Bishops Face Vote on Papal Document: Seek Balance between Academic Autonomy, Church Authority over Schools

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Bishops Face Vote on Papal Document: Seek Balance between Academic Autonomy, Church Authority over Schools


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


As the nation's Catholic bishops implement a papal document on religious identity at church-related universities, some lay groups want a tougher standard while educators still worry about academic autonomy.

Pope John Paul II issued "Ex corde Ecclesiae" ("From the Heart of the Church") in 1990 to resolve the tension between the doctrinal authority of local bishops and the academic freedom on campus, and now the bishops will approve guidelines to apply it.

But some Catholics say the "application" lacks teeth and want it voted down at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting Nov. 11-14 in Washington.

"The application document is general so it provides contact and dialogue in every local setting," said Bishop John J. Leibrecht, chairman of the bishops committee on the project. "There are more than 230 institutions. They are quite different from one another."

The seven pages of guidelines emphasize "the relationship of trust" between schools and church authorities. But at most the document calls for "regular dialogues," a periodic "internal review" and a following of established procedures in case of conflicts.

After debate, the bishops are likely to approve the document, Bishop Leibrecht said. One stimulus of debate may be a letter sent Oct. 28 to 100 bishops by the Cardinal Newman Society.

"We must state our profound concern with the committee's failure to fully implement some of the most important aspects of `Ex corde Ecclesiae,' " the letter said. The society was formed in 1993 by conservative Catholics to hold conferences and advocate nationally for more traditional aspects of Catholic identity on church-related campuses.

"We formed to show the bishops that there is more support [for the papal document] out there than it seems," said Mo Fung, executive director of the group. …

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Bishops Face Vote on Papal Document: Seek Balance between Academic Autonomy, Church Authority over Schools
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