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Cardinal Burke Says Theologians’ Mandatum Should Be Required by Colleges, Disclosed to Students

Catholic families have a right to know which theology professors have the mandatum, and Catholic colleges and universities should require it as a condition for employment, affirmed the Vatican’s chief judge Cardinal Raymond Burke in a new report prompted by recent concerns from Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Burke and several bishops, canon law experts, and theologians discussed the mandatum with The Cardinal Newman Society in an online report published today at www.cardinalnewmansociety.org.

The report, titled “A Mandate for Fidelity,” follows upon a May 5th address by Pope Benedict to several American bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome.  The Pope expressed concern that “much remains to be done” toward the renewal of Catholic identity in U.S. Catholic colleges and universities, “especially in such areas as compliance with the mandate laid down in Canon 812 for those who teach theological disciplines.”

He cited “the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership.”

Canon 812 of the Catholic Church’s canon law states, “Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.”

As implemented by the U.S. bishops, a theology professor requests a “mandate” (commonly identified by the Latin mandatum) from the bishop presiding over the diocese where the theologian is employed.  The professor commits, in writing, “to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s Magisterium,” according to U.S. guidelines.

But in the United States, many Catholic colleges and universities have not required theology professors to have the mandatum, or even to disclose to students and their families which professors have the bishop’s recognition.  The 1990s saw vigorous opposition to the mandatum by some theologians and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, but the controversy has since cooled down, largely because in practice the mandatum has not had much relevance to students and college leaders.

Now Pope Benedict’s concern about a lack of “compliance” with Canon 812 renews questions about Catholic colleges and universities’ obligations relative to the mandatum.  The Cardinal Newman Society asked several experts including Cardinal Burke, archbishop emeritus of St. Louis and prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest canon law court, to explain what canon law requires.

Citing Pope Benedict’s description of the mandatum as “a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity,” Cardinal Burke said:

It’s tangible in the sense that it’s a public declaration, in writing, on the part of the ecclesiastical authority that a theologian is teaching in communion with the Church, and people have a right to know that so that if you, for instance, are at a Catholic university or parents are sending their children to the Catholic university, they know that the professors who are teaching theological disciplines at the university are teaching in communion with the Church. They are assured in that by the public declaration of the diocesan bishop.

“The fact that I teach in accord with the Magisterium is a public factor,” added Cardinal Burke. “That’s not some private, secret thing between myself and the Lord.”

Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap., executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Cardinal Newman Society that theology professors ought to be proud of receiving the mandatum, which is an honor “recognizing that theologians have a true vocation in the Church.”

I wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t want it to be public. The whole point is public recognition that somebody is truly a Catholic theologian. I don’t know why you would want to keep that hidden when the Church is bestowing the mandatum to recognize that somebody is truly a Catholic theologian.
Asked whether only theology professors with the mandatum should be employed at a Catholic college or university, Cardinal Burke responded “yes” and added:
…[T]he Catholic university will want that all its teachers of theology or the theological disciplines have a mandate and will not, of course, retain the professor in teaching Catholic theology or the theological disciplines who does not have a mandate, because to do so would be to call into question the whole raison d’etre of the university. If a Catholic university doesn’t distinguish itself for its care, that those who are teaching theology and the other theological disciplines are doing so in communion with the Magisterium, what reason does it have to exist?
In preparing the report, The Cardinal Newman Society consulted many other experts in theology and canon law, including Archbishop Emeritus Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Bishop Emeritus Joseph Martino of Scranton, Gregorian University canonist Fr. James Conn, SJ, canonist Robert Flummerfelt, and theologians Msgr. Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary’s University, Fr. Edward O’Connor, CSC, of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria University, Brian Benestad of the University of Scranton, Larry Chapp of DeSales University, Mark Lowery and Christopher Malloy of the University of Dallas, and Dennis Martin of Loyola University Chicago.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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