PROVO — Some Brigham Young University professors have their eye on Pope Benedict XVI as he plans to address presidents of Catholic colleges and universities today.

BYU, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has some similarities to Catholic universities, such as Notre Dame.

Many Catholic academic leaders and others are anxiously awaiting the pope's words today. "I'm curious to hear what he has to say," said BYU chemistry professor Juliana Boerio-Goates, who is Catholic.

Pope Benedict has had a reputation for being strict — the enforcer of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church, said Daniel Peterson, BYU professor of Islamic studies and Arabic.

"I would imagine there are some nervous people in Catholic academic circles right now, wondering if he is going to announce further restrictions," Peterson said. He is also on the directors council of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

In his speech, the pope could very well voice his concerns regarding Catholic schools' creep toward secularism. He might share his opinion on just how religious a Catholic college should be, BYU professors predict.

"There is no question he will talk about maintaining a Catholic identity," said James Faulconer, BYU professor of philosophy. He also holds the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding.

Boerio-Goates says she believes Pope Benedict may address Catholic schools' "role as educators, forming the next generation of Catholics."

The BYU professors said they would have mixed reactions if LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson was preparing to address the administration of the church's higher education institutions.

Faulconer said an LDS Church president speaking on higher education wouldn't be reason to worry. LDS prophets have frequently spoken at BYU's devotional to begin the school year. "That happens with some regularity," he said.

However, if the LDS Church president was about to deliver a weighty decision or statement, such as when Ricks College was renamed BYU-Idaho in 2000, it would be cause for greater attention, Faulconer said. "It caused a big stir."

Peterson said there is no fear LDS Church leadership would tighten the reins on BYU because "we haven't been allowed to get off the path that far" as compared to Catholic schools.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae (Latin for "From the Heart of the Church"). It was a call for Catholic schools to be faithful to the Catholic Church's mission and its identity.

In 1992, BYU issued a statement of academic freedom.

The BYU statement has two prongs. First, it protects the individual academic freedom of faculty members to teach and research, yet limits professors in that they cannot contradict church doctrine and policy in their teachings. Second, it protects the university's academic freedom to pursue its mission and be free from outside control.

An example of limits on BYU professors is they couldn't say in class they believe the church should practice polygamy. An example of institutional academic freedom is BYU's ability to hire based on religion, without government control.

There is freedom to mix religion with academics at BYU, said Jim Gordon, an associate dean in the BYU law school. He was associate academic vice president for faculty from 1996 to 2000 and was on the committee that created BYU's academic freedom statement.

For example, in teaching his contracts class, Gordon is able to bring in religious aspects such as former LDS Church President Brigham Young's statements on being fair in contractual dealings.

When comparing BYU and Notre Dame, Gordon says, "Both schools are places where people can learn in an environment of faith. They can explore religious issues."

While at least 95 percent of BYU faculty are LDS, around 50 percent of Notre Dame faculty are Catholic, according to data provided by each institution's public relations department.

At BYU, 98.5 percent of the 30,800 students are Mormon while at Notre Dame, 85 percent of the 11,600 students are Catholic.

The Hispanic population at Notre Dame is growing rapidly, rising from 6.5 percent to 9.3 percent in the past decade.

At BYU, minority enrollment increased from 2,659 to 4,084 in the past 10 years. International enrollment has increased from 1,325 to 1,972 over the past decade at the university.

BYU has a strict honor code that includes no smoking, drinking or premarital sex. The LDS university also requires an annual ecclesiastical endorsement from a student's bishop or religious leader in order to enter and remain at the school.

Notre Dame, similar to state schools, has an academic code of honor that students sign, pledging to refrain from academic dishonesty. The Catholic university doesn't require an ecclesiastical endorsement of its students.

BYU's Board of Trustees consists of church officials including general authorities. Notre Dame's Board of Trustees is made up of lay people, as well as members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which is an order of priests and brothers.

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