- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

The Catholic bishops of the United States have taken their most forceful step yet to ensure that theologians teaching at Catholic colleges and universities teach only "authentic Catholic doctrine."

The bishops have drafted a special commitment statement that theologians would be expected to sign as evidence of their doctrinal loyalty.

A draft of the statement was released this week at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual meeting, which ended yesterday. The draft is for review and is expected to be adopted for use by the middle of next year.

In one version of the draft, the theologian sends a signed statement to the bishop in whose diocese the school is located. It says, "I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church's magisterium," or teaching authority.

By signing, the theologian would earn the bishop's approval, or "mandatum," which the draft says would remain in effect "until it is withdrawn by competent ecclesiastical authority for just cause."

The bishops argue that the signed mandatum is not a threat to academic freedom because bishops and theologians share trust, and because church intellectual life is open to exploration.

"It's a little canonical procedure," said Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, who is chairman of drafting the documents. "You have to be formal to be clear."

While theologians have not dissented as a group over the mandatum, some journals have warned against the problems of trying to enforce "authentic" teaching.

"It's going to be a disaster," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, Jesuit editor of the weekly America. "Church teaching changes. Not long ago, the death penalty was acceptable, but now official teaching is against capital punishment."

The document comes after two decades of discussion between Catholic academics and Vatican officials on how to have academic freedom at Catholic institutions that present themselves as loyal to the teachings of the church.

The requirement that a theologian get approval from the local bishop goes back to a 1931 papal document on higher education, which said the bishops grant "canonical mission," or authority to teach in the name of the church.

That authority had been given so informally, however, that by the 1980s it was unclear how the status could be removed.

The 1983 revisions to the Code of Canon Law established Canon No. 812, which enabled bishops to retract the mission.

But the 1988 D.C. trial of the Rev. Charles Curran, a liberal moral theologian fired from Catholic University, showed that the existence of "canonical missions" were hard to prove or disprove in a legal dispute.

Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on education, "Ex corde Ecclesiae," required "a detailed procedure" for the mandatum.

This week, the eight-page document reviewed by the bishops established that procedure. It included mandatum "guidelines" plus a draft document bishops would use in granting the mandatum and another theologians might use in requesting it.

For theology, church history and canon law professors at the nation's 233 Catholic colleges and universities, the debate now concerns whether to request a mandatum in the next year or two.

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