing order on his soldiers. The heart of the problem perhaps, at least with regard to the teaching of moral theology in the Catholic context, is in the clear perception of the need for an unchanging point of reference, of a lighthouse for the voyage, and at the same time the fear of speaking of this need, of making it the subject of reflection, communication , and teaching. There is a kind of widespread fear which keeps us at a distance from the truth, from the permanent foundations of human acting, from the objective and the universal; a fear which is perhaps the principal cause on account of which so great a part of contemporary humanity risks dying of thirst while standing before a spring of cool water. In order not to appear authoritarian or negative, one keeps silent, does not speak, expresses oneself in a partial or even an erroneous way with regard to all that is most necessary for life. It would be difficult not to see in this a problem which is typically an educa- THE IMPACT OF VERITATIS SPLENDOR 3...


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