The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is assuming control of the All Saints’ Newman Center at Arizona State in Tempe, replacing the Dominicans with diocesan clergy. There are a number of links to stories and blogposts on Google (link). Some say the center was “gay friendly,” and that this was the primary issue; others say the diocese wanted to be able to emphasize vocations to the diocesan priesthood. I noticed a “protest group” on Facebook; there’s a lot of anger in the blogosphere.
I was in charge of campus ministry for a major archdiocese for nine years. When I was hired, I was told the diocese was concerned that some of the campus ministries had some problems. I was asked to create a common vision (basing it on “Empowered by the Spirit,” the US Bishops’ pastoral plan on campus ministry) and to make sure that theology, catechesis, and liturgy were in keeping with Catholic norms. I asked the bishop his priorities. He said, “I have three: vocations, vocations, and vocations.”
Many Catholic campus ministry centers operated on the fringes of ecclesial life for a couple of decades. Priests were assigned to specialized ministries such as this who had problems in the parish. Or the centers were turned over to religious orders, who often “pushed the envelope” on liturgical and theological issues. Over the past dozen years, in campus ministry as in the larger Catholic church, there’s been a shift back to the center. This hasn’t just been a matter of JP2 and B16 appointed bishops demanding obedience–often the students themselves have been the leaders, asking for solid teaching and practice instead of the experimentalism imposed by the aging Baby Boomers staffing many Newman Centers (and filling the pews in some Newman Centers that have lost their focus on the university and have catered to non-university folk unhappy with typical parish life).
Diocesan officials and students alike are saying, these ministries are part of the church; they are ministries of the church to the students, staff, and faculty of a particular university. Let’s respect both the university identity and the ecclesial identity.