Signs of the Times

Theologians Urge National Procedure for Mandatum

A committee of the Catholic Theological Society of America has urged national review and appeal procedures if a U.S. bishop wants to withhold or withdraw a theologian’s mandatum. In a 61-page report the committee expressed strong continuing reservations about the desirability of the mandatuma bishop’s clearance for a Catholic theologian to teachin the United States. It said, however, that if the bishops go ahead with their plans to establish a system of granting and withdrawing the mandatum, it should be based on a presumption of [the theologian’s] full communion with the church. A procedure to deny or withdraw the mandatum should be initiated only if there is weighty evidence against that person’s willingness to teach in communion with the church, it said. The full report is available at

The report said that in view of the serious difficulties many have with the mandatum, many theologians committed to ecclesial accountability may nonetheless decide against requesting one.... The fact that a theologian decides not to seek a mandatum ought not to be interpreted as a sign of infidelity.


Recognizing that the bishops are planning to implement the mandatum, the committee urged that when a bishop is considering the denial or withdrawal of a mandatum, his inquiry should be limited to:

Issues reasonably within the theologian’s disciplinary specialization or teaching assignments.

Public statements and writings, not a theologian’s private views on issues about which he or she has not publicly written or spoken.

Areas where church teaching is clear and definitive, not where disagreement or debate is legitimate.

The committee recommended establishment of a national list of experts in all theological fields, drawn up by the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, from which an appropriate panel of experts could be appointed to review the adequacy of a candidate’s theological views if the bishop and the theologian are not able to resolve differences on their own.

The mandatum should not be refused or withdrawn if the experts find the candidate’s views orthodox or if the candidate takes appropriate actions recommended to correct the points of difficulty, the report says.

If the matter is not resolved at that level, the report says that before a bishop denies or revokes the mandatum, the Committee on Doctrine should be notified and the theologian should have an opportunity to appeal the decision to a panel composed of two bishops from the committee and a theologian chosen by the committee.

Pope Reassures Reformed Leaders on Ecumenism

After an alliance of Protestant churches criticized a Vatican document as ecumenically insensitive, Pope John Paul met with alliance representatives and underscored the Catholic Church’s commitment to improving ecumenical relations. The commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is irrevocable, he told members of a formal dialogue commission of Catholics and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches meeting on Sept. 13-19 outside Rome.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches said it had considered canceling that meeting after the Vatican released a document on Sept. 5 reiterating church teaching that the church of Christ...continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church. The declaration, titled Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, said some Christian denominationsthose without a Catholic-recognized Eucharist and ordained ministryare not properly speaking churches.

Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches, expressed dismay and disappointment with the declaration and said it seems to go against the spirit of Vatican II, as we understand it. In a letter dated Sept. 8 to Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Nyomi said the alliance interpreted the document as part of a sustained effort by Catholic conservatives to deny the growing relationship and respect between and among the different ecclesial communities.

Pope John Paul greeted the commission members on Sept. 18 as dear friends and said the commission’s dialogue has already led to significant results. He said a significant part of theological dialogue was to clarify our respective positions and explore the reasons for our differences.

Etchegaray in China Emphasizes Church Defense of Rights

A top Vatican official, on his third trip to China, underlined the Catholic Church’s commitment to defending human rights and religious freedom. In an address on the opening day of a symposium in Beijing on Sept. 14-16 on religions and peace, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Vatican’s jubilee committee, said fear of the other was often at the root of conflicts. Calling for open acknowledgment of differences as complementary destinies in the service of the common good, the cardinal urged that interreligious respect go beyond simple tolerance. Although the Vatican characterized his visit as personal, the pope has often sent Etchegaray as an unofficial emissary to places where Vatican diplomats could not go. Church sources said Cardinal Etchegaray would likely meet with top officials of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which rejects papal authority and appoints its own bishops.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities arrested two bishops and a priest of the underground Catholic Church in mid-September, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. In separate raids in the southeastern province of Jiangxi on Sept. 14, police arrested 81-year-old Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu of Yu Jiang, Auxiliary Bishop Deng Hui and the Rev. Liao Haiqing, the news agency said on Sept. 15.

Vatican Official Says Land Mine Treaty Shows World Can Disarm

The widespread adoption and implementation of the international treaty banning land mines shows the world community can take effective steps toward disarmament, a Vatican official said. Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello told representatives of nations that have signed the 1997 treaty that it is a sign to the world, too often a passive spectator before inhuman armed conflicts, that progress in disarmament is possible. The archbishop also told the representatives, who met in Geneva on Sept. 11-15, that the Vatican wants to encourage the countries which still hesitate to adhere (to the treaty) to review their position. The United Sates is not a signatory to the treaty.

Witnesses Clash Again Over Stem-Cell Research

For the second time in five months, Hollywood celebrities squared off with lesser-known Americans before a Senate subcommittee on Sept. 14 over human embryonic stem-cell research. The actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, and the actress Mary Tyler Moore, who has diabetes, asked the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education to approve legislation quickly for government funding of stem-cell research involving aborted fetuses and discarded embryos. Among those speaking against the proposed Stem Cell Research Act of 2000 were a paralyzed motivational speaker from California and two men with diabetesa Lutheran pastor from Missouri and the chief scientific officer for a North Carolina company that is developing treatments for diabetes from adult stem cells.

Cardinal Asks Italy to Favor Catholic Immigrants

An Italian cardinal, sparking new controversy in a long-running debate on immigration, called on the government to favor Catholic immigrants over those of other religionsparticularly Muslimsin order to protect the national identity. The criteria for admitting immigrants cannot be only economic, said Cardinal Giacomo Biffi of Bologna. It is necessary that one seriously concerns oneself with saving the identity itself of the nation. The 72-year-old cardinal’s remarks provoked fierce criticism from the government and drew praise from opposition parties.

Cardinal Biffi said Muslim immigrantscurrently estimated at more than 35 percent of Italy’s foreign residentsare less easily integrated into Italian culture. He noted differences in diet, holy days, family structure and treatment of women. Above all, he continued, they have a rigorously integralist vision of public life, so that perfect unity between politics and religion is a part of their unquestionable and unrenounceable faith. He said immigration policy should instead favor Catholics seeking to start a new life in Italy. And there are many: Latin Americans, Filipinos and Eritreans, he said.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, called Cardinal Biffi’s comments wise and urged the media not to distort his words [or] misinterpret his thoughts. As quoted in the Sept. 15 edition of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Cardinal Sodano said Cardinal Biffi was not encouraging the indiscriminate exclusion of any immigrant.

But retired Bishop Antonio Riboldi of Acerra, near Naples, said Cardinal Biffi’s appeal reflected a fear of Islam in certain sectors of the Italian clergy. He acknowledged that the surge of immigration posed problems of integration but said that it is certainly not resolved by transforming the state into a sentinel of Catholic orthodoxy.

Emmy-Winning Actress Is Chair of Feminists for Life

When actress Patricia Heaton, in accepting her Emmy Award on Sept. 10, thanked God for thinking me up and my mother for letting me come out, the remark was more than just words. Heaton, who plays Debra Romano in the CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond, is also honorary chair of the pro-life organization Feminists for Life. It sounded like a group I wanted to be in, Heaton said. Their focus is the most appropriate approach to a very difficult subject.

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