By Patricia Rice/ Post-Dispatch Religion
St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
MISSOURI BISHOP JOHN J. Leibrecht won wide acclaim here Wednesday for gracefully steering the National Catholic Bishops through what could have been rough waters.
He presented and got bishops to approve a document mandating a new, closer relationship between American bishops and Catholic colleges and universities in their dioceses. The document was an American response to a 1990 mandate of Pope John Paul II.
"It goes way beyond the relationship of a theologian and the bishop," said Leibrecht. "It's about developing Catholic intellectual traditions. For example, in a society that is as individualist as ours, Catholics' strong concern for the common good can contribute much to the culture." With only six dissenting votes, 224 bishops approved the six pages of requirements aimed to ensure that campuses had a Catholic identity, adhering to solidly Catholic theology and ideals of social justice teaching. In the past in many dioceses, the presidents of these schools, which often were run by religious orders, reported directly to superiors in Rome and made little more than ceremonial nods toward local bishops. Leibrecht, former superintendent of the St. Louis archdiocesan schools, is now bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese. The new mandates were passed Wednesday, the third day of the 52nd general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and United States Catholic Conference. The meeting closes today at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The group's executive committee is expected to meet with President Bill Clinton today or tomorrow to present their concerns about economic justice, diminishing overseas aid, abortion - especially partial birth abortion - and assisted suicide. But, the Catholic university issue was the one that most engaged the bishops in discussion. The average student on the campus of St. Louis University or Fontbonne College is not likely to notice the difference, educators say. However, faculty may. The mandates are unlikely to restrain academic freedom, as Ca tholic educators had feared in 1990 when Leibrecht was given the task of interpreting the pope's mandate for an American setting. "The bishop cannot fire a tenured theologian or hire a theologian," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Jesuit Theological Center, at Georgetown University. "The bishop can say that theologian's teaching is not Catholic teaching - like the surgeon general's warning." Leibrecht and his committee spent six years developing an American response to the pope's mandate, which is called "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" - "From the heart of the church. …