Archbishop Michael Miller, 59, the Canadian-born secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, addressed this question in this interview with (Synthesis, a magazine that circulates among the pontifical universities in Rome. The text was adapted here.
Q: How do you evaluate the situation of Catholic education in the ecclesiastical universities?
Archbishop Miller: This question is certainly a very important one. As you probably know, the seven ecclesiastical universities in Rome are still the only ecclesiastical universities in the world and for this very reason they play a special role in the life of the universal Church.
I would evaluate the universities in light of this criterion: Are they fulfilling the purpose for which they were founded?
We cannot forget that their primary, but not exclusive, mission is directed to the formation of seminarians and priests to serve the Church in their future ministries.
Especially in the faculties of theology, there should be a focus on the formation of clerics. All the ecclesiastical universities in Rome accept this mission and carry it out conscientiously.
Another purpose of these institutions is to ensure that fidelity to the magisterium is always emphasized in the courses of study.
They also fulfill this mandate by inspiring love for Christ and his Church.
Another purpose of ecclesiastical universities is to provide an education for students from every part of the globe. Rome has always been the great "catholic" city, the "centrum unitatis" open to students from particular churches around the world.
Are they achieving that mission? I would say yes; indeed probably now more than ever before.
In all these areas, the Roman institutions are carrying out the mandate entrusted to them by the Holy See.
As far as evaluating individual courses, the congregation is not in the position of being able to judge them.
In general, though, the way in which ecclesiastical universities have responded to the "signs of the times" since the Second Vatican Council has been exemplary.
There are a few areas, perhaps not at the macro-level -- such as teaching methods and so on -- where the Process of Bologna, to which the Holy See is signatory, might stimulate changes in how some classes are taught.
It is clear now that student engagement in the learning process needs to be more actively encouraged, and the Holy See needs to continue to pursue ways to meet this particular challenge.
Q: What do you expect from the students of the ecclesiastical universities? And what do you expect from teachers?
Archbishop Miller: The teachers' expectations are laid out in ecclesial documents such as the apostolic constitution "Sapientia Christiana": fidelity to the Church's teaching, a willingness to engage students in the learning process, carrying out serious research in light of divine Revelation.
A more stimulating question is the one posed about the congregation's expectations of students.
Looking to the future, it is increasingly necessary that we specify more precisely what we expect from students when they come in the door of our institutions: Do they possess the particular skills and academic preparation needed to be successful?
Since the Roman institutions are so welcoming, it can happen that some students might not be well enough prepared for the studies they wish to pursue. In such cases, we should think of ways to help them get prepared so that they can profit more fully from their program.
One could be tempted to lower the academic level. But now more than ever the Church can ill afford to be anything less than intellectually rigorous and demanding of those pursuing studies in her institutions.
Instead we should think about ways to help such students achieve the academic level necessary to enter certain courses of study.
I think it might also be helpful to consider how we can discern more fully what we expect from students at the end of the first cycle of theology: an organized, unified, comprehensive, systematic, faithful presentation of the essentials of the Catholic faith necessary for priestly ordination. Means for assessing this can probably also be improved.
Another question has arisen in recent years: the formation of lay students in the Roman universities.
The number of lay students is increasing, and they come to Rome in order to be formed -- and not just instructed -- to serve the Church.
If they are not attached to an ecclesial movement or similar organization, they often encounter difficulty in pursuing the human, spiritual and apostolic formation they both want and need. Who is responsible for such formation and where it should take place are matters deserving further reflection and prayer.
Q: How could we students be prepared to enter the cultural debate?
Archbishop Miller: The academic experience available at the Roman universities should be such that it is "Catholic" in the most profound sense of the word, and therefore open to engagement with culture.
In his homilies to universities and other cultural organizations, Pope John Paul II practically "begged" students to acquire a profound knowledge of their culture, in order to be able to shed the light of the Gospel on today's challenging situations.
It is, then, crucial for the Church's vitality -- her youthfulness -- that sacred doctrine and the sciences connected with it be taught in such a way that their wisdom can be brought to bear on the world. It is a major, but not only, task of ecclesiastical faculties to prepare students for a fruitful dialogue with culture.
With such preparation they will be able to give reasons for their hope since they will understand the mind-set of those whom they will engage on the paths of the world.