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A Look at Catholic Higher Education and the Future of Moral Theology (Part 1)

Interview With Monsignor Livio Melina of the Lateran University

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, MARCH 19, 2004 (Zenit) - A leading professor and administrator of a pontifical university says that he likes what he sees at some Catholic educational institutions in the United States.

Monsignor Livio Melina, vice president and professor of moral theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome, recently visited the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas here.

He told us about the strengths he sees in U.S. educational programs and how he hopes to maintain and bolster the tradition of Catholic higher education in Italy and Europe. Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: What is the state of Catholic higher education in Italy? in Europe?

Monsignor Melina: Generally speaking, we have a very good tradition of education in Europe, grounded in our humanistic background. Usually, the system of education in Italy and Europe has been more humanistic and broader than in the United States. But the United States has an advantage. It has the possibility to take into account more-specialized interests for each person within the system. Instead, in Europe we emphasize lectures by professors rather too much.

There is something new in our culture -- some problems in Italy and Europe in the system of education. I think that the actual situation and condition can be described in two main features.

The first is that we have a kind of separation between instruction and education. That means that little by little we are losing our great tradition, substituting our interest for the person in his globality with an interest only in giving some specific information. The consequence of this is the second feature I want to emphasize -- the fragmentation of culture.

Fragmentation means having a very deep interest in particular issues without having a vision of the whole of reality. There is so much emphasis on positive sciences, and more and more of these sciences are only emphasizing a particular field of specialization. But we are losing the broader context of knowledge in which also the sciences can be understood in their particular contribution to the human condition.

Q: Why is it important for the Church to continue to invest in and support Catholic higher education?

Monsignor Melina: In Italy there is a priest who has dedicated his life to education in schools and universities. His name is well known also in the United States -- Luigi Giussani [founder of Communion and Liberation].

He said that the Church can lose everything but not the charge and the mission to educate the person -- since for the Church, the person is the supremely important issue. The formation of young people should be the main concern of the Church because to form the person is really to give to the world a new actor in its history.

I agree with Monsignor Giussani, that the mission to educate young people is so intrinsically connected to the mission of the Church, to evangelization and to catechesis, that the Church must take the mission of education as its principle and fundamental task.

Q: What have you learned from your visit to universities in the United States?

Monsignor Melina:I've been getting to know the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas for only a short time. But from my contacts with the director of the center, and with the graduate and undergraduate students, I have appreciated very much the center's intent to put the formation of young people in the broader context of humanistic formation of the person.

I like very much the program of studying major works of poetry and literature. I also appreciate the center's effort to present a very integral program of formation rooted in spiritual care for the person.

I think these kinds of programs of education are very important for overcoming the difficulties that I mentioned before -- the difficulties of the separation of education from instruction and the fragmentation of knowledge. The unity of the person is very important.

I think that education is always a question of freedom and a question of heart. It is grounded in the relationship between each person and the figure of the educator. We are given very good witnesses about our faith and an integral presentation of the Christian ideal of life, not only simply in the spiritual way, but in a cultural way -- in a way in which all of the mentality of the person is shown to have roots in the faith.

We have in this specific relation between the disciple and the educator the two essential poles of education.

Q: How do you hope to make changes in the Italian system so that it will be more integrated?

Monsignor Melina: I think that an essential gift we have at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome is the gift that we have among the professors -- a real communion of persons rooted not in a sentimentality, but in a common sharing of the vision of the life and the a common method for comparing the content of Christian Revelation with human experience.

I think that this method of formation, the ongoing comparison between the content of Revelation and human experience, is the condition for a real Christian culture. Culture arises always when the life of the person makes contact with the Revelation -- a new light and a new form of life can begin from this meeting.

I hope that this contact, this friendship, this exchange of students and professors between our two centers -- each one with its own mission in the Church -- can be very fruitful for both centers.

Q: Why is it important to have facilities such as Marriage and Family Institutes or Centers for Catholic Studies and Italy in other European countries, particularly in the face of growing secularization there?

Monsignor Melina: When our Holy Father John Paul II founded the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family he was worried and preoccupied above all about the situation of marriage and family in the Western world. He saw the crisis of Christian morality inside marriage and the crisis of families.

He understood that to overcome this crisis, it's not enough to repeat some moral norms. What was needed also, and above all, was to deepen a theological anthropology, the foundation of Christian life.

Twenty-three years after the foundation of the institute, we can say that the crises that prompted John Paul II to found the institute are now more real, more living, because the challenges are much bigger.

We have now not only the crisis of moral norms or crisis of marriage or families, but we are losing the meaning of the sexual difference -- the importance of sexual difference for the unique identity of each person.

[Friday: The future of moral theology]

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