Moment of Truth


By Robert Kumpel


In her convocation address on September 15, University of San Diego president Alice Hayes made ambiguous references to her 557-member faculty's Catholic identity: "Ex corde Ecclesiae [Vatican document on Catholic universities] advises us to try to maintain a Catholic majority on the faculty and board, and we have done so without setting any quotas or limitations on hiring, or developing a headcount mentality."


A quick headcount of the theology department indicates that many of the professors dissent from the magisterium of the Church. Feminist theology professor Maria Pilar Aquino is slated to address the national Call To Action conference November 5-7 in Milwaukee. Professors Gary Macy, Bernard Cooke, and Pauline Turner spoke at the West Coast Call to Action conference in August. While none of these professors were available for comment, several USD professors were asked if they openly supported the magisterium of the Catholic Church on issues such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality or if they could name any other faculty members who did.


Professor Joseph Colombo is the chairman of USD's department of theology and religious studies. When asked about Ex corde Ecclessiae , he was cautious: "I know the document, and I know the latest version of the implementation, but the official spokesperson of the university is Dr. Frank Lazarus, the academic vice-president and provost of USD. The issues regarding the implementation are not theological issues. It is my understanding that they [theology professors] would be required -- and I don't have the text in front of me -- if they're Roman Catholic and if they're teaching in theological disciplines -- to secure a mandate, a mandata, from the local bishop." Colombo was more evasive about his own willingness to take an oath of allegiance to the magisterium: "It would be premature -- and this is why I'm not going to answer that -- I need to see what a) the bishops and faculty, b) what Frank Lazarus, the provost and vice president and what Dr. Hayes, the president and what the board of trustees of the university on which sits the bishop of San Diego agree to regarding the implementation of whatever it is that the bishops do.


"So what I'm basically saying is, in the absence of an approved implementation agreement, in the absence of those who set policy for the university taking their stand, it would be irresponsible and probably a waste of time for me to sit and speculate on what I or anyone else would or could do.... I suspect that people are going to have to see the text of a particular oath if there is one. Again, I'm not sure that that's a requirement. In the latest edition of Ex corde I believe it is the president of the university who is required to take an oath. You would have to ask Dr. Hayes." (Neither Dr. Hayes nor Dr. Lazarus responded to a request for an interview.) Colombo added, "I can probably think of loads of people [who openly support the magisterium]. Alice Hayes. Frank Lazarus. Pat Drinan, the dean [of the College of Arts and Sciences]." When asked if he openly supported the magisterium of the church on the aforementioned issues, he asserted, "Of course, I do."


One USD employee who might take issue with Colombo's statement is Rosemary Getty, a secretary at USD Law School. Getty's son graduated from USD in 1986 and attended USD's law school from 1988 to 1991. "My son's experience with a teacher that he had was when he brought up questions about the church and the difference of opinion that the professor seemed to have [with the Church], the professor intimated to him [my son] that his background must have been very 'conservative'. He just put him right down and cut the conversation off like there was nothing allowed in the class. My son never talked in the class any more. He was just stopped. And I've heard this said by other students, that 'If my parents knew what kind of religious education I was getting here, they'd have me pulled out of here.'


"It starts out pretty much in the first year -- or at least it did in the past. Right now, I don't know, but the experience I've had here is that a lot of students have said that. I've heard it verbalized publicly, too in the Town Hall meetings from several students who had very bad experiences in theology. My friend and I, about 11 or 12 years ago, went to a meeting that open dissension was discussed from people in theology with sisters and priests sitting in the audience and everybody kind of laughing about it. They were quite open in their dissent with the Holy Father. I specifically remember Professor Colombo being one of those deriding the church's magisterium." Getty's friend, a USD secretary of 14 years, who asked to remain anonymous, remembers the meeting: "We wandered in by mistake -- it was a Religious Studies thing. They seemed to be having a great time dumping on the Pope. They were discussing something and someone said something like, 'What would the Pope think of that?' and someone else said -- I think it was one of the sisters, 'Who listens to the Pope, anyway?' They all tittered and laughed."


Getty believes that there is a lot of pressure being put on Dr. Hayes and Bishop Brom from both sides. "They're trying to walk the fence and do both sides at once.... The Holy Father and the bishops decide on a certain road, that's it. They're going to have to walk on that road or get off of it."


USD psychology professor Gerald Sperazzo says that he would have no problem taking an oath of fidelity to the magisterium of the church but insisted that he could not speculate about any other professors.


Ann Hendershott, a sociology professor, welcomes the idea of pledging her fidelity to the magisterium. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity to re-affirm my Catholic identity. I wouldn't have any problem, but I can understand why some would. They've [the faculty] talked about the threat to their academic freedom. I can't see that for myself. I'd like Catholic educators to see the positive part."


Joseph Darby, a professor at USD Law School, could not immediately think of anyone faithful to the magisterium on the faculty but did not want to give up hope. "Probably those people would be in the minority. They'd probably be in the minority if you were to poll most of the faculty at the university -- just going around to the different faculties. That's my guess. I would need some time to think about it." When asked if he openly supported the magisterium of the church, Darby's immediate reply was, "As far as I'm concerned, yes,"


Theology instructor and former vice-rector of the St. Francis Seminary Father Stephen Dunn did not want to discuss the magisterium or anyone's commitment to it: "I'm not free to give a comment of that nature. I'm just part of the adjunct faculty, invited to give lectures. You need to talk to some of the full-time faculty." When asked if he supported the magisterium on issues like abortion and homosexuality, he shook his head and insisted, "I'm not ready to be interviewed."


Father Steve Callahan, rector of St. Francis seminary, did not respond by press time to a request for an interview.


Sister Annice Callahan teaches Christianity and its Practice at USD. She would only say, "I'm not prepared to give you a response."


Dr. Thomas Leininger teaches Foundations of Catholic Theology and Foundations of Christian Ethics. He would only say, "You need to talk to the press office."


Dr. Terry McGoldrick, adjunct professor of theology, did not respond to a request for an interview.


Dr. Evelyn Kirkley, who teaches American Religious History said, "You would need to go through our department chair." When asked if she could speak for herself, she would only say, "No, I can't."


Dr. Helen de Laurentis of the Religious Studies Department did not hesitate to affirm her commitment to the magisterium: "You betcha. Sure I do. I can't think of anyone in the department who doesn't."


Dr. Patricia Plovanich teaches Christianity and its Practice and The American Catholic Experience at USD. Plovanich did not hesitate to support the faculty without specifically referring to their positions on the magisterium: "I've always regarded this faculty -- I'm not from San Diego, so I did not take making a move like this lightly. The work that I have done is specifically on tradition, magisterium.... I'm a person who has studied the work of German theologian, then bishop and now the second in command for the Congregation for Church Unity, Bishop Walter Kasper. His work is my work. It is my perception of this faculty that we are actually a rather conservative faculty -- that is, we take very long looks at the history of topics, the tradition of the Church and are very reluctant to take any overt position against what the official teaching of the church is. Though I have heard -- I have not spoken to people -- who believe that this particular theology department doesn't do that. But it has never been my particular experience that I or my colleagues would blatantly disregard the teachings of the magisterium. I think that what we generally do is refer quite specifically to bishops' documents and papal documents. And I think we're pretty faithful to those.


Father Ray Ryland taught theology at USD for 9 years before leaving in 1991. He now teaches at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. Ryland did not want to speculate about the faculty at USD but said, "I've taken the oath of loyalty here in Steubenville.... in 1992. Every professor of theology takes the oath -- gladly. We've been doing that here for years. We have a Mass at the beginning of each school year with the bishop, and all the new theology professors take an oath of fidelity to the magisterium."