Cardinal Newman Society

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The Cardinal Newman Society is an American 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization founded in 1993 that is dedicated to promoting and defending faithful Catholic education. The organization is guided by Cardinal John Henry Newman's The Idea of a University and Pope John Paul II's 1990 Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The organization claims a membership of more than 20,000.[attribution needed]

It should not be confused with the Oxford University Newman Society, the Society for the Study of Cardinal Newman, or Newman Centers, the name often used to designate Catholic campus ministry centers at state and other non-Catholic universities.


The society was founded in 1993 by Fordham University alumnus Patrick Reilly. After decisions by Fordham to recognize pro-choice and gay student clubs and create a counseling helpline which referred pregnant students to an abortion provider,[citation needed] Reilly used his position as editor of the school paper to express his opinions in defense of Catholic teaching on sexuality and abortion.[1] Reilly launched the society with the help of other recent Catholic university graduates.

The society's leadership included prominent conservative commentator L. Brent Bozell III. It was Bozell, founder and president of the conservative media-watchdog group Media Research Center, who suggested use of direct mail marketing to invigorate the organization at a time when it existed "primarily as letterhead."[2] According to Reilly, “It took a while, but there was such a need, more and more, to engage students and working with alumni and working with faculty and as we went on, it became clear that they were all looking for some kind of national voice to express the concerns that very many faithful Catholics had about the state of Catholic education.” [3]

In 1996 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops invited the Newman Society to advise on guidelines to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae. The bishops approved final guidelines in 1999, consistent with the recommendations of the Newman Society.[4]


Through the Higher Education program the Society works directly with college presidents and administrators of various levels to promote best practices and strengthen Catholic identity and education. The Society has published research into the effects of implementing a faithful Catholic mission as well as various aspects of Student Life on campus including dorm visitation policies and human sexuality policies.[5]

The Society also works with principals, headmasters, superintendents and dioceses at the K-12 level. The Society provides resources on hiring for mission, setting clear expectations for teachers in Catholic schools, and encouraging primary and secondary schools to strengthen their Catholic identity.[6]

In response to the promulgation of Common Core State Standards, the Newman Society introduced the Catholic is Our Core program exploring the implication of the standards for Catholic schools and their students. Through the Catholic is Our Core program, the Society maintains that the core of a Catholic K-12 education is a strong Catholic identity.[7]

In 2012 the Newman Society assumed management of the Catholic High School Honor Roll program from the Acton Institute. The Honor Roll recognizes Catholic high schools across America that have demonstrated excellence in Catholic identity and academics. On the 2014 Honor Roll, 71 secondary schools were named Schools of Excellence.[8]

The society sponsors conferences and speakers as well as producing Our Catholic Mission and The Renewal Report, the society's newsletters. Its website indicates an emphasis on "researching activities both on campus and in the classroom." The Newman Society launched Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education in 2008 to promote best practices in Catholic higher education.[4] The Center has published research on visitation policies at Catholic universities, Catholic colleges whose websites referred students to pro-abortion organizations and clinics,[citation needed] and sexuality policies on campuses of Catholic universities.

They also issue numerous press releases publicizing departures from orthodoxy or tolerance of ideas, activities, and presentations that are not in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching at Catholic colleges and universities. For example, its reports led to the resignation of a University of Notre Dame board member who had donated to EMILY's List.[9]

The organization also produces The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College claiming "to show students where they can learn and grow in a genuine Catholic environment without the nonsense that has overtaken even some of the most well-known Catholic universities."[10] First published in 2007, the Guide identifies 20 of the 197 Catholic colleges in the United States, as well as seven colleges and universities abroad and online where, in their view, "students can reasonably expect a faithful Catholic education and a campus culture that generally upholds the values taught in their homes and parishes." Not all recommended colleges are accredited,[11] and the criteria for recommendation includes whether or not the Tridentine Mass is offered on campus, although a majority of recommended colleges do not offer a weekly Tridentine Mass.[12] [13]

The organization partners with conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation to sponsor such events as their joint forum on academic freedom.[14] It has a large presence on the Web, issuing "Catholic Higher Education Alerts" to publicize not only what it considers scandalous programming at universities, but in opposition to the ACA contraceptive mandate, judges it deems activist or with whom it disagrees, and what it perceives as "liberal bias" more generally.[15]

The organization has stated that "a Catholic bishop contacted Patrick Reilly to discuss how he could put the screws to a wayward Catholic college in his diocese, including ways of encouraging the removal of dissident theology faculty."[1] Reilly declined to identify the bishop, citing confidentiality.[1]


The Society monitors speakers at Catholic universities, and provides a mechanism for online reporting of what it believes to be scandalous commencement speakers and honorees that "have taken public positions contrary to Catholic values or teaching."[attribution needed] In 2009, the Society was one of the primary organizations that criticized the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to receive an honorary doctorate of law and deliver the commencement speech due to his pro-choice position and record in support of abortion. The Society garnered more than 367,000 signatures to its online petition of protest.[16] Nevertheless, the University of Notre Dame stood by its invitation to the President, who was warmly received by the graduating class and others.

The organization also deplored a commencement address given at Notre Dame de Namur University by Sr. Helen Prejean, a nun opposed to capital punishment and author of Dead Man Walking, claiming the Josephite nun "is out-of-line with church teaching on, of all issues, capital punishment."[17] The organization faulted Prejean's critique of a "loophole" in the Church's teaching which permits capital punishment under limited circumstances.

In the spring of 2012, the Cardinal Newman Society listed 12 Catholic universities whose commencement speakers were considered objectionable because of their support for abortion or gay rights. Among the speakers was Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who was invited to speak at Georgetown University. The Society presented a 26,000-signature petition that called the choice of Sebelius "insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion." Sebelius personally supports abortion and has upheld the mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring all institutions, including Catholic colleges, to provide birth control coverage. The Archdiocese of Washington sent a letter of rebuke to Georgetown's president on the matter.[18]

The Newman Society reports on its website that in 2011 it caused Notre Dame trustee Roxanne Martino to resign over pro-abortion donations, St. Francis University to cancel a lecture with Ellen Goodman, and bishops to intervene in homosexual conferences at Fordham and Fairfield University.[4]

The Society has on several occasions criticized colleges for awarding Sister Elizabeth Johnson honorary degrees. Patrick J. Reilly, its president, said of her, "This is a person who has described the male-only priesthood as a sign of ‘patriarchal resistance to women’s equality. So I think she has officially challenged church teaching in ways that are beyond the pale.'”[19]


The organization is often at the center of controversy, as for example when it solicited donations to "finance a major effort to expose the heretics within our Catholic colleges," an effort which was called "red-baiting in ecclesiastical garb" by the Rev. John Beal, canon law professor at The Catholic University of America. It has been criticized for "McCarthyite tactics" and a "fundamentalist agenda."[20]

Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said that the society's "attacks can no longer go unchallenged," and characterized their work as "a long trail of distorted, inaccurate, and often untrue attacks on scholars addressing complex issues." Michael James, vice president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said the society is "destructive and antithetical to a spirit of unity in our commitment to serve society and the church."[1] Reilly has been referred to in Catholic publications as the "self-appointed ayatollah to Catholic academia in this country."[20]

Rev. James Keenan, a priest and professor at Boston College who was targeted in a fundraising letter sent out by the Society, said "Hopefully, someday our bishops will call us to end this awful conduct, which hurts not only those of us targeted, but more importantly, the unity of the church itself."[1] Another of the targets, Fr. John J. Paris, said of Reilly "I think he is a fraud, a charlatan, and a snake-oil salesman" and of the Society, that its purpose is "whipping up right-wing types to open their checkbooks."[2]

The organization is also criticized for focusing on conservative political issues that are "only tangentially related to issues of Catholic higher education."[21] One "review of 50 of the most recent headlines on the Society’s blog shows that 60% of them were related to abortion (9), homosexuality (10), or sexuality in general (10). That leaves only 40% for all other issues relating to Catholic education."[22] When a group of Catholic scholars issued a statement calling on political leaders to consider the common good, the Newman Society attacked it saying that they were “distorting Church teaching in favor of left-leaning politics to take political shots at vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.”[21] In their critique, however, the Society did not "cite a single instance where the statement strays from Catholic teaching. Instead, the Society makes an ad hominem attack on one of the signatories."[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kranish, Michael (August 28, 2005). "Group's church role questioned". Boston Globe. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Bartlett, Thomas (June 30, 2006). "Bully pulpit". Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on July 6, 2006.
  3. ^ Bahr, Katie (March 18, 2009). "Defending a Catholic education". Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on December 8, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Origins and Milestones - Cardinal Newman Society". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  5. ^ "Higher Education - Cardinal Newman Society". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  6. ^ "K-12 Program - Cardinal Newman Society". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  7. ^ "Catholic is our Core - Cardinal Newman Society". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  8. ^ "Catholic Education Honor Roll - Cardinal Newman Society". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  9. ^ Thomson-DeVeaux, Amelia (June 9, 2011). "Notre Dame Trustee Forced to Resign Over Pro-Choice Donations".
  10. ^ The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College: What to Look For and Where to Find it. ISI Distributed Titles. ISBN 978-0978650216.
  11. ^ "F.A.Q.s About This Guide". Cardinal Newman Society. Archived from the original on 2014-10-11. Retrieved 2014-10-07.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Please Join Heritage and CNS for a Special Event Archived October 11, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Lynch, Joshua (October 28, 2009). "On hot-button issues, questions over Seattle University's Catholic nature arise". The Spectator at Seattle University. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  15. ^ Bishops Who Opposed Notre Dame’s Obama Honor Receive More Than 700,000 Prayers in Thanks Archived May 29, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Feuerherd, Joe (May 12, 2004). "Keating on review board-bishop spat; 'Openly subversive' universities; CUA law students seek recognition of gay group". National Catholic Reporter.
  17. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (May 16, 2012). "New fight on a speaker at a Catholic university". New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  18. ^ "After Bishops Attack Book, Gauging Bounds of Debate". The New York Times. 11 April 2011.
  19. ^ a b Feuerhard, Joe (March 23, 2009). "Catholic academic ayatollah shows true colors". National Catholic Reporter.
  20. ^ a b c Keaney, Brian (October 23, 2012). "A truly catholic political dialogue". Millennial. Retrieved 2014-10-07.
  21. ^ Keaney, Brian (October 23, 2013). "Why The Cardinal Newman Society should listen to Pope Francis". Millennial. Retrieved 2014-10-07.

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