By Tim SullivanHoya Staff Writer

A major board of U.S. Catholic officials voted this summer to ask all Catholic theology professors to adhere to a Vatican initiative that increases the control local bishops have over Catholic colleges and universities by requiring professors to obtain bishop approval in order to continue teaching theology.

The measure’s impact for Georgetown University, however, is still uncertain because Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Washington Archdiocese has yet to decide how it will be implemented in the area.

On June 15, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to approve guidelines for the creation of a “mandatum,” a written certificate of approval from the local bishop, attesting that a professor’s teaching is in accordance with official church teaching.

Possession of a mandatum, and thus official approval from the Catholic Church, would be officially recommended by the church for all Catholic theology professors.

According to the bishops’ statement, “The mandatum is fundamentally an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.” The mandatum would also recognize a Catholic professor’s “commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”

The magisterium is the church’s official teaching authority that, in conjunction with the Pope, determines church doctrine.

The statement grants most of the discretionary powers of implementation to the local bishop, in Washington’s case cCarrick.

Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Washington Archdiocese, said there is no specific timetable for cCarrick’s decision on how to enforce the bishops’ statement.

“We haven’t even sat down to talk about that,” she said.

Last spring, McCarrick said in a homily in Dahlgren Chapel that academic freedom is crucial to a Catholic university.

The statement from the bishop is part of an effort to implement an apostolic constitution, issued in 1990, one of the most authoritative of all papal documents, called Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which means “from the heart of the church.” The document, issued by Pope John Paul II, instructs local bishops to ensure that authentic Catholic doctrine is being taught in Catholic colleges and universities. It also acknowledges the importance of academic freedom to Catholic education.

The June bishops’ statement encourages local bishops to work with Catholic colleges and universities to determine how the mandatum should be implemented.

In a sample mandatum issued with the bishops’ statement, Catholic theology professors are asked to attest to the following statement: “I hereby declare my role and responsibility as a professor of a Catholic theological discipline within the full communion of the Church. As a professor of a Catholic theological discipline, therefore, I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”

In June, then-University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., said, “As the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the United States, Georgetown University is committed to preserving and enhancing our founding religious identity,” while also noting the establishment of a chair in Catholic Social Thought and the earmarking of funds for new ethics and faith initiatives.

“We have had considerable, campus-wide dialogue about Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the subsequent versions of the U.S. bishops’ implementation norms,” he said. “We look forward to more dialogue. We believe that this is the kind of issue that can be managed with full respect for the centrality of academic freedom in university life.”

Rev. Brian O. McDermott, S.J., the rector of Georgetown’s Jesuit community said,”At this point, I think it would be speculative to speak about the ramifications to GU, before the theology professors hear anything from Cardinal McCarrick,” cDermott said.

Acting Theology Chair William C. McFadden, S.J., agreed that it is too soon to tell what the specific ramifications would be, but said that there is a broad range of possibilities.

McFadden said the statement asks professors to “accurately and competently present Catholic doctrine” when they present the Catholic viewpoint in classes.

“The key to understanding it is this: what they are asking a professor to do is not to fail to present various views on a particular discussion,” he said. “They’re not saying that someone has to advocate a particular church position; that’s catechism.”

He also said that the burden is on the individual professor to obtain the mandatum, not the university or academic department.

McFadden said whether or not a professor has been granted a mandatum will not affect their employment at Georgetown. “We’re not even allowed to ask if somebody’s Catholic or not.”

McFadden also said any ruling by McCarrick would not affect or curtail the teaching of other religious traditions and would not limit questioning of Catholic viewpoints.

“I think its fair for [professors] to answer questions [about Catholic views] when someone asks them,” he said.

He stressed that in academic discussions of theology “the force of the argument is the coin of the realm.”

McFadden said beyond any requirement by the church, theology professors must represent Catholic views accurately, or they would not be “living up to the professional obligations of the Academy.”

He said the controversy surrounding the issuance of Ex Corde has resulted from university’s adverse reactions to being forced to do things that they would already do anyway as part of their academic responsibilities, like mandate accurate teaching.

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