Proposed Guidelines Spark Controversy at Catholic Schools

Some Administrators Fear Bishops’ Proposals May Threaten Universities’ Autonomy

By Tina Morin Hoya Staff Writer

A series of guidelines for U.S. Catholic colleges and universities drafted at last November’s National Conference of Catholic Bishops has started a controversy at many of the nation’s Catholic schools during the past few months. Debate centers on whether the guidelines would undermine the U.S. Catholic colleges autonomy; as written, the guidelines would significantly strengthen the connection between the church and the schools.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops reviews policy issues of the Catholic church in the United States.

The guidelines are currently being discussed by university officials and their local bishops. Universities will send their thoughts on the guidelines to a National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) Implementation Committee in May. That committee will then decide what to do with the guidelines.

The guidelines deal with ways to emphasize the Catholic identity of universities through their staff composition, campus ministry activities, relationships to both the church as a whole and local church officials and their missions as social institutions. Among the most contentious planks is a suggestion that as many faculty as possible be “faithful Catholics.”

It is still too early to determine what the impact of the guidelines might be or in what form, if any, they might be adopted by the NCCB. However, administrators from schools such as the University of Notre Dame, Fordham University and Boston College have already expressed concerns that if the guidelines are passed in their current form, their effects will be detrimental to Catholic academia in the United States.

Georgetown does not yet have any position on the guidelines, according to Dan Wackerman, Georgetown’s director of Media Relations. “By May, university presidents and officials can weigh in on their interpretation and assessment of the new draft of proposed norms, and that’s where we are now,” Wackerman said.

J. Donald Monan, S.J., chancellor of Boston College, and Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C, president of the University of Notre Dame, criticized the guidelines in an editorial that appeared in the Jan. 30 edition of America magazine.

“In summary, an NCCB approval of this draft document would be profoundly detrimental to Catholic higher education. The universities’ acceptance of the obligations spelled out here would mean the sacrifice of many of those prerogatives that make Catholic universities and their professional staffs the respected and influential members of the higher education communities they are,” Monan and Malloy wrote.

The guidelines were drafted as an effort to bring Catholic colleges in the United States into accordance with the norms established in a 1990 papal document called an apostolic constitution. The document, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” (“From the Heart of the Church”) outlines essential characteristics of Catholic universities and is concerned with promoting, maintaining and preserving the Catholic identity of these institutions. The U.S. bishops’ proposal was entitled “Ex Corde Ecclesiae: An Application to the United States.”

Terrence Toland, S.J., an NCCB Department of Education staff member and project director for the “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” Implementation Committee, told The Hoya that the U.S. bishops’ guidelines do not give control over universities to the bishops, nor do they stipulate that all faculty and staff be Catholic.

Stressing the importance of mutual dialogue, Toland said reports published by The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Associated Press have not portrayed the issue accurately, impeding the process of discussing the guidelines by setting up immediate barriers and eroding trust.

Further, Toland stressed that the current draft was really meant for discussion. “For discussion. That’s to be taken for what it is, and that’s where it is,” he said.

The draft does, however, state that Catholics who teach theology in a Catholic university are required to have a mandate granted by a competent ecclesiastical authority. This mandate is basically an acknowledgement by church authorities that the Catholic theology professors teach “within the full communion of the Catholic church,” according to the U.S. bishops’ document.

Monan and Malloy wrote that theology professors and some administrative officers would also be asked to make a profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity upon assuming appointment. In addition, a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education stated that, under the guidelines, theology professors at U.S. Catholic colleges “would take an oath of fidelity to the church.”

However, Toland said any discussion of an oath of fidelity has been in reference only to university presidents and would not apply to non-Catholics.

The draft also recommended that, as much as possible, Catholics should serve on the board of trustees and as president and faculty members of Catholic universities. In any case, anyone hired to a given university’s staff would be required to uphold and support the university mission statement and would be asked to participate in the religious life and activities of the university, the document says.

Toland said the church would continue to promote Catholic staff members and Catholic presidents at its universities. However, Catholic personnel would not be considered necessary, as long as the Catholic identity of the university was upheld, he said. “Whatever the mission of the institution is, you would expect the president to uphold it. There’s nothing unusual about that.”

Wackerman said that, for Georgetown, dialogue on the university’s Catholic identity is merely a part of the deep and ongoing discussion that Georgetown and the church have been engaging in since the university’s founding. “Our relationship with the church has been a topic of conversation since 1789. This is just another step in that path.”

According to Wackerman, University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. and other university officials meet regularly with Cardinal James Hickey, archbishop of Washington, D.C., and other church officials.

Monan and Malloy wrote as the conclusion of their editorial, “Given the exceptional consultative process employed in the development of Ex Corde Ecclesiae and in the drafting process for its application to the United States, we have every confidence that a document will emerge that fully safeguards the interests of both the universities and the church and newly advances both.”

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