Bishops vote 223 to 31 in favor Ex Corde implementation
By COLLEEN McCARTHY
In an effort to "maintain, preserve and guarantee the Catholic identity of Catholic higher education," the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae Wednesday.
The nation's bishops voted 223-31 to implement the document originally issued on Aug. 15, 1990, by Pope John Paul II, which will have a direct impact on the way the 235 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities govern their institutions. It includes controversial mandates that the majority of trustees and theology professors are Catholic "to the extent possible," according to Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield, Mo., chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the implementation of Ex Corde.
"Ex Corde Ecclesiae does offer a constructive direction for the future," said Leibrecht. "It's not everything we need, but it's a step in the right direction."
In his opening remarks before opening the floor for debate, Leibrecht said he and his committee members tried to take into consideration comments of bishops during their final committee meeting on Tuesday night.
"Last night we accepted your suggestion we make sure we say how much we need and appreciate non-Catholic members of colleges and universities. We consider them full partners," said Leibrecht in response to concerns that the mandate would alienate theology professors and non-Catholic members of the academic community.
Questions of whether the increased role of bishops would threaten institutional and academic freedom were raised frequently throughout the nine-year discussion of the document. In a Jan. 30, 1999, issue of America, University president Father Edward Malloy and former Boston College president Father Donald Monan called the threat Ex Corde posed to Catholic universities institutional and academic freedom "positively dangerous."
Leibrecht addressed these concerns.
"The bishop's role is one of relationship, not control," he said.
Ex Corde will be implemented one year after it is reviewed and approved by the Holy See. The bishops will then engage in dialogue to determine develop procedures for implementation of the mandate.
Much of the 90 minute floor debate focused on one of the most controversial parts of the document, the mandate, which calls for theology professors at Catholic colleges and universities to receive a mandate from the local bishop to teach.
"The theologian has two commitments to teach so not only is the theologian teaching not only with the mandatum but out of baptism," Leibricht said. "Through the mandatum we are publically recognizing the theologian as a teacher in the Church."
The mandate says theology professors have a "commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church's magisterium." It also calls on theology professors to have "a duty to be faithful to the Church's magisterium as the authoritative interpreter of sacred scripture and sacred tradition."
Some have questioned whether the mandate could affect hiring practices of Catholic colleges and universities, although Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said it would not.
"I want to emphasize that granting a mandatum does not involve intense investigation of the theologian and their writings and beliefs," he said.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee was one of few who spoke during floor debate to voice concern over the mandate, citing the fragile relationship that currently exists between Church leaders and theologians.
"There is a tremendous unrest in my heart. I believe this [mandate] will create a pastoral disaster. The tension between theologians and church leaders now is the greatest I've seen in my 36 years as a superior in the Catholic Church," said Weakland. "Therefore, because there is so much distrust that exists between the Church heirarchy and theologians, this is not the right time to pass this document.
"It will lead to a lot of bickering and public disputes where only the Church will be harmed."
In response to concerns that some bishops would implement the mandate in a more "heavy-handed" manner, Leibrecht said steps will be taken to safeguard the process.
During the one-year period after the document is approved, time will be spent in dialogue with Catholic colleges and universities to try to understand the document and mandate more fully and to design a procedure for implementation, said Leibrecht.
Bishop John D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne/South Bend dioceses echoed concerns that the mandate not go too far.
"As we put this mandate forth, the goal is that there is a reciprocity between us [bishops] respecting their [theologians] expertise and them respecting our role," said D'Arcy.
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said he sees Ex Corde as the next step in continuing the dialogue between the Church heirarchy and Catholic institutions of higher education.
"Ex Corde is a great gift to colleges, bishops and dioceses as we learn how to further our relationship and continue to work together," said Law. "I see Ex Corde not as ending the dialogue between the Church and Catholic colleges and universities but as framing our dialogue as we move ahead."
Leibrecht acknowledged that tensions existed between the academic institutions and the Church, particularly over the mandate, but said the document is beneficial.
"There are problems, I understand that," Leibricht said. "There are tensions, I understand that. But of all the years of discussion and dialogue, it came time to do Ex Corde Ecclesiae and our committee believes now is the time. This document will give us a surge for what we need to do to improve things further."
All News Stories for Thursday, November 18, 1999