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
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
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. …