Campus leaders hesitant to decide on Ex Corde
By TIM LOGAN
The ideals set forth by the current draft of guidelines for U.S. Catholic colleges and universities are praiseworthy, say administration leaders at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary's, but they add, the devil lies in the details and in the rush to a decision.
Wednesday, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) will likely begin debate on the latest proposal for implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II's 1990 statement on Catholic higher education. Administrators and theologians at Notre Dame and Saint Mary's have urged the bishops to postpone that vote and discuss a less legalistic approach that truly embodies the ideals of the apostolic constitution.
Thus far, dialogue has been beneficial, many say, and they express hope that further talks will build a better implementation.
"I would ask that that there be a delay on any vote until this dialogue proceeds even further along," said Father Richard Warner, counselor to Notre Dame's president. This dialogue, not the judicial enforcement of Canon law that the current proposal suggests, would better balance the Church's role in universities that call themselves Catholic with the open academic environment that successful universities in the U.S. require, he said.
"There's no need to rush," Warner said.
Other leaders echo these sentiments.
University president Father Edward Malloy has been a leading critic of the proposal since it was released in 1998. He called it "positively dangerous" and "unworkable" in a January article in the Jesuit journal, America. His opposition will continue up to the vote, he said.
"We will simply be proceeding between now and when the vote takes place to convince as many bishops as we can not to vote for it," he said. Malloy will be at the NCCB General Assembly in Washington, D.C., this week as a representative of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU).
Notre Dame has voiced its opinion in many forums, including with the other Holy Cross colleges and universities and with the other schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. In May, the Board of Fellows — a 12-member body of lay and Holy Cross trustees charged with maintaining the Catholic character of Notre Dame — recommended a five-year extension of dialogue on the juridical elements of implementation.
The extension of debate has been supported by Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who has expressed hope that it will enable the bishops to refocus the norms on the true spirit of Ex Corde, communion with the Church.
"We must establish and continue a structured, substantive, respectful and ongoing dialogue between university presidents and bishops," D'Arcy wrote in the Sept. 5 issue of Today's Catholic. He said that this, not juridical imposition of certain norms, is the answer.
There are those who believe that the current proposal is the answer, however, saying that establishing juridical norms and setting certain benchmarks are essential to prevent Catholic universities from drifting too far from the Church.
"Respect for Church authority and teaching is the first step toward maintaining Catholic identity," conservative Catholic leader Patrick Reilly told the Associated Press. Reilly is executive director of the Cardinal Newman Society, which was founded in 1993 to lobby for strict application of Ex Corde.
But this respect and the current state of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's are not incompatible, said Saint Mary's president Marilou Eldred. She liked the document itself, but has called for an extension of debate on the implementation, so that some of the difficulties surrounding it can be resolved.
"I'm very supportive of the intention of the proposal," she said. "I have a few misgivings about a few of the specifics of the implementation."
Eldred expressed concern about the requirement that Catholic theologians must receive a mandate from their local bishop, saying there is no system for enforcing the norms.
"It's not clear from the mandate how any of this would be implemented," she said.
This is a concern shared by professor John Cavadini, chairman of Notre Dame's theology department, who fears that focusing on the mandate and rushing to a decision will not further the admirable goals set by Ex Corde itself.
"If it's passed, any kind of constructive dialogue on how to attain the ideals of Ex Corde will be derailed in wrangling over the mandate," he said, noting that, while the mandate has been the source of significant controversy, it is not the goal of Ex Corde, but only a way of achieving the goal. "The mandate is a means to the end of realizing the ideals of Ex Corde.," he said. "I do not think it is the best means to that end."
Cavadini also called for further discussion of the ideals and implementation of Ex Corde. He proposed that theology professors be drawn into the official dialogue, which up to now has been largely conducted by bishops and university presidents.
"I would like an implementation that arises from dialogue between the bishops and theologians," he said.
Another leading campus theologian, professor Joe Incandela, chairman of the Saint Mary's religious studies department, said that he likes the ideals that Ex Corde sets forth in encouraging Catholic universities to join in "communion" with the Church.
But it is not that communion Catholic educators worry about; they claim to strive for that already. What concerns them is the possibility that the communion could be forced, legally, by the vote Wednesday.
"The question becomes how and whether you need to legislate [ideals]," Incandela said. "I think that's where people become divided and nervous."
All News Stories for Monday, November 15, 1999