By Alessandro Speciale
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday (May 5) called on Catholic colleges and universities in the United States to do more to affirm their "Catholic identity," particularly by ensuring the doctrinal orthodoxy of their faculty and staff.

Speaking to a group of bishops from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming, who are in Rome on a regularly scheduled visit, Benedict said there has been a "growing recognition" on the part of Catholic colleges of the need to "reaffirm their distinctive identity."

But "much remains to be done," the pope said, singling out the church law requirement that Catholic theology teachers "have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority," usually the local bishop.

That requirement was introduced more than 20 years ago by Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, according to the Rev. Scott Brodeur, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. But there has been "continuous resistance against it."

"If he is repeating it it is because it has not yet been fully implemented," Brodeur said.

Benedict's remarks come a few months after U.S. bishops denounced Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theology professor at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York. Johnson's book "Quest for the Living God" does not accord with "authentic Catholic teaching," said the bishops' doctrinal committee.

Benedict said Saturday that the need for theology professors to be faithful to church doctrine becomes "all the more evident" when considering the "confusion" created by "instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church's pastoral leadership."

"Such discord," the pope added, "harms the church's witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom."

Benedict also urged American bishops to ensure that young people receive a "sound education in the faith," saying that this is the "most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country." Affirming a university's Catholic identity "entails much more than the teaching of religion" and should be achieved by encouraging students to embrace faith in "every aspect of their education," the pope said.

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