- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002


A deadline looms Saturday that could ignite a smoldering conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and theologians over the teaching of theology at the nation's 235 Catholic colleges and universities.

The winners and losers won't be immediately clear, but in coming years jobs and the shape of Catholic higher learning may be at stake.

Acting on instructions from the Vatican, U.S. bishops have ordered Catholics who teach their faith's doctrine, morality, Scripture, law or history at Catholic schools to obtain a "mandatum" from the bishop of the diocese where the college is located.

The document, which the bishops agreed should be obtained by June 1 this Saturday attests that the theologian teaches Catholic doctrine.

While some, such as the orthodox Cardinal Newman Society, have hailed the mandatum, opponents have derided the requirement as a "loyalty oath." Faculty have complained it tramples their academic freedom.

The penalties dissenters face is uncertain.

Some bishops warned their colleagues last year they couldn't enforce the requirement. But schools could use the mandatum in rating faculty; it has already affected hiring on at least one campus.

By design, the process is secret, a private matter between each theologian and bishop. For that reason, no one knows how many mandatums have been granted.

Estimates of Catholics teaching religious subjects on church-affiliated campuses range from 300 to more than 800 priests, nuns and lay professors.

"Everything will depend on the chemistry between a local bishop and the local institutions," said William Loewe, who teaches at the Catholic University of America and heads the College Theology Society. "That leads to a whole wide range of outcomes."

In his 1990 edict "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," Pope John Paul II called for certifying professors as a way to bolster the religious character of Catholic campuses worldwide.

Despite opposition from many American professors and academic groups, the U.S. bishops' conference agreed to require the mandatum and put procedures in place last year. But the bishops gave themselves latitude.

Each bishop can word the mandatum as he likes. He can let theologians seek one, or he can issue them unasked. Even this week's deadline is not absolute, and the guidelines leave any related hiring and firing to the schools.

The Rev. Dan Pattee at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio displays his mandatum in his office. All 12 of his fellow professors, most of them laity, also got one, he said.

"I don't think the mandatum is asking us to do anything new," Father Pattee said, wondering why anybody would refuse one. It's "just kind of formalizing things that Catholic theologians have already been doing for centuries."

Franciscan University requires new hires to get a mandatum, and last year the school rejected a job candidate who declined.

This is what the Cardinal Newman Society wants all Catholic colleges to do, said Patrick Reilly, its president. The mandatum, he said, should serve as "the necessary accreditation to be a Catholic theologian."

That's not the common view, however. Many academics view the requirement with concern.

"I hope nobody's going to lose their job over it, but it is possible," said Monika Hellwig, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and a theologian. "Self-appointed censors [could] give the bishops a hard time and write to Rome behind their backs."

But Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, a Boston College theologian, said the clergy sex scandal is dominating the bishops' minds. "I don't think they're thinking about the mandatum."

Sister Hinsdale said Boston Cardinal Bernard Law told her faculty he wouldn't ask them to seek mandatums. The Rev. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman, said Cardinal Law has yet to reply even to those who did request one.

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