Catholic universities are encouraged by the choice of new pope, not only do they see the newly elected head of the Catholic church as an advocate for a more liberal education, they are also hoping he will open doors for a renewed relationship with the church.
Educated at the Universidad del Salvador, a Jesuit institution in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis becomes the first pontiff from the Americas and also the first Jesuit – an offshoot of the Catholic church known for its support for universal education.
He taught high-school literature and philosophy, and served as president of the committee for the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.
With more than 220 institutions of higher learning in Latin America – a region with an overall shortage of affordable university options – Catholic institutions serve a pivotal role in educating young adults.
Currently 20% of Latin America’s 15 million university students, are enrolled in a Catholic institution.
The typical Catholic University in Latin America is a young, small- to medium-sized institution that pays professors by the hour, and is less focused on research and more on professional development.
There are two philosophies on the purpose of Catholic education, which that have long divided adherents, argued Pablo Quintanilla, a professor of philosophy and dean of general studies at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, or PUCP.
One camp views the role of the Catholic university as an emissary for Church doctrine; the other believes that universities should focus more on professional development, scholarship and social responsibility, while providing an education to those who could otherwise not afford it.
“Many of the conservative sectors want Catholic universities to serve only as dissemination centres for Catholic thought,” Quintanilla told.“ A university is not that. A university is not a dissemination centre for any form of thought – whether it’s Catholicism or something else. It’s a centre of learning and research.”
Quintanilla has seen firsthand how the two philosophies can conflict. His own university was ordered to remove the word ‘Catholic’ from its title after it took measures to distance itself from the local archbishop and, according to the Vatican, violated canonical legislation.
Despite bearing both ‘Catholic’ and ‘Pontifical’ in its title and falling under the Ex Corde Ecclesiae – an apostolic exhortation that governs Catholic institutions – PUCP does not consider itself subject to the management of the Church.