Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Two Plans on Ex Corde Gain Support

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Two Plans on Ex Corde Gain Support

Article excerpt

Tough choices on Catholic colleges as bishops head into June meeting

The paper pile on Bishop John J. Leibrecht's desk is growing as his committee prepares to wrestle yet again with the relationship of U.S. Catholic colleges and universities to church officials and canon law.

"Can I answer in inches?" Leibrecht asked in response to an inquiry about proposals he has received in recent weeks. The proposals are aimed at influencing U.S. implementation norms for Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church"), Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic letter on higher education.

Academic leaders and U.S. bishops are engaged in last-ditch efforts to find a way around a decade-long deadlock over application of a canon law that has many academic leaders worried about outside controls. U.S. bishops will vote in November at their annual meeting on the third draft of the implementation norms.

Leibrecht of Springfield, Mo., heads the committee trying to hammer out a compromise among academics, bishops and Vatican officials. Some bishops and Vatican officials are insisting on strict application of Canon 812 in the church's Code of Canon Law. The canon, new to the 1983 code, requires theologians to have a mandate from the "competent ecclesiastical authority" -- usually a local bishop -- authorizing them to teach in a college or university.

More broadly, the task of Leibrecht's committee is to set standards for addressing the pope's concerns about Catholic identity at schools that describe themselves as Catholic -- standards acceptable to both church officials and U.S. academics who are deeply concerned about preserving institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Leibrecht said his stack of papers has mounted to about 3 inches and is still growing, although the May 1 deadline has passed. The stack includes two formal proposals that have gained the support of some academics.

Aimed at influencing the third draft of the implementation norms, the proposals will be among those to be considered when the committee begins its discussions with a conference call on June 2 and in a meeting in Washington June 28 and 29.

One of the two proposals was developed by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; the other by Holy Cross Fr. David T. Tyson, president of the University of Portland, Ore.

The association's proposal was sent to Leibrecht with a letter of support from the presidents of three Catholic scholarly societies: the Catholic Theological Society of America, the College Theology Society and the Catholic Biblical Association.

Leibrecht said he expects a subcommittee draft presented to bishops at their meeting last year -- and widely unacceptable to academics -- to be amended in coming months.

The subcommittee draft was prepared under the direction of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua after the Vatican rejected a previous draft approved overwhelmingly by U.S. bishops in 1996. The most controversial provisions of the second draft call for theology professors to have a "mandate" from the local bishop, for presidents of Catholic colleges and universities to publicly recite a profession of faith and oath of fidelity, and for a majority of faculty and trustees at a given school to be "faithful Catholics."

Academics who object say the provisions undermine academic integrity by raising the specter of outside control, that they may subject schools to lawsuits and loss of government funds and that they are generally unworkable in today's multicultural context.

Both new proposals -- Tyson's and the academic association's -- sidestep the objectionable provisions, including strict application of Canon 812.

Tyson's proposal suggests that as universities prepare for their 10-year accreditation review, a familiar process on every campus, they also conduct "a further review ... in light of the themes of the apostolic constitution and the general norms established by the Holy Father" in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. …

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