The Pope addressed the topic when he received in audience the participants in the congress on "Globalization and Catholic Higher Education: Hopes and Challenges," organized this week in Rome by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the International Federation of Catholic Universities.
"A Catholic university must exercise its mission with concern for preserving its Christian identity, [by] participating in the life of the local Church," he said. "Preserving its scientific autonomy, it has the responsibility to live the teaching of the magisterium in the different fields of research in which it is involved."
As a fundamental guide to reach this objective, the Holy Father proposed to university administrators, professors and students the apostolic constitution "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," in which he indicated the "general norms" that govern Catholic institutions.
This apostolic constitution, the Pope said, emphasizes the double mission of the Catholic institution: "as a university, [it] is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services offered" (No. 12).
Insofar as Catholic, it manifests its identity founded on the Catholic faith, fidelity to the teachings and guidelines given to it by the Church, ensuring "a Christian presence in the university world before the great problems of the society and culture," he added.
"Therefore, it corresponds to every professor or researcher, as well as to all the university community and to the institution itself, to live this commitment as a service to the Gospel, to the Church and to man," the Holy Father said.
Addressing university authorities in particular, John Paul II requested that they "watch over the rectitude and uphold Catholic principles in teaching and research in your institution."
"Clearly, university centers that do not respect the laws of the Church and the teachings of the magisterium, particularly in the area of bioethics, cannot be endorsed with the character of a Catholic university," he stressed.
The Pope concluded by inviting all universities and all those involved in the university world to "reflect on their way of living fidelity to the principles characteristic of the Catholic identity and, as a result, to make the required decisions."