Who Teaches With the Church?
Georgetown Won't Tell Parents

by Tim Drake

WASHINGTON - Which Georgetown theology professors teach in communion with the Church? The question is on parents' minds after an incident at Georgetown's graduation this year. That’s when a Vatican cardinal's words so offended a Georgetown theologian that she walked off the stage in protest. During the next several months the Register will publish its ongoing investigation of Catholic colleges and universities featured in U.S. News and World Report's college guide and ask the question: Are parents allowed to know whether those who teach theology even intend to teach in communion with the Church? Or has the opposite happened - is the canon law mandatum being used to protect dissenters?

Starting in 1983, canon law required that a theologian teaching in a Catholic university receive a mandatum from the local bishop, showing his intention to teach with the Church. When it became clear that Canon 812 was being overlooked by many dioceses, Pope John Paul II in 1990 brought it to the front of the debate again with the apostolic constitution for Catholic colleges and institutions, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). Now it's 2003, and some parents say the mandatum is being used as a way to hide dissenting professors, not expose them.

During his meeting with the U.S. cardinals last year, Pope John Paul II said parents "must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life." Parents say that many bishops and universities won't tell them whether or not theologians are committed to Church teaching.

The nation's oldest Catholic university, Georgetown is ranked 24th among national doctoral universities by U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Colleges 2003. According to Chester Gillis, theology chair at Georgetown, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick met with the 25 full-time theology department members last spring and invited them to apply for the mandatum. But today, neither the administration, the archbishop nor theology faculty members will say which have received mandatums. "It's a confidential matter," Gillis said. Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) "treats it as a confidential matter between the ordinary and the individual professor," he said.

The situation at Georgetown University is, in this matter, representative of the majority of Catholic colleges and bishops in the United States. Most Catholic colleges and their bishops refuse to tell who has a mandatum. They claim that the mandatum guidelines require that it be a private matter between the individual theologian and the bishop. But some bishops disagree. Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Elden Curtiss told the Register that all 35 theology faculty at both Creighton University and the College of St. Mary in Omaha received the mandatum. He told them he would publicly name those who refused.

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George told the Register that "A mandatum is a public reality, like getting a degree from a university. It's a fact that a bishop has given a particular faculty member a mandatum that they are teaching in communion with the Church. That is a public matter. Whether to publicize it or not is a private matter." "It's a personal act," he added, "but personal acts are sometimes public, like receiving a sacrament."

While the U.S. bishops' guidelines don't explicitly address the question of whether mandatums should be known to the public or not, they are unequivocal about one thing: Every Catholic theology professor has to have one. "All Catholics who teach theological disciplines in a Catholic university are required to have a mandatum," it continues. Canon 812 uses similar language, without specifying Catholics: "It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority." The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 1990 instruction "The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian" explains the reason for the mandatum when it says that one who has become a Catholic theologian has "freely and knowingly accepted to teach in the name of the Church" (No. 38).

What's a Parent to Do?

Asked how a parent or student might be able to determine whether a theology faculty member had received the mandatum, Gillis said it would be at the discretion of the individual professor. Parents, on the other hand, said such knowledge would be very helpful to them when choosing a college such as Georgetown. "Our aim is eternal life," said Pat Hain of Wilmington, Del. "We want our children to be rooted in something solid and in truth. I am very aware of the sad reality that at many Catholic universities there is much teaching going on that is not faithful to the Magisterium. It's a difficult decision for any Catholic parent."

Hain's son, Raymond, was considering Georgetown, the University of Notre Dame and Christendom College. Lacking the minimum knowledge to help him make a judgment, Raymond said he pored through the college course descriptions to try to help determine which college would be "both challenging and orthodox." In the end, he and his parents settled on Christendom, a school whose theology professors have all applied for mandatums. Hain said that whether their son attended a Catholic university that wasn't detrimental to his faith was "a great concern."

A recent Higher Education Research Institute study conducted by the University of California-Los Angeles showed that Catholic students' moral views were weaker, rather than stronger, after four years on Catholic college campuses. The fact that Christendom was upfront about its support of the mandatum played an important role in their decision. "I don't know if the Catholic theology professors realize the power that they have to bring unity to the Church - and what a wonderful way to do this, through the mandatum," Hain said.

Students Feel Lost

Knowledge of the mandatum, stated 2002 Georgetown theology and philosophy graduate Stephen Feiler, would have been important to him in his studies. "I would have appreciated knowing which faculty members did and did not have the mandatum, so that I could have chosen my classes accordingly," he said. "The mandatum does little good if there is no way to differentiate between professors teaching or not teaching authentic Catholic theology."

"In the name of 'academic freedom' many professors are highly suspicious of any Church involvement," said Feiler, who works as a communications specialist with the Knights of Columbus. "I believe that a small number of faculty members, specifically Jesuits, have requested the mandatum, but I have no way of knowing for certain."

Neither Cardinal McCarrick nor Georgetown President John DeGioia commented on how the mandatum is being implemented at Georgetown. "Georgetown University's position is that the mandatum is a personal issue between theologians and the local ordinary," university spokeswoman Gloria Lacap said. "Cardinal McCarrick is working directly with the theologians on implementation," said Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington. "He has not released anything publicly but is moving forward on it." Gibbs suggested that if parents contacted the cardinal's office they would not be told who has received the mandatum. "There wouldn't be a list," Gibbs said. "It would be more appropriate for them to check with the individual professors."

Whether or not a professor has been granted the mandatum appears to make little difference on campus. "It will not affect their employment at Georgetown," Jesuit Father William McFadden, a theology professor, told the university newspaper The Hoya. "We're not even allowed to ask if somebody's Catholic or not."

Students and parents still hold out hope for schools like Georgetown. "Under President DeGioia's leadership, Georgetown has made significant strides in enhancing and celebrating its Catholic identity," Feiler said. Still, others think the struggle must be met with prayer. "Those who see this struggle have a great responsibility to continue to pray," Hain said. "Prayer will unite the Catholic universities that publicly support the Church. There is no shame there. Once the Catholic universities begin to do this, our Church will become stronger and more united."

Copyright © 2003 Circle Media, Inc.,  National Catholic Register  

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.

For Further Study

Georgetown Faculty offended by Cardinal's Speech (Free)
Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) (Free) (off site)
Books -
The Coup at Catholic University by Fr. Peter Mitchell and How to Stay Catholic in College by Christopher Kaczor and How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard by Aurora Griffin