what you don't need to know

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 25, 2006

In an article on Georgetown University, Tom Bethell gives a vivid account of an address by Newman Society president Patrick Reilly, in the course of which it was averred that the Apostolic Constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae required theologians at Catholic universities to have the mandatum.

A Jesuit member of Georgetown's theology department interjected "That is not true!" and proceeded to explain that he learned this from none other than the Archbishop of Washington himself. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, he said

came to our theology department, sat down and spoke to us for two hours about [the mandatum], had a very interesting discussion. And it is simply not the responsibility of the university. Canonically, it's a matter between the bishop and the individual theologian. I am given to understand, although I haven't checked this out myself, that the American bishops put the kibosh on some people who were trying to crack down on whether or not so-and-so at this or that university had a mandate. So we asked the Cardinal Archbishop directly, "Suppose somebody asks us whether we have a mandate." He said, "It's none of their business."

That's good to know -- and worth remembering next time the bishops, or the universities themselves, come around asking for contributions "to benefit Catholic Higher Education." It's none of our business which theologians at Catholic universities are themselves doctrinally Catholic. Therefore it would be reckless -- not to say presumptuous -- of us to give money in support of same. ("Who are you, little man, to put your paltry sawbuck in the offering envelope? Do you think the recipients regard it as a compliment? Do you believe our theologians would sell their intellectual virginity by turning Catholic? Do you imagine they want the tainted lucre of your pre-Conciliar bigotry?)

There are alternatives, happily, even for those of us who ignorantly wipe our noses on the sleeves of our sectarianism. Some colleges, like the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, believe that it's a good thing that their theologians have the mandatum and they want us to know about it. We can donate to them (and similarly unbashful institutions), confident that whatever share of the take goes to theologians goes to support Catholic theology, as opposed to what is None of Our Business.

But won't withdrawing contributions damage the fragile blossom of cutting-edge theological research that has done so much to aid Christian discipleship? Negative. Theologians don't need costly equipment like cyclotrons or supercomputers or high energy lasers to do their research. A library card is sufficient. Nor should we worry that redirecting donations will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. Experience has taught us that academics can earn more than enough cash for incidental expenses by giving impromptu workshops on the Fundamental Option at truck stop rest-rooms and summer schools. And there's always the Lilly Foundation.

You may, on the other hand, be of the conviction that a bishop would never allow a theologian to hold a position at a Catholic institution in his diocese unless he held the mandatum (or positions so sound as to make the mandatum superfluous). Cardinal McCarrick, after all, was in an excellent position to monitor the doctrinal purity of Georgetown. It's too late, alas, to pay him to instruct you what is None of Your Business, but you could send a candygram to his successor.

Theologian (right) surrounded by books (discrete, rectangular, multifoliate codices visible on shelving).

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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Jan. 24, 2011 3:51 PM ET USA

    I imagine the only Brits who cannot grasp those words are in the same state as Dr. Tim. Impaired.