The National Catholic Review
Richard P. McBrien
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Soon after the U.S. Catholic bishops passed the revised version of the Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae on Nov. 17, 1999, several newspapers, including The New York Times, phoned me for a reaction. In each instance, the reporter asked if I intended to request a mandate from the local bishop. I indicated that I would not, "as a matter of principle, because it compromises the academic integrity of the faculty and the university" (N.Y.T., 11/18/99). My stated intention has no connection whatever to the current bishop of the diocese in which the University of Notre Dame is located. It is not a matter of personality and certainly not defiance, but of principle.

How would the mandate compromise the academic integrity of the faculty and the university? By introducing an external, non-academic agent in the internal, academic processes governing not only the appointment, retention and promotion of faculty, but in the designation of which courses faculty members may or may not teach and in which departments. Only the academic administration of a university and college, and the chair and faculty of a department are competent to determine those matters. Otherwise, there is no academic freedom and no institutional autonomy (the two hallmarks of a university, cited approvingly and consistently by leading Catholic educators ever since the celebrated Land O'Lakes Statement of 1967). The Catholic institution in question would no longer be a university in the commonly accepted academic meaning of the word.

But it is still unclear to everyone, including the bishops themselves, how the mandate will be implemented. It will take at least a year (perhaps more) for a plan to be adopted, and then another full year before it goes into effect. This means that there is ample time for practical heads to intervene and to bring some rational order out of the current confusion. To the extent that dialogue will take place, however, it will have to involve theologians as well as university presidents. Until now, the dialogue has been limited to bishops and presidents, and they have generally gotten along well. But as a few bishops pointed out in Washington, the theologians have been left completely out of the loop. Not only should theologians be involved, they should be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America, in consultation with the president-members of the implementation committee, but certainly not by the bishops; nor should the bishops have the power of veto over those selected by the C.T.S.A., notwithstanding the unfairly low esteem in which this organization is held in certain episcopal circles.

It is difficult, from this vantage point at least, to see how any procedure can be more than voluntary in character. A few bishops and their militant, pro-bono legal counsels may be itching to pick fights in courts of civil law, but no prudent bishop, president or theologian would want to see that occur. Catholic higher education in this country is already suffering enough from all the charges, leveled without persuasive evidence, about the alleged erosion of Catholic character in our Catholic colleges and universities. (Jesuit schools, for some reason, come in for special condemnation, even though they are not only the most numerous, but also generally the best--and I say this as a non-Jesuit!) We do not need a public bloodbath born of mutual recrimination that can only hurt the church and all parties involved, not least of which are our students. Anyone who has actually been involved in a lawsuit, on whatever side and in whatever capacity, can only cringe whenever someone blurts, "You ought to sue them!" or: "Let them sue us!"

If, in fact, the implementation plan that is eventually adopted has no real legal teeth, it will be left to each individual Catholic faculty member in departments of theology or religious studies to decide whether even to request a mandate. Several of the bishops who spoke in favor of the Application at the November meeting were quick to assure the presidents and faculty of Catholic institutions that they have no desire, intention or interest in interfering in their internal academic life. They do not want to become involved in decisions affecting the hiring, firing or promoting of individual faculty members. If a mandate is denied, withdrawn or simply not sought, we were told that the bishops would leave it up to the universities to take whatever action they deem appropriate.

There has been one significant case in point. After a prolonged investigation, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded in 1986 that the Rev. Charles Curran was "neither suitable nor eligible" to be a professor of Catholic theology at The Catholic University of America, and it asked Cardinal James Hickey, archbishop of Washington and chancellor of the university, to take appropriate action. The university's board of trustees subsequently accepted the C.D.F.'s declaration as binding on the university, and Father Curran's canonical mandate was withdrawn.

Could this happen at other Catholic universities? No. C.U.A. is unique in its relationship to the Holy See and in the composition of its board of trustees. It is a pontifical university and almost half of its trustees are cardinals and bishops. To be legally effective the requirements of the mandate would have to be put into the bylaws of each non-pontifical institution. Independent, lay-dominated boards of trustees are not likely to do this, and some bishops have said publicly that they were not asking for this. Without doubt the academic reputation of C.U.A. has suffered because of the Curran case. The American Association of University Professors censured the university for its actions. Leaders of other Catholic institutions do not want a similar cloud over their heads.

Short of terminating the faculty member, what options are open to a university if one of its theologians chooses not to seek a mandate, is denied a mandate or has the mandate withdrawn? It might try to move the theologian to another department, as C.U.A. attempted at one point with Father Curran (the department of sociology was the proposed destination). Or it might refuse to allow the theologian to teach particular courses in the theology department. Or, finally, it might deny the theologian the right to teach any courses in any department, while continuing to pay salary and benefits. None of these possibilities is likely to materialize. No department wants to be a dumping-ground for academic cast-offs from other departments (or from the administration, for that matter), even if it does not lose a faculty line in the process. And chairs of theology departments already have enough trouble staffing courses. They can ill afford to lose the services of theologians who choose not to seek a mandate. Their number, after all, may prove to be large.

And what about Catholic faculty members in other departments of a university? Why are the mandates limited to theologians? If there is an erosion of Catholic identity in our universities today, it is more likely to occur outside of departments of theology, not inside. In my experience of some 30 years as a faculty member at two major Catholic universities, Notre Dame and Boston College, I have seen an occasional lack of seriousness concerning Catholic character in some sectors of these institutions, but not in the theology departments. Nowhere is the challenge of defining and maintaining Catholic character taken with greater seriousness and made the object of greater corporate commitment than in these very departments. By focusing only on Catholic theologians while leaving Catholic vice presidents, deans, directors, chemists, economists, biologists, philosophers, mathematicians, engineers, lawyers and accountants completely off the hook, we may be revealing that our vision on this sensitive matter is of tunnel quality. If we are really concerned about the Catholic character of our Catholic universities, we should be concerned about the whole faculty and the whole administration, not just the theology department, the president and the board of trustees. Is it asking too much that the drive to insure Catholicity be itself catholic in scope?

The more one teases out the potential consequences of the recent vote in Washington, the messier and the more unwieldy the task of implementation seems to become. One wishes in the end that the Vatican and the bishops had more confidence in the strength and suppleness of the Catholic tradition. I, for one, am appalled by the fact that a few outspoken bishops have swallowed the gratuitous "argument" of certain writers, some of whom are evangelical Protestants, with no experiential understanding of the Catholic sacramental, spiritual, theological and doctrinal tradition, and some of whom are Catholics with perhaps an axe to grind against their own institutions and departments, current or former. They assert that our Catholic institutions are destined to go the way of once-Protestant institutions like Harvard, Princeton and Chicago unless we introduce a mechanism of oversight and control by external, non-academic agents, namely, the bishops and the Vatican, which, based on the experience of the German universities, would have the real last word in the matter of the mandates.

Turn the "argument" inside out, and they are asking us to believe that Harvard would still be faithful to its Puritan heritage, and Princeton to its Presbyterian tradition and Chicago to its Baptist roots if only these institutions had allowed members of their respective clergy to determine who could or could not teach theology there. Imagine for a moment that this actually had happened and that these three institutions had preserved their religious heritages, just as those religious traditions were one, two or three centuries ago. What sort of institutions might they be today? In fact, such institutions did not even advert to the loss of their religious identity. By contrast, Catholic institutions have been directly addressing this matter for at least 20 years--before the issuance of Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990--and the discussion continues today in high gear.

Is there not a middle course between the mandates and outright indifference? There is, and it is being followed already in Catholic universities such as Notre Dame and Boston College and in so many other Catholic institutions like them. Catholic higher education in the United States has not been a failure, nor is it in danger of becoming so. It has produced the best educated laity in the entire history of the church. We are a more spiritually vibrant and faith-full church because of it. Indeed, the bishops themselves in November 1996 voted in favor of this middle course by a margin of 224 to 6.

In light of the above, I do not intend to seek a mandate two or three years down the road when mandates finally become a requirement or an option for Catholic theologians teaching in Catholic universities. For me it is a matter of principle--not of defiance toward the Vatican or the bishops, but of an abiding commitment to the academic integrity of what are among the church's most precious and valuable assets.

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien-Walter Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Comments

Gerald P. Cohen, C.S.C. | 1/17/2007 - 12:48pm
I continue to look forward each week to receiving America, even after many years as a subscriber; the quality of the articles has never diminished, even in those that I would disagree with!

Kudos to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien for “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12). As I follow this discussion (I have been a trustee of two Catholic colleges), there is one point that I have never seen made. Those once former Protestant universities now with no ties to their founding churches were indeed founded by the churches. In the instance of Catholic colleges and universities, the vast majority (at least in this country) were founded not by the church but by religious communities. I feel this makes a whole world of difference which I’m not certain has been picked up on by those (especially Catholic) who point with alarm at Catholic colleges and universities.

Mary Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J. | 1/17/2007 - 12:54pm
Thank you for publishing the article by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, “Why I Will Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12), which voices the concerns of many in Catholic higher education. I am disappointed, though, that Professor McBrien failed to note the active involvement of the College Theology Society in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae discussions.

Since the foundation of the College Theology Society in the 1950’s, the primary focus of its membership (well over 900 at last count, and growing) has been teaching and research in Catholic colleges and universities. In recent years, the C.T.S. and C.T.S.A. have been active partners in addressing the type of issues raised by the implementation document, especially the mandatum. So regarding future discussions, Professor McBrien should have said: “Not only should theologians be involved; they should be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theology Society.”

Patrick Ellis, F.S.C. | 1/21/2007 - 4:05pm
As American Catholic higher education settles into a long, edgy period of applying the norms of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, I want to go into the record with emphasis on several concepts that, I think, have become marginalized during the nearly two decades of Canon 812’s existence. I refer to doing justice to those who led us into the mainstream, and to recognizing the intrinsic Catholicity of the whole educational enterprise, as compared to harping on Catholic identity (2/12).

Judging has forced out justice. Folks who’ve come along lately but with great certitude have decided, for example, that Catholic colleges and universities have been on a 25-year orgy of corporate and individual vanity in the pursuit of “respectability” (negative, of course) and in the slavish imitation of institutions that have lost their faith. This appears to be a thesis that can bear endless repetition, though I have yet to see it applied with even rudimentary balance or fairness. Leaders of the maligned schools have either been too busy to stop and formulate point-for-point responses, or they have long since given up on the (occasionally ungrateful) retailers of the screed, and have decided to take their lumps while not taking the bait.

We strove, then, to enter the academic mainstream because we owed it to our faculties and students. This doesn’t mean the mainstream was Eden, as all who have entered it have learned soon enough. But our striving for the seriousness and depth of American academe at its best was and is a matter of justice, far more than mere truth in advertising, but that too.

I don’t know of many 1950’s colleges that, upon reflection, were satisfied with the intensity of their Catholicity. Critics of the present day hark back to a golden age, but with very, very selective recall. True, men’s campuses manifested a bumptious and virile religious tone in many observances, with cadres of professional and student religious. But even then we knew that some practices did not seem formative of young adult Catholics.

We saw, all that time ago, not only the need to be more deeply Catholic, but to be more seriously academic. Our goals diverged sharply from those of many students and their families, but we hoped to persuade them while we had them, and that the goals would merge somewhere out in the future.

Certainly Catholic institutions are instruments of evangelization, sometimes overtly but in most of the world very carefully. But such an instrument must be a worthy instrument and a whole, sound instrument. It is of no use if you bend it or break it in your attempt to employ it. Thus, seeking greater quality is not and never has been vanity, but reverent striving to be worthy of our sacred mission.

Editor’s note: Brother Patrick Ellis served as president of La Salle University in Philadelphia from 1977 to 1992 and of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1992 to 1998.

Gerald P. Cohen, C.S.C. | 1/17/2007 - 12:48pm
I continue to look forward each week to receiving America, even after many years as a subscriber; the quality of the articles has never diminished, even in those that I would disagree with!

Kudos to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien for “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12). As I follow this discussion (I have been a trustee of two Catholic colleges), there is one point that I have never seen made. Those once former Protestant universities now with no ties to their founding churches were indeed founded by the churches. In the instance of Catholic colleges and universities, the vast majority (at least in this country) were founded not by the church but by religious communities. I feel this makes a whole world of difference which I’m not certain has been picked up on by those (especially Catholic) who point with alarm at Catholic colleges and universities.

Georgia Masters Keightley | 1/17/2007 - 12:41pm
Like the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12), I too have been struck by the theologians’ absence from the round of discussions that have taken place between bishops and college/university presidents on Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Even more striking has been the dearth of lay Catholic voices as the process has unfolded to date. The fact is, it is this body of the church—the lay Catholics who serve as faculty, administrators, students and staff—that not only constitutes the academic institutions’ core Catholic element; it is the laity that comprises the mission that is U.S. Catholic higher education today.

My concern is not only that presidents and bishops have been allowed to gloss over, even ignore fundamental theological issues. More importantly, the insights and perspectives of the U.S. church’s lay theologians, those Catholics for whom theology is both an ecclesial vocation and a profession, a means to support self and family, have gone unheard. Certainly it is this group that has the most at stake in respect to all decisions on the mandatum.

Edward V. Griffin, O.S.A. | 1/17/2007 - 12:39pm
Thank you for the new comic section in America (2/12). “Peanuts” has been taken away from us, but America has responded. I enjoyed the cartoon about the recently retired Navy chaplain. But I must say I got many more laughs from the hilarious article that surrounded it: the one explaining why the Rev. Richard P. McBrien is not seeking a mandate from any bishop to teach at a Catholic university. He suggests that the proper people are not being consulted and that, in his mind, the officers of the Catholic Theological Society of America should be recognized as the real “experts.” That one really wowed me. Then, when I read about how thoroughly sound the theological departments are at the universities with which he has been associated, I just doubled over with laughter. What a tremendous sense of humor that man has! Finally, at the end of the article, Father Richard indicates that he, of all people, is going to show us the middle way. I just about split my sides on that one.

Keep up the good work, America. Charlie Brown and Lucy were funny, but they were never like this.

Norbert J. Rigali, S.J.<BR>University of San Diego | 1/17/2007 - 12:30pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s presentation of reasons for not seeking a mandatum (2/12) seems to rival the proposed mandatum itself in its problematic character. Here I wish to note only two of the questionable aspects of the article.

1. The author wonders: “Why are the mandates limited to theologians,” while chemists, biologists, philosophers, etc. are let “completely off the hook”? And he goes on to say, “If we are really concerned about the Catholic character of our universities, we should be concerned about the whole faculty and the whole administration, not just the theology department.... Is it asking too much that the drive to insure Catholicity be itself catholic in scope?”

It is indeed a novel—even if unpersuasive—argument that the mandatum requirement is too narrow rather than too much. Anyone who has read either Ex Corde Ecclesiae or its “Application” by the U.S. bishops knows well that in these documents “the drive to insure Catholicity” encompasses very explicitly every aspect of a university. Account, of course, is taken in the documents of the variety of roles and functions within a university; consequently the drive toward Catholicity is seen as finding expression in many diverse but analogous ways within the university rather than exclusively in a single mode. With regard to the theology department, the “drive” is expressed as a drive to insure that the theology taught in the university corresponds to church teaching, and it issues in requiring a mandatum to teach theology.

One may or may not believe that with regard to theology departments the mandatum requirement is the best practical conclusion to be drawn from the premise of insuring Catholicity. But the suggestion that requiring the mandatum only within the theology department betrays a lack of concern for the Catholicism of other areas of the university cannot be taken seriously by anyone who attends to the official documents themselves and can grasp analogical thought.

2. Father McBrien acknowledges the need for the dialogue on the Application between bishops and university presidents to continue, but now “it will have to involve theologians.” The participating theologians are to be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (C.T.S.A.). Not only may bishops not select the theologians whom they are to consult; they also may not reject by veto any selection made for them by the C.T.S.A.

For several reasons it is noteworthy that, in the proposal, the C.T.S.A. should arrogate to itself exclusively the prerogative of choosing the theologians for the bishops to consult. First, one might reasonably expect that the bishops themselves would have at least some exercise of freedom in the matter. Second, the C.T.S.A. is not the only national professional society of theologians. Third, some theologians with the credentials and stature of an Avery Dulles, S.J., or a Matthew Lamb have averred publicly in recent years that not all theological voices are finding effective expression in the C.T.S.A.

On learning of Father McBrien’s proposal, the president of another national professional society of theologians, Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J., of the College Theology Society, wrote to America that this society, too, should be involved in the selecting of the theologians whom the bishops would consult. But so far a third national society, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, has apparently not sought to find a place in the group to appoint the theological consultors.

Father McBrien’s proposal would have greater credibility if it appeared more as the expression of a desire to see all theological viewpoints represented in the dialogue with the bishops rather than as the embodiment of a tendency to have one group of theologians in a position to determine which theological voices will be heard in the dialogue.

(Rev.) John Koelsch | 1/17/2007 - 4:29pm
The most critical issue in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae discussion is the con-tent and in-tent of a Catholic college’s religion courses, versus the more academic concept of theology as such. This issue—at least implicitly raised by the authors Denise Carmody, Katarina Schuth (1/28) and others, but sidestepped by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12)—deserves the further attention of America (and everyone else).

William M. Sullivan, S.J. | 1/17/2007 - 4:17pm
Thank you for publishing “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12).

One question intrigued me as I finished this timely and well reasoned article. What would Father McBrien do if he received from his local ordinary an unsolicited mandatum to teach theology? Accept it? Return it (with or without comment )? Discard it? File it under “M”? Or am I getting too far ahead of the scenario here?

Gregory Koster | 1/17/2007 - 2:00pm
Almost all the discussion of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (2/12) assumes that it will, one way or another, have as its intended effect to draw Catholic colleges and universities closer to the hierarchy. It seems more likely that it will have exactly the opposite effect. The more strictly the mandate requirement is applied, the more “Theology” departments will be renamed “Religious Studies” and the less the bishop will be consulted at all. Most Catholic colleges and universities in the United States are neither owned, run nor funded by the hierarchy. Their lay boards of trustees do not answer to the bishop, nor must they seek permission to use the word Catholic (when have you ever seen it followed by the mark ™?).

One prominent Catholic university already proclaims itself to be “in the tradition of” a certain religious community. What a wonderfully ambiguous phrase! “In the tradition” can mean present tense (the bishop is granting mandates freely) or past tense (back in the 50’s we had a lot of priests on the faculty).

If American Catholic colleges and universities follow the path set by Harvard and Princeton, it will be Ex Corde Ecclesiae that greased the slippery slope.

Mary Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J. | 1/17/2007 - 12:54pm
Thank you for publishing the article by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, “Why I Will Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12), which voices the concerns of many in Catholic higher education. I am disappointed, though, that Professor McBrien failed to note the active involvement of the College Theology Society in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae discussions.

Since the foundation of the College Theology Society in the 1950’s, the primary focus of its membership (well over 900 at last count, and growing) has been teaching and research in Catholic colleges and universities. In recent years, the C.T.S. and C.T.S.A. have been active partners in addressing the type of issues raised by the implementation document, especially the mandatum. So regarding future discussions, Professor McBrien should have said: “Not only should theologians be involved; they should be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theology Society.”

Steve Kurdziel | 1/17/2007 - 12:52pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien argues that the central reason not to seek a mandate is that “academic freedom and institutional integrity” cannot permit the introduction of “an external, non-academic agent” into essentially academic decisions of who may teach (2/12). How, then, would he distinguish the cases of medical schools where, for example, a professor of surgery may be required to have a valid license to practice medicine—something provided by the “external, non-academic agent” of a state medical board? Similarly, might the need for a valid professional license also exist for faculty members at other professional schools such as law, engineering or architecture. While Father McBrien rightly cites the principle of academic freedom, I would like to see some analysis on how such freedom is exercised now by professors also subject to professional licensing bodies not under the control of “the academic administration of a university and college [or] the chair or faculty of a department....”

Until such cases can be distinguished or discounted, I’m not sure the line is as bright as Father McBrien has drawn it.

Kenneth L. Woodward | 1/17/2007 - 1:07pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s main argument about Ex Corde Ecclesiae (2/12) is buried in his first paragraph. Why should he seek a mandate to teach theology when he already has one from The New York Times?

(Most Rev.) John Nienstedt<BR>Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit | 1/17/2007 - 12:56pm
I had difficulty understanding what ecclesiology the Rev. Richard P. McBrien employs to support the argument he raises in his article, “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12). That argument focuses around the claim that the bishop is “an external, non-academic agent” being inserted “in the internal, academic processes” of Catholic higher education. But if Catholic colleges and universities intend to promote the message and mission of the church, how can the bishop be “external” to that end? Are these institutions integral to the life of the church or not?

As a pastor of two parishes with grade and high schools, I never considered myself “external” to their operation or activities, even though I never tried to usurp the role of their administrators or teachers. Since the mission of those schools derived from the priorities of the parish community, the relationship between church and school was clear and compelling.

The history of Catholic colleges and universities is more complex than that of parochial grade and high schools, but there is no less reason for a clear relationship to exist between church and school if those colleges and universities intend to reflect and promote the mission of the church.

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are important components to be safeguarded, but they should not be used as fronts for ideological independence. If these institutions serve to promote the mission of the church, then there ought to exist a link to the Catholic community through its leadership in the office of the bishop.

Edward A. Burke | 1/17/2007 - 12:50pm
The assertion that “it is still unclear to everyone, including the bishops themselves, how the mandate will be implemented,” as the Rev. Richard P. McBrien states in “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12), assumes a woeful lack of creativity in the church. But it’s really not that difficult to foresee a workable scenario. For example, Catholic colleges and universities could indicate in their catalogues next to each theologian’s credentials that a mandate either was or was not sought and, if sought, whether it was granted.

This would arm parents and potential students with valuable foreknowledge, empower them to ask good questions of faculty members during the college search process and let them learn first-hand what personal principles prevent a person from seeking a mandate, or what has prevented a mandate from being granted. They could determine, for example, that a professor in question is a sincere genius whose orthodoxy is a bit askew. Or, they might discover that a theologian is merely on an ego trip, one with potential for leading students down a moral and intellectual blind alley.

With this approach, no academic freedoms or principles would be compromised, and no one would be reassigned, sued or fired. This remedy follows in the tradition of academic free inquiry and American democratic principles. It’s also in concert with Cardinal Newman’s hope that one day the laity be given a voice in church affairs. The final mandate, then, would rest with the consumers of higher education who, after careful examination of conscience, either ratify a college or university with their checkbook, or reject it and walk away.

Patrick Ellis, F.S.C. | 1/21/2007 - 4:05pm
As American Catholic higher education settles into a long, edgy period of applying the norms of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, I want to go into the record with emphasis on several concepts that, I think, have become marginalized during the nearly two decades of Canon 812’s existence. I refer to doing justice to those who led us into the mainstream, and to recognizing the intrinsic Catholicity of the whole educational enterprise, as compared to harping on Catholic identity (2/12).

Judging has forced out justice. Folks who’ve come along lately but with great certitude have decided, for example, that Catholic colleges and universities have been on a 25-year orgy of corporate and individual vanity in the pursuit of “respectability” (negative, of course) and in the slavish imitation of institutions that have lost their faith. This appears to be a thesis that can bear endless repetition, though I have yet to see it applied with even rudimentary balance or fairness. Leaders of the maligned schools have either been too busy to stop and formulate point-for-point responses, or they have long since given up on the (occasionally ungrateful) retailers of the screed, and have decided to take their lumps while not taking the bait.

We strove, then, to enter the academic mainstream because we owed it to our faculties and students. This doesn’t mean the mainstream was Eden, as all who have entered it have learned soon enough. But our striving for the seriousness and depth of American academe at its best was and is a matter of justice, far more than mere truth in advertising, but that too.

I don’t know of many 1950’s colleges that, upon reflection, were satisfied with the intensity of their Catholicity. Critics of the present day hark back to a golden age, but with very, very selective recall. True, men’s campuses manifested a bumptious and virile religious tone in many observances, with cadres of professional and student religious. But even then we knew that some practices did not seem formative of young adult Catholics.

We saw, all that time ago, not only the need to be more deeply Catholic, but to be more seriously academic. Our goals diverged sharply from those of many students and their families, but we hoped to persuade them while we had them, and that the goals would merge somewhere out in the future.

Certainly Catholic institutions are instruments of evangelization, sometimes overtly but in most of the world very carefully. But such an instrument must be a worthy instrument and a whole, sound instrument. It is of no use if you bend it or break it in your attempt to employ it. Thus, seeking greater quality is not and never has been vanity, but reverent striving to be worthy of our sacred mission.

Editor’s note: Brother Patrick Ellis served as president of La Salle University in Philadelphia from 1977 to 1992 and of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1992 to 1998.

Georgia Masters Keightley | 1/17/2007 - 12:41pm
Like the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12), I too have been struck by the theologians’ absence from the round of discussions that have taken place between bishops and college/university presidents on Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Even more striking has been the dearth of lay Catholic voices as the process has unfolded to date. The fact is, it is this body of the church—the lay Catholics who serve as faculty, administrators, students and staff—that not only constitutes the academic institutions’ core Catholic element; it is the laity that comprises the mission that is U.S. Catholic higher education today.

My concern is not only that presidents and bishops have been allowed to gloss over, even ignore fundamental theological issues. More importantly, the insights and perspectives of the U.S. church’s lay theologians, those Catholics for whom theology is both an ecclesial vocation and a profession, a means to support self and family, have gone unheard. Certainly it is this group that has the most at stake in respect to all decisions on the mandatum.

Edward V. Griffin, O.S.A. | 1/17/2007 - 12:39pm
Thank you for the new comic section in America (2/12). “Peanuts” has been taken away from us, but America has responded. I enjoyed the cartoon about the recently retired Navy chaplain. But I must say I got many more laughs from the hilarious article that surrounded it: the one explaining why the Rev. Richard P. McBrien is not seeking a mandate from any bishop to teach at a Catholic university. He suggests that the proper people are not being consulted and that, in his mind, the officers of the Catholic Theological Society of America should be recognized as the real “experts.” That one really wowed me. Then, when I read about how thoroughly sound the theological departments are at the universities with which he has been associated, I just doubled over with laughter. What a tremendous sense of humor that man has! Finally, at the end of the article, Father Richard indicates that he, of all people, is going to show us the middle way. I just about split my sides on that one.

Keep up the good work, America. Charlie Brown and Lucy were funny, but they were never like this.

Norbert J. Rigali, S.J.<BR>University of San Diego | 1/17/2007 - 12:30pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s presentation of reasons for not seeking a mandatum (2/12) seems to rival the proposed mandatum itself in its problematic character. Here I wish to note only two of the questionable aspects of the article.

1. The author wonders: “Why are the mandates limited to theologians,” while chemists, biologists, philosophers, etc. are let “completely off the hook”? And he goes on to say, “If we are really concerned about the Catholic character of our universities, we should be concerned about the whole faculty and the whole administration, not just the theology department.... Is it asking too much that the drive to insure Catholicity be itself catholic in scope?”

It is indeed a novel—even if unpersuasive—argument that the mandatum requirement is too narrow rather than too much. Anyone who has read either Ex Corde Ecclesiae or its “Application” by the U.S. bishops knows well that in these documents “the drive to insure Catholicity” encompasses very explicitly every aspect of a university. Account, of course, is taken in the documents of the variety of roles and functions within a university; consequently the drive toward Catholicity is seen as finding expression in many diverse but analogous ways within the university rather than exclusively in a single mode. With regard to the theology department, the “drive” is expressed as a drive to insure that the theology taught in the university corresponds to church teaching, and it issues in requiring a mandatum to teach theology.

One may or may not believe that with regard to theology departments the mandatum requirement is the best practical conclusion to be drawn from the premise of insuring Catholicity. But the suggestion that requiring the mandatum only within the theology department betrays a lack of concern for the Catholicism of other areas of the university cannot be taken seriously by anyone who attends to the official documents themselves and can grasp analogical thought.

2. Father McBrien acknowledges the need for the dialogue on the Application between bishops and university presidents to continue, but now “it will have to involve theologians.” The participating theologians are to be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (C.T.S.A.). Not only may bishops not select the theologians whom they are to consult; they also may not reject by veto any selection made for them by the C.T.S.A.

For several reasons it is noteworthy that, in the proposal, the C.T.S.A. should arrogate to itself exclusively the prerogative of choosing the theologians for the bishops to consult. First, one might reasonably expect that the bishops themselves would have at least some exercise of freedom in the matter. Second, the C.T.S.A. is not the only national professional society of theologians. Third, some theologians with the credentials and stature of an Avery Dulles, S.J., or a Matthew Lamb have averred publicly in recent years that not all theological voices are finding effective expression in the C.T.S.A.

On learning of Father McBrien’s proposal, the president of another national professional society of theologians, Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J., of the College Theology Society, wrote to America that this society, too, should be involved in the selecting of the theologians whom the bishops would consult. But so far a third national society, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, has apparently not sought to find a place in the group to appoint the theological consultors.

Father McBrien’s proposal would have greater credibility if it appeared more as the expression of a desire to see all theological viewpoints represented in the dialogue with the bishops rather than as the embodiment of a tendency to have one group of theologians in a position to determine which theological voices will be heard in the dialogue.

(Rev.) John Koelsch | 1/17/2007 - 4:29pm
The most critical issue in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae discussion is the con-tent and in-tent of a Catholic college’s religion courses, versus the more academic concept of theology as such. This issue—at least implicitly raised by the authors Denise Carmody, Katarina Schuth (1/28) and others, but sidestepped by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12)—deserves the further attention of America (and everyone else).

William M. Sullivan, S.J. | 1/17/2007 - 4:17pm
Thank you for publishing “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien (2/12).

One question intrigued me as I finished this timely and well reasoned article. What would Father McBrien do if he received from his local ordinary an unsolicited mandatum to teach theology? Accept it? Return it (with or without comment )? Discard it? File it under “M”? Or am I getting too far ahead of the scenario here?

Gregory Koster | 1/17/2007 - 2:00pm
Almost all the discussion of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (2/12) assumes that it will, one way or another, have as its intended effect to draw Catholic colleges and universities closer to the hierarchy. It seems more likely that it will have exactly the opposite effect. The more strictly the mandate requirement is applied, the more “Theology” departments will be renamed “Religious Studies” and the less the bishop will be consulted at all. Most Catholic colleges and universities in the United States are neither owned, run nor funded by the hierarchy. Their lay boards of trustees do not answer to the bishop, nor must they seek permission to use the word Catholic (when have you ever seen it followed by the mark ™?).

One prominent Catholic university already proclaims itself to be “in the tradition of” a certain religious community. What a wonderfully ambiguous phrase! “In the tradition” can mean present tense (the bishop is granting mandates freely) or past tense (back in the 50’s we had a lot of priests on the faculty).

If American Catholic colleges and universities follow the path set by Harvard and Princeton, it will be Ex Corde Ecclesiae that greased the slippery slope.

Steve Kurdziel | 1/17/2007 - 12:52pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien argues that the central reason not to seek a mandate is that “academic freedom and institutional integrity” cannot permit the introduction of “an external, non-academic agent” into essentially academic decisions of who may teach (2/12). How, then, would he distinguish the cases of medical schools where, for example, a professor of surgery may be required to have a valid license to practice medicine—something provided by the “external, non-academic agent” of a state medical board? Similarly, might the need for a valid professional license also exist for faculty members at other professional schools such as law, engineering or architecture. While Father McBrien rightly cites the principle of academic freedom, I would like to see some analysis on how such freedom is exercised now by professors also subject to professional licensing bodies not under the control of “the academic administration of a university and college [or] the chair or faculty of a department....”

Until such cases can be distinguished or discounted, I’m not sure the line is as bright as Father McBrien has drawn it.

Kenneth L. Woodward | 1/17/2007 - 1:07pm
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s main argument about Ex Corde Ecclesiae (2/12) is buried in his first paragraph. Why should he seek a mandate to teach theology when he already has one from The New York Times?

(Most Rev.) John Nienstedt<BR>Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit | 1/17/2007 - 12:56pm
I had difficulty understanding what ecclesiology the Rev. Richard P. McBrien employs to support the argument he raises in his article, “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12). That argument focuses around the claim that the bishop is “an external, non-academic agent” being inserted “in the internal, academic processes” of Catholic higher education. But if Catholic colleges and universities intend to promote the message and mission of the church, how can the bishop be “external” to that end? Are these institutions integral to the life of the church or not?

As a pastor of two parishes with grade and high schools, I never considered myself “external” to their operation or activities, even though I never tried to usurp the role of their administrators or teachers. Since the mission of those schools derived from the priorities of the parish community, the relationship between church and school was clear and compelling.

The history of Catholic colleges and universities is more complex than that of parochial grade and high schools, but there is no less reason for a clear relationship to exist between church and school if those colleges and universities intend to reflect and promote the mission of the church.

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are important components to be safeguarded, but they should not be used as fronts for ideological independence. If these institutions serve to promote the mission of the church, then there ought to exist a link to the Catholic community through its leadership in the office of the bishop.

Edward A. Burke | 1/17/2007 - 12:50pm
The assertion that “it is still unclear to everyone, including the bishops themselves, how the mandate will be implemented,” as the Rev. Richard P. McBrien states in “Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate” (2/12), assumes a woeful lack of creativity in the church. But it’s really not that difficult to foresee a workable scenario. For example, Catholic colleges and universities could indicate in their catalogues next to each theologian’s credentials that a mandate either was or was not sought and, if sought, whether it was granted.

This would arm parents and potential students with valuable foreknowledge, empower them to ask good questions of faculty members during the college search process and let them learn first-hand what personal principles prevent a person from seeking a mandate, or what has prevented a mandate from being granted. They could determine, for example, that a professor in question is a sincere genius whose orthodoxy is a bit askew. Or, they might discover that a theologian is merely on an ego trip, one with potential for leading students down a moral and intellectual blind alley.

With this approach, no academic freedoms or principles would be compromised, and no one would be reassigned, sued or fired. This remedy follows in the tradition of academic free inquiry and American democratic principles. It’s also in concert with Cardinal Newman’s hope that one day the laity be given a voice in church affairs. The final mandate, then, would rest with the consumers of higher education who, after careful examination of conscience, either ratify a college or university with their checkbook, or reject it and walk away.