A decade of debate culminates with vote on Catholic education
By TIM LOGAN
A landmark moment in the future of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and the rest of American Catholic higher education is one week away.
Next Wednesday, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops will likely vote on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution on the role of Catholic universities in the Church. This vote will be the culmination of a decade-long debate over a proposal which many educators fear will inhibit academic freedom and institutional autonomy at the 235 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States.
Much of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Latin for "From the Heart of the Church," deals with campus ministry programs and the role of universities in Catholicism. Debate, however, has raged over more controversial elements of the document that would give local bishops more direct control over schools in their dioceses.
The most contentious element involves approval of Catholic theologians by their local bishops. The proposal would require that "Catholics who teach the theological disciplines in a Catholic university are required to have a mandatum granted by a competent ecclesiastical authority."
That authority, for Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and the other three Catholic colleges in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, would be Bishop John D'Arcy.
It is the juridicial, legalistic tone of this proposal and the implication that academics would be subject to approval by outside influence of the bishop that worries educators.
"[The mandate] is an instrument, however ineffective, to control what is taught and written," wrote University president Father Edward Malloy and Father Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College, in the Jan. 30 issue of "America," a Jesuit journal of opinion. "The authority competent to give, deny or remove the mandate is legally and organizationally external to the university and its governance."
Others, however, claim the mandate is necessary to correct a shift away from official Catholic teachings in some theology classrooms, and, furthermore, would aid in the education of faith on Catholic campuses.
"No school can be more Catholic than its faculty," Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley told the Knights of Columbus in March. "I think that this would foster an opportunity for students to look to more of the faculty as role models."
The mandate comes out of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a document which acts as the foundation for several debated clauses in the proposal. Canon 812 prescribes the mandate. Thus, it is not new, it simply represents the enforcement of Canon laws already in existence.
The proposal makes other stipulations about the makeup of Catholic universities. It requires the majority of a school's board of trustees to be Catholic and that "to the extent possible, those committed to the witness of the faith will constitute a majority of the faculty." The document also requires that the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities be Catholic themselves.
At the same time, the implementation document repeats Ex Corde Ecclesiae's stated respect for free intellectual inquiry.
"This fundamental purpose and institutional autonomy must be respected and promoted by all, so that the university may effectively carry out its mission of freely searching for the truth," the draft reads.
History of Ex Corde Ecclesiae
Balancing institutional autonomy, academic freedom and fidelity to Church teachings have caused this draft proposal to be a long time in the making.
The debate about the role of universities in the Church can be traced back to 1967, when a group of Catholic university presidents and administrators, led by University president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh, drafted the "Land O'Lakes" statement. This declaration established the more independent spirit of Catholic colleges and universities that has guided many of them ever since.
"The Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself," it read.
As the years went by, some Church leaders felt the universities were drifting too far from the fold of the Church, and from its teachings.
Pope John Paul II told an assembly of Catholic educators in 1979 that they should adhere to the magisterium, or teaching, of the Church at their universities and truly manifest the Catholic nature of their institutions, for this is their lasting identity.
"The term `Catholic' will never be a mere label, either added or dropped according to the pressures of various forces," he said.
Over the next decade, Vatican officials laid the groundwork for Ex Corde Ecclesiae, producing the revised Code of Canon Law, drafting the "Proposed Schema for a Pontifical Document on Catholic Universities," and meeting with university presidents, including Malloy, on the apostolic constitution itself.
In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and national bishops conferences established systems to implement it. The U.S. implementation subcommittee, chaired by Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Miss., debated and met with educators until 1996, when they brought a proposal to the General Assembly for a vote.
The 1996 proposal, which enjoyed strong support among educators, did not include Canon 812. Nor did it mandate that a majority of faculty be "faithful Catholics."
The NCCB voted 224-6 in favor of the draft, but it was rejected by Cardinal Pio Laghi, head of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, who asked that more juridical elements, including the mandate for theologians, be included.
The NCCB subcommittee returned to the drawing board, this time with a group of bishops who specialized in Canon law consulting.
The draft they issued for consideration in 1998 contained many of the juridical elements requested by Laghi, but drew fire from educators, including Malloy and Monan.
"NCCB approval of this draft document would be profoundly detrimental to Catholic higher education," wrote the two, arguing that its legalistic tone would destroy the healthy dialogue that currently exists between bishops and university presidents.
Concern focused on the mandate for theologians and on requirements that Catholic presidents take an oath of fidelity to the Church and that the president and a majority of the trustees and faculty should be "faithful Catholics."
After further discussion, the Leibrecht's implementation committee produced a revised document, issued in September. This new document toned down some of the most juridical language, but still contains the requirement for a mandatum and draws criticism from university presidents.
Whether that criticism is shared by the bishops will be discovered Wednesday.
All News Stories for Wednesday, November 10, 1999