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On American tour, pope puts his stamp on Catholic education

In a speech at Catholic University Thursday, he'll ask schools to strengthen their Catholic identity.

Georgetown University: The Washington, D.C., school is one of more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities under scrutiny by Pope Benedict XVI.

Andy Nelson – staff/File

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For decades, Catholic colleges and universities have been immersed in the church's doctrinal and theological battles – first the liberalizing reforms after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, then the conservative resurgence spurred by Pope John Paul II.

Now, conservative Pope Benedict XVI gets the chance to put his stamp on the role that Catholic schools should play in the education of the young and in the broader culture – as well as how they should balance academic freedom with church orthodoxy. On Thursday in Washington, he is scheduled to speak to leaders of US Catholic colleges, universities, and school systems.

The pope values the university's intellectual dialogue with the culture, says the Most Rev. Timothy Broglio, archbishop for military services. "But if you're teaching under the label of 'Catholic,' it has to look like it to be worth anything."

The pope has his work cut out for him, since many American Catholics generally – and Catholic faculty and students specifically – hold views at odds with some church teachings. In recent years, American conservatives, including some bishops, have been highly critical of certain schools.

"Some colleges have become just another marketplace for ideas where Catholic teaching is actually a minority view," says Patrick Reilly, of the Cardinal Newman Society. "What is often presented as Catholic theology dissents from church teaching; and there are cases of speakers and honorees who are public opponents of Catholic moral teaching on issues like abortion and stem cell research."

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