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No Longer Catholic

by Tim Drake

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  • Description:
    It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good Catholic college these days, particularly because so many Catholic colleges are Catholic in name only. Despite the call of Pope John Paul II to these colleges to regain their Catholic identity, many bishops have yet to require the mandatum from even their theology professors. In this essential article Tim Drake exposes the deeds and misdeeds of so-called Catholic colleges in the United States, with an excellent examination of the goals of Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
  • Larger Work:
    This Rock
  • Pages: 6 - 14
  • Publisher & Date:
    Catholic Answers, Inc., El Cajon, CA, November 2005

Choosing a Catholic college is no easy task these days. Even Mark Hinchliff, a Princeton graduate and a professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, finds it difficult to determine which Catholic schools are authentically Catholic. A convert, Hinchliff is under some pressure to figure it out, as the oldest of his five children is now seventeen. "I'd like to interest my daughter in a couple of good Catholic schools, but I'm starting from near total ignorance," Hinchliff admitted.

He's not alone. With the increasing secularization of the majority of the nation's 219 Catholic colleges and universities, it's becoming more and more difficult for Catholic parents to know whether they are getting what they are paying for.

That secularization, experts say, began with the 1967 Land O' Lakes Conference. University presidents and administrators at that conference declared that "the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself." (See sidebar.)

As a result, the ownership of many Catholic universities originally founded by religious orders and communities was handed over to lay boards of trustees.

Although Pope John Paul II vigorously addressed the issue of Catholic higher education and especially the loss of Catholic identity in his 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church"), Catholic parents and students are no closer today to knowing which theology professors are teaching authentic Catholic doctrine. Three years after the U.S. deadline for bishops to require the mandatum (see sidebar), some bishops have yet to require it or even grant it when theology professors have requested it voluntarily. Moreover, some bishops and theologians have decided that the issue is a private matter; in other words, parents and students have no right to know whether a professor has agreed to teach in union with the Church.

Bill Banchy of Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote personal letters to each of the sixty-eight theologians at three Ohio Catholic universities — the College of Mount St. Joseph, the University of Dayton, and Xavier University — to ask if they had obtained the mandatum.

Banchy's enquiry was met with resistance and hostility. Only thirteen of the sixty-eight theologians responded. Of those, only three said they had received the mandatum.

"The others scolded me for interfering where they felt I had no business," said Banchy.

John Paul II reiterated his call for fidelity to the Church's teachings on college campuses during a June 24, 2004, visit by U.S. bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Anchorage, Alaska.

The Holy Father said, "The Church's educational institutions will be able to contribute effectively to the new evangelization only if they clearly preserve and foster their Catholic identity. This means that the content of the education they impart should make constant reference to Jesus Christ and his message as the Church presents it in her dogmatic and moral teaching."

Quoting the U.S. bishops' document Application of 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae' in the United States, he continued, "By their very nature, Catholic colleges and universities are called to offer an institutional witness of fidelity to Christ and his word as it comes to us from the Church, a public witness expressed in the canonical requirement of the mandatum."

Nevertheless, historically Catholic colleges often find themselves host to a variety of less-than-Catholic teachings and activities. This past February, at least twenty-seven Catholic universities hosted Eve Ensler's offensive play The Vagina Monologues. Sixteen schools defied the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement on "Catholics in Political Life" by hosting pro-abortion commencement speakers. The U.S. school named after Mary — the University of Notre Dame — has twice hosted a Queer Film Festival, despite the objections of the local ordinary, Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

One of the few organizations focused exclusively on the renewal of Catholic higher education is the Cardinal Newman Society, based in Manassas, Virginia. Founded in 1993 by Patrick Reilly, the non-profit society has been successful in drawing attention to the secularization of the nation's schools and calling for Catholic institutions to embrace their Catholic identity.

Fighting the Good Fight

Reilly is no stranger to controversy. His battle for authentically Catholic colleges began while he was still a junior at Fordham University, New York's Jesuit college. Reilly served as editor of the student newspaper, The Ram, and was also active in the campus's student pro-life group.

There, faced with the creation of a pro-abortion student organization on campus, he witnessed first-hand one school's caving to the "spirit of the age."

"I caught wind that students were planning to ask for funding and formal recognition for a pro-abortion club," said Reilly. "So I set up a meeting with the university president, Fr. Joseph O'Hare. I asked him point-blank if he was going to allow students to set up such a club. He told me, 'No, that sounds totally inappropriate.'"

Yet the following semester, the club was approved and the president released a statement saying that Catholics could disagree on matters of public policy with regard to abortion.

That's when Reilly began defending the faith, writing opinion columns such as "Pro-Choice Is No Choice at a Catholic University" in the student newspaper.

Soon after the approval of the pro-abortion club, Fordham recognized and funded a student homosexual group in clear opposition to Catholic Church teaching.

Everything came to a head in early 1991.

"Fordham chose Marion Wright Edelman as the commencement speaker," said Reilly. Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, was a close ally of Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider. "I mailed out letters to the parents of all of the graduating seniors to tell them what was happening and asked them to call the school to protest."

According to Reilly, the school received many telephone calls. In response, the university changed the locks on the newspaper office door and wouldn't allow Reilly to gather his personal belongings until after commencement.

"They were worried I was going to use the newspaper to protest the commencement activities. So much for academic freedom," said Reilly. "After I graduated they allowed me to enter the offices, escorted, to get my stuff out."

After graduation, Reilly continued to mail Fordham alumni and donors information about the university's activities. Within a year after Reilly's graduation, Fordham discontinued its support for both groups and didn't allow them to reapply, saying that neither group had hosted the required number of activities.

Reilly's activities as a student served as tremendous preparation for beginning his work with the Cardinal Newman Society. Today, Reilly puts those experiences to use in addressing issues at Catholic college campuses across the country.

In addition to the organization's annual protests of the staging of Ensler's play and inappropriate commencement speakers, the organization has helped nearly two dozen independent student newspapers get started on college campuses and has led and initiative to foster eucharistic adoration on campuses. Last year the organization released the results of a five-year investigation demonstrating Catholic colleges' support for the "culture of death," citing schools that refer students to abortion businesses through their health services or the schools' web sites.

"We see our work as a form of housecleaning," said Reilly. "First, you clear away the obvious debris. The next step is to scrub away the dirt."

A statistic from a Higher Education Research Institute study shows the importance of Reilly's work.

The study, conducted by the University of California-Los Angeles, showed that Catholic students' moral views were weaker, rather than stronger, after four years on a Catholic college campus. At thirty-eight of the Catholic colleges surveyed, 37.9 percent of Catholic freshmen said in 1997 that abortion should be legal. Four years later, as seniors, 51.7 percent supported legalized abortion.

Hope on the Horizon?

One promising development at Catholic institutions of higher learning over the past few years has been a trend to declare formerly Catholic colleges no longer Catholic. This has happened at at least four schools to date. Reilly believes it will happen at more.

Ex Corde gives local bishops the responsibility for determining whether colleges can be described as "Catholic." Schools established prior to 1990 are assumed to be Catholic unless a bishop declares otherwise.

In 2003, Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NewYork, was declared "no longer Catholic" by Edward Cardinal Egan. Nazareth College and Saint John Fisher College, both in Rochester, New York, were declared no longer Catholic by Bishop Matthew Clark.

In May 2005, protests over Marymount Manhattan College's May 20 commencement address by pro-abortion Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton led to a dispute over whether Marymount is Catholic.

For the past forty years, the school has been listed in P. J. Kenedy & Son's Official Catholic Directory, a sourcebook identifying Catholic organizations for the purposes of grant foundations. Inclusion in the directory occurs only after an institution has submitted considerable paperwork to diocesan officials. No information can be added or removed from the directory without permission by a diocese. Yet, despite the school's listing, Marymount itself says that it has not been Catholic since the 1960s.

"Marymount Manhattan College is an independent, non-sectarian, private liberal arts college," said Margaret Minson, vice president for institutional advancement at Marymount.

Reilly described the college's inclusion in the directory as misleading.

"If you're in the directory, your bishop officially recognizes your entity as Catholic," said Reilly. "Some Catholic foundations will give grant dollars only to organizations listed in the directory. It's in the school's best interest to keep its identity vague. If it remains vague, they can continue to get funds from the alumni who don't realize how much the school has changed."

The publication director for the Official Catholic Directory said she didn't see how a forty-four-year-old oversight could be possible.

"I've been the editor of this book for twenty-four years," said Jeanne Hanline, publication director for the directory. "If they're saying they haven't been Catholic since the 1960s, I would have to scratch my head here."

"The salient fact is that Marymount Manhattan College was identified as Catholic in the Official Catholic Directory throughout its history," said Reilly. "There is no point in disputing who is responsible for the listing, but everyone agrees that the college is non-sectarian. It is not Catholic and any confusion about its identity is now ended."

With the election of a new pope, Reilly wonders whether more institutions might shed their claim to be Catholic.

"This has been decades in the making," said Reilly. "It wouldn't surprise me at all if Ex Corde isn't taken to the next step under Pope Benedict XVI."


What is the mandatum?

"The mandatum is fundamentally an acknowledgment by Church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is a teacher within the full communion of the Catholic Church. The mandatum, therefore, recognizes the professor's commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church's magisterium. The mandatum should not be construed as an appointment, authorization, delegation or approbation of one's teaching by Church authorities. Those who have received a mandatum teach in their own name in virtue of their baptism and their academic and professional competence, not in the name of the bishop or the Church's magisterium" ("Guidelines concerning the Academic Mandatum in Catholic Universities," U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Who is required to have the mandatum?

"All Catholics who teach theological disciplines in a Catholic university are required to have a mandatum" (ibid).

Who grants the mandatum?

The mandatum is to be granted by the local bishop.


Benchmarks of Catholicity

In a July 5 interview with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Michael Miller, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education and the former president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, identified some possible "benchmarks of Catholicity":


Where the Catholic Colleges Are

According to the National Catholic Register, the following U.S. Catholic universities have advertised that all of their Catholic theology professors have the mandatum (their bishop's recognition of their pledge to teach in communion with the magisterium of the Church).

Canon 812 of the Code of Canon Law reads: "It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandatum from the competent ecclesiastical authority."

Oath of Fidelity Schools

These schools' theology faculties have taken fidelity oaths in lieu of the mandatum. Both are in dioceses where the local bishop has not offered the mandatum.

Here are the additional institutions that wrote to the Register asking to be added to the mandatum list or that parents / others told us to add. Those with an asterisk we are reasonably certain can be added to the list. For obvious reasons, it's difficult to ascertain the mandatum status at some of the other schools. There isn't a single person who can be called to answer the question, and most of them do not advertise their status with regard to the mandatum.


Achieving the Goals of Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities by Pope John Paul II on August 15, 1990, I, like many bishops, have been intensely engaged in a dialogue on the application of this document to Catholic colleges and universities in this country . . .

The Mandate

What is actually said in Ex Corde Ecclesiae itself concerning the mandate is very brief:

In ways appropriate to the different academic disciplines, all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to and all other teachers are to respect Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching. In particular, Catholic theologians, aware that they fulfill a mandate received from the Church, are to be faithful to the magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (ECE 4, norm 3).

First, it must be said that the goal of the mandate is eminently pastoral. It is deeply rooted in the Second Vatican Council, where the responsibility of the bishop to see that the faith is taught accurately in his diocese is addressed. In the Council itself, we find the ecclesial basis for the mandate. Bishops are told to "make the faith shine forth, drawing from the storehouse of revelation, new things and old" (cf. Matt. 13:52); "they make it bear fruit and, with watchfulness, they ward off whatever errors threaten their flock" (Lumen Gentium 24).

The individual bishop in a diocese has the canonical and pastoral responsibility, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to guard the deposit of faith and to see that it is accurately preached and taught. He is charged with "watchfulness." Pope John XXIII, at the outset of the Second Vatican Council, declared that this was at the very heart of the purpose of the Council.

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught (Pope John XXIII, Opening address to the Council [October 11, 1962]) . . .

The mandate then is essentially pastoral. It is also related to a right: the right that the students have to receive the fullness of revealed truth in a cohesive and comprehensive manner, in a way that is properly sequenced and is faithful to the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To understand the issue fully, we must also examine the goal of the mandate from the mission of the theologians. It is at the same time simple but profound. Theologians are asked twice in Ex Corde Ecclesiae to be "faithful." Faithful to what? Theologians are called to be faithful to the principles of their science and to the magisterium of the Church as the authoritative interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (cf. ECE 29 and norm 4.3). The call of both bishop and theologian then is to fidelity; both are called to be faithful to revealed truth.

The mandate also presumes, and wishes to foster, appropriate reciprocity as necessary to a constructive relationship between the pastoral role of the bishop and the research and teaching role of the theologian. The Pope shows the importance of this relationship.

Theology has its legitimate place in the university alongside other disciplines. It has proper principles and methods that define it as a branch of knowledge. Theologians enjoy this same freedom as long as they are faithful to these principles and methods. Bishops should encourage the creative work of theologians. They serve the Church through research done in a way that respects theological method. They seek to understand better, further develop, and more effectively communicate the meaning of Christian revelation as transmitted in Scripture and Tradition and the Church's magisterium. They also investigate the ways in which theology can shed light on specific questions raised by contemporary culture. At the same time, since theology seeks an understanding of revealed truth whose authentic interpretation is entrusted to the bishops of the Church, it is intrinsic to the principles and methods of their research and teaching in their academic discipline that theologians respect the authority of the bishops and assent to Catholic doctrine according to the degree of authority with which it is taught. Because of their interrelated roles, dialogue between bishops and theologians is essential; this is especially true today, when the results of research are so quickly and so widely communicated through the media (ECE 29).

At the same time, Catholic educators on all levels and especially at the university level — in all fields including theology — have been urged by the Church to keep in close contact with their own times and to have a "lawful freedom of inquiry." . . .

Academic Freedom: Are There No Limits?

My response to the academicians, which I have put forward at our national and international meetings and at our local dialogues, is as follows. Are you making academic freedom an absolute? And, if not an absolute, then where are the parameters to this freedom? Does not every discipline have parameters and limits? More to the point for Catholic theology, what are these limits — and, more specifically, what is the relationship between a Catholic theologian in a university and the magisterium — that is, the Church's teaching office? . . .

The principles and goals of the mandate seek to repair a link that should never have been weakened: the link between the Church's teaching office and the work of the theologian in the university. Surely, then, the goal that the mandate wishes to achieve — appropriate reciprocity between the bishop and the theologian — is both noble and pastorally necessary. Failure to repair this link will harm theology and could impair the pastoral ministry of the bishop. We are dealing here with critical matters . . .

Catechetics and Theology: A Claim Not Proven

I believe it is necessary to address another concern that has been raised within the theological community. It is sometimes claimed that restoring appropriate reciprocity between theologian and bishop would reduce theology in the university to catechetics. But this claim does not seem to me to be tenable, for this reciprocity, properly understood, is intrinsic to Catholic theology. Indeed, the role of the catechist and the theologian cannot be placed against each other for both, while having different responsibilities, are the servants of revealed truth and both seek to communicate revealed truth.

In catechetics and in theology, it is not the academy that is the ultimate criterion of truth. Rather, it is Scripture, Tradition and the teaching of the magisterium that is the standard. Also, sound catechesis is greatly helped by the research of theologians.

It is important to note that those closely acquainted with the present pastoral situation know well that many students are at the college level today with an inadequate knowledge of their faith. They need first to be more fully catechized before they can grasp the principles of the craft of theology. Thus, the theology department and a theologian in the Catholic college or university is not without catechetical responsibility. In response to this, some Catholic colleges and universities have begun to increase the catechetical component of their institution and have recognized that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is far from elementary and is well suited to advanced courses in Christian doctrine on the college level . . .

What Kind of Dialogue

One of the difficulties of the road of dialogue in the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae is that it can be seen as simply a stalling tactic, an unwillingness to face the difficult issues. My response to that concern is that the bishop must not let this happen. It is primarily his responsibility to see that the dialogue remains substantive and fruitful. So, I find it necessary to offer several characteristics of this dialogue:

Such a dialogue reflects the breadth and depth of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, for that document embraces the whole community of scholars and teachers.

The time to work together to strengthen Catholic identity and apply the immense richness contained in Catholic teaching is at hand. Students are hungering for it. The local bishop is welcome on most campuses as pastor, preacher, and friend. Meeting with his co-workers on campus, he can help the university strengthen its Catholic identity. This will be more difficult in some places than in others. Reform and renewal in the Church — whether of a diocese, a parish, a university or a theology department — is a work of grace, and the works of grace usually take time . . .

A Personal Note

There is one reason above all others why I have prepared these reflections. It relates to my vocation as a bishop. Central to that vocation is fidelity to the successor of Peter. Two of the eight solemn promises that a bishop makes on the day of his episcopal ordination place on him the sacred responsibility to keep close and obedient communion with the Holy See. The promises and the responsibilities they call forth are central to my vocation and to my life, as they must be for every bishop. This commitment has been deepened by the inspiring example of Pope John Paul II. With other bishops, I have met this remarkable evangelizer on what he himself calls the "roadways of the world." . . .

The spirit and content of Ex Corde Ecclesiae must not fail. Too much is at stake. I believe that the road I have outlined represents the best opportunity for the fullest possible implementation of this magnificent document. I welcome the response of others and I present these reflections in the hope that they are constructive and will contribute to the present discussions.

I place these reflections in the hands of Mary, Mother of the Church, asking her prayerful intercession.

Most Rev. John M. D'Arcy
Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend
September 5, 1999

(These excerpts were taken from "From the Heart of the Church: A Reflection by Bishop John M. D'Arcy." Used with permission.)


The Land O' Lakes Statement

In July 1967, a group of twenty-six Catholic men — almost all of them American educators and administrators — gathered at a conference center in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin, to discuss how Catholic higher education could participate in the evangelization of the world that was called for by the Second Vatican Council, which had closed only two years before. What resulted was a 1,500-word statement that set the stage for future controversies over the role and identity of Catholic universities.

At issue was the relationship between academic freedom and the role of the magisterium, which the conferees seemed to assume are at loggerheads. The statement declared that the former obviated the need for the latter:

To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.

Nonetheless, the modern nominally Catholic college is not what the conferees had in mind. The statement is careful to stress that Catholic higher education should be distinctively and unmistakably Catholic:

The Catholic university adds to the basic idea of a modern university distinctive characteristics that round out and fulfill that idea. Distinctively, then, the Catholic university must be an institution, a community of learners or a community of scholars, in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative.

Regardless of their intentions, though, the signatories of the Land O' Lakes statement, by refusing to be shepherded by the Church's bishops, set the sheep free to roam into whatever error academic freedom might lead them. Nearly forty years later, the shepherds are still trying to gather their scattered flocks.

The entire text of the Land O' Lakes statement can be found at http://consortium.villanova.edu/excorde/landlake.htm. — TR staff



Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He writes from Saint Joseph, Minnesota. In the interest of full disclosure, we note that Drake received the Cardinal Newman Society's 2003 Ex Corde Ecclesiae Award for significant contributions to the renewal of Catholic higher education for his work on the mandatum investigative series that appeared in the National Catholic Register.

© Catholic Answers, Inc.

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