McBrien will not seek mandate
Assistant News Editor
The November vote by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which included the requirement that theology professor receive mandates, raised concerns in Catholic theology departments nationwide.
One prominent Notre Dame professor has stated he will not seek such a mandate.
Father Richard McBrien, theology professor and former department chairman, will not seek a mandate because, he said, it would compromise the institutional autonomy of Catholic universities and colleges. Mandates introduce an external, non-academic agent, the bishop, into the process of determining who can and cannot teach in a Catholic university or college. The implementation guidelines require that theologians at Catholic colleges and universities receive mandates to teach from their local bishops.
The implementation guidelines of Ex Corde, a document which Pope John Paul II originally issued in 1990, were approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops on Nov. 17, 1999. Afterwards, various members of the national press called McBrien for his reaction. He repeatedly stated that he would not seek a mandate.
Father Thomas Reese, editor-in-chief of "America," a weekly Catholic magazine, asked McBrien to write an article elaborating upon his decision not to request a mandate.
At first he was reluctant to do so, not wanting to call attention to himself. Several theologians, however, advised him that such an article might help individuals make decisions on the mandate issue.
McBrien's article "Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate" appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of "America."
"I made it clear in the article, however, that my position was not based on defiance but on a concern for the academic integrity of Catholic universities. It is, for me, simply a matter of principle," McBrien said.
He explained that Catholic universities cannot expect academic respect if the mandate system is introduced.
"We can't have a Catholic higher education system whose academic degrees are honored throughout the academic world and the wider society," said McBrien. "And, at the same time, introduce a mechanism into the internal life of our universities and colleges that undermines our claim to academic seriousness."
The mandate requirement applies only to theology professors. McBrien noted that if the purpose of mandates is to preserve Catholic identity of an institution, they should be required of all Catholic faculty and administrators.
"I have found that concern for and commitment to the Catholic character of our universities is highest in our theology departments," said McBrien. "If there is a problem of erosion of Catholic character, it is to be found outside of our theology departments, not inside."
He explained that mandate defenders note that other professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, require certification. Lawyers and doctors, however, are certified by their peers. Lawyers are required to pass a bar exam created by other lawyers. Doctors are required to pass an exam created by other doctors. Requiring a bishop to certify a theology professor is different.
"Bishops are not theologians. They are pastors. As such, they have an important role to play in the Church, but evaluating the academic credentials of faculty members in universities – even Catholic universities – is not one of their roles," said McBrien.
Ex Corde does not say anything explicit about mandates, leaving the implementation to the national Episcopal conferences. The possibilities vary from legally required mandates to an option under the discretion of each individual university.
In the article, McBrien emphasized that theologians, not just bishops and university presidents, should be involved in the implementation process.
John Cavadini, theology department chair, agreed.
"I would echo McBrien's hope that theologians are consulted in any attempt to draft an implementation plan," said Cavadini, noting that involvement would suggest that, in theory, a mutually acceptable solution could be reached.
Cavadini said that he would reserve a decision on the mandate issue until the details of Ex Corde implementation are finalized.
"I find it impossible to form a judgement because there is nothing concrete in place," said Cavadini.
The implementation process may take several years, which means mandates are not an immediate concern. Cavadini, however, expressed support for individual decisions of theology faculty.
"As far as my colleagues go, I completely respect whatever decision their conscience prompts them to make," said Cavadini.
All News Stories for Monday, February 21, 2000