Catholic Bishops Adopt College Norms: Document Focuses on Teaching at Schools, Protects Academic Freedom

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Catholic Bishops Adopt College Norms: Document Focuses on Teaching at Schools, Protects Academic Freedom


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


The nation's Catholic bishops yesterday adopted norms to enforce church teaching at its 235 colleges and universities, adding assurances that academic freedom and the secular credibility of the schools are protected.

"We have been at it a long time now," said Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield, Mo., recent chairman of the 10-year process. "There are still some tensions."

By a 223-31 vote, the bishops backed the document, which describes the ideal Catholic makeup of a school's leadership and requires theologians to cooperate with bishops. A two-thirds majority was required.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, considered a scholarly bishop, said the document is required by Rome and canon law, so its clarity should allow school presidents and theologians to "sleep better" at night.

In a lone voice in floor debate, however, Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland warned against its passage, saying the "tensions between hierarchy and theologians is probably the highest" it has been in nearly 40 years.

"Passing this document now will create a tremendous pastoral disaster," said Archbishop Weakland, a Benedictine scholar with liberal stances.

The bishops' document is an "application" for the United States of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," a 1990 papal decree on Catholic higher education. The bishops passed a more lenient application in 1996, but the Vatican sent it back for more precise rules for theologians and for campus leadership.

Now the norms require that a school have a Catholic president, a Catholic majority on the board, a policy to "recruit and appoint Catholic professors" and to ensure that non-Catholic faculty are positive to the school's mission.

In these sections, the bishops amended qualifiers such as "to the extent possible" and "as far as possible and appropriate" to be sensitive to secular laws on government loans, accreditation and employment discrimination.

The topic of most debate in the past three years has been the Vatican demand that the application state clearly that faculty teaching Catholic theology - "authentic Catholic doctrine" - must request a "mandatum," or mandate, from the local bishop. …

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