MANASSAS, Va. — Recent remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI about Catholic higher education spurred the Manassas, Va.-based Cardinal Newman Society to issue a special report on the status of the mandatum’s implementation in U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.
Titled “A Mandate for Fidelity: Pope Benedict Urges Compliance With Theologians’ Mandatum,” the report features several key Church leaders and scholars calling for a renewed commitment to the Church’s canon law mandatum requirement for theologians who teach at Catholic colleges and universities.
Pope Benedict addressed the topic of Catholic higher education on May 5, during the ad limina visit by the bishops of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
“The report was prompted by Pope Benedict’s address to the bishops, in which he ties the mandatum directly to the work of colleges and universities to renew their Catholic identity,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.
The report suggests that the mandatum has largely been disregarded due to “scant information available about who has the mandatum and the procedures followed by individual bishops to grant or deny it.”
The canon law mandatum is a bishop’s acknowledgement of a theology professor’s declaration that they will teach in communion with the Church and her teaching authority, as required by Canon 812.
The Pope spoke of the mandate in the context of “a growing recognition on the part of Catholic colleges and universities of the need to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission in service of the Gospel.”
“Yet much remains to be done, especially in such areas as compliance with the mandate laid down in Canon 812 for those who teach theological disciplines,” said Pope Benedict.
“The importance of this canonical norm,” he continued, “becomes all the more evident when we consider the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership: Such discord harms the Church’s witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom.”
The Cardinal Newman Society report quoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, canon lawyer and prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, on the significance of the Pope’s recent words. “The Holy Father only has a limited number of occasions during these ad limina visits to speak with bishops,” Cardinal Burke said. “That he would devote one of the lengthier communications with the bishops to the subject [of the mandatum and Catholic higher education] certainly indicates to me that it is a serious concern on his part. … It would seem reasonable to me to think that the Holy Father brought it up because of a concern that it is not perhaps being implemented in the way that’s intended.”
Public or Private?
In 1983, Pope John Paul II approved the revised Code of Canon Law, including a section governing Catholic colleges and universities and the mandatum. He later issued the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) to guide the universities.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. bishops approved particular norms to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae in the U.S.
The bishops’ 1999 “Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States” included the requirement that Catholic theology professors at Catholic colleges and universities obtain the mandatum. The bishops’ “Guidelines for Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” which were issued in 2001, stated that “the mandatum is an obligation of the professor, not of the university.”
A 2011 doctoral dissertation survey of U.S. Catholic colleges and university leaders, conducted by James Caridi, vice president for student development at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, found that 42% of the respondents said they have neither a department nor a chair of Catholic theology, as required by Ex Corde Ecclesiae; 36% said they did not know whether their theology professors have the mandatum.
Ten years ago, an award-winning Register investigative series discovered that the mandatum was being treated as a private matter between the theologian and his or her local bishop, thus making it virtually impossible for students or their parents to know which professors had received it in good standing.
Students and parents’ only recourse was to contact individual members of the theology department to ask whether they had in fact received the mandatum, a request which faculty members were not always willing to share.
In essence, the manner in which the mandatum was being implemented, rather than renewing Catholic higher education, served only to hide dissenting theologians in a seemingly Church-sanctioned way.
Of the nation’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities, only a handful publicly disclose that their theologians have the mandatum.
The Register and the Cardinal Newman Society publish annual college guides that invite colleges and universities to be listed as a way of witnessing to their Catholic identity. However, many schools decline participation in the guide.
“We hear often from Catholic families who are distressed and confused by the secrecy at many Catholic universities regarding the mandatum,” said Reilly. “They believe they have a right as Catholics and consumers to know which professors are committed to authentic Catholic theology, and they are dismayed that any college course would be taught in shadows and darkness, least of all Catholic theology."
The primary concern of the theologians who do not publicly disclose whether they have the mandatum is that “it will diminish them in the esteem of the secular academic world,” noted Jesuit Father James Conn, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, who is currently serving as professor of the practice of canon law at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. “They feel that it would somehow diminish their academic freedom to be beholden to the ecclesiastical authority when their colleagues do not have to,” explained Father Conn.
Cardinal Burke, however, said that as a public declaration, in writing, the mandatum is a public act. “The fact that I teach in accord with the magisterium is a public factor,” said Cardinal Burke. “Ultimately, the mandatum gives that assurance to students that, if they enroll in a given college or university, they can count upon receiving a solid education in Catholic theology.”
“The reason for the law is a kind of truth in advertising,” said Father Conn. “Otherwise, it serves no purpose. Canon 812 was not meant to be a meaningless norm.”
Nothing in Canon 812 or in the American bishops’ approved norms or guidelines for implementing the mandatum states that it must be kept private or be made public.
Father Conn said that the U.S. application is the fruit of compromise between theological societies who lobbied against the mandatum, universities fearful of litigation and bishops who lacked the wherewithal to put teeth into the document.
“In the end, I think the U.S. application is a flawed document,” said Father Conn. “It should have answered all these questions.”
As a result, the degree to which it has been implemented varies greatly from diocese to diocese. Retired Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Elden Curtiss in 2003 advocated publicly disclosing recipients of the mandatum since 2001, when the U.S. bishops approved their mandatum guidelines. Archbishop Curtiss told theologians at the two institutions of higher education in his diocese that if they refused to sign the mandatum he would release their names. The archbishop told the Register in 2003 that all of the theologians had received the mandatum.
“The Holy Father’s intention was that the bishop would dialogue with the faculty and that they would show that they were in union with the Church and the teaching magisterium,” Archbishop Curtiss told the Register in 2003. The mandatum, in other words, was meant to work against dissent, not shield dissenters from view.
Who Should Disclose?
If neither the theologian nor the university wants to disclose which theology professors are teaching in concert with the Church, then who should? Some have advocated that it is up to the bishop to publicly disclose the information.
“The college should display its communion with the bishop by being the appropriate entity to publish the names of those college professors with or without the mandatum,” said retired Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino. “In the absence of the local college’s fulfillment of this act of ecclesial communion, the bishop should publish the names and keep them published and updated — for example, on a diocesan website, for future inquirers.”
Father Conn agreed.
“Who, then, is left to say who has the mandatum? The bishop,” said Father Conn. “The bishop does not have to say why or how. He simply has to say Yes or No.”
“I wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t want it to be public,” Capuchin Franciscan Father Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in the Newman report. “The whole point is public recognition that somebody is truly a Catholic theologian.”
Until the mandatum is implemented differently, few Catholic leaders see any hope for change. The report calls for greater accountability, and the mandatum is one way to do that, although it hasn’t been implemented well.
“Given the connection between the mandatum and an institution’s Catholic identity, how can colleges and universities simply ignore the mandatum?” asked Reilly. “We wanted to know: Why the mandatum is included in the canon law section on universities — and again in Ex Corde Ecclesiae — if it has no bearing on a Catholic institution’s responsibility to hire a qualified and committed faculty? Apparently, it does.”
Register senior writer Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.