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Spineless Bishops, Toothless “Guidelines”

by Christopher A. Ferrara

Wow! Those courageous American bishops have done it again! Faced with a tidal wave of dissent from Catholic doctrine in America’s “Catholic” colleges and universities, the bishops have finally voted on “guidelines” for implementing the Holy Father’s apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesia.”

Yes, a mere eleven years after the Pope called on the bishops to insure theological fidelity in Catholic theologians, the United States Bishops Conference has finally approved “guidelines requiring professors of theology at Church-affiliated colleges and universities to teach ‘authentic Catholic doctrine.’” [Zenit, June 18, 2001]

Good news at last from the American hierarchy? Well, not exactly. As Zenit news service points out “The guidelines for Catholic theologians spell out no specific penalties for those who refuse to follow the rules and seek a mandatum, a form of approval, from their local bishops.” And, as pointed out by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, “there is no mechanism to make anyone do anything. We cannot make the college make that a requirement for hiring.”

So, the “guidelines” are utterly toothless, and thus utterly worthless. This is the result of eleven years of debate among the American bishops on what to do, what to do, about the Pope’s instruction. Why did they bother even voting on the subject?

Zenit notes that “When the bishops took the first step two years ago toward adoption of the new guidelines, many Catholic professors voiced concern that academic freedom could be threatened. Those fears appear to have moderated.” Whew! That was a close one! Why, if the bishops had actually adopted guidelines with penalties, teachers of Catholic theology might actually have been punished for contradicting Catholic doctrine.

But have no fear, Catholic “scholars.” According to an interview in the Washington Post with Father David M. O’Connell, president of the Catholic University of America, “The feeling among the bishops is that the relationship between the scholars and the bishops is closer than ever.” So, eleven years after the Pope told the bishops to clean up the mess in Catholic theology faculties, the heretics in Catholic academe and their episcopal benefactors have only grown fonder of each other! How touching.

But at least the Bishops’ Conference actually approved a “sample mandatum” for Catholic theologians to sign. Here it is: “As a teacher of a theological discipline, therefore, I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.” Those intrepid bishops even set deadlines to apply for a mandatum.

And what happens if a theology professor at a Catholic college or university refuses to sign this mandatum or even to apply for one? Why, in that case, the “guidelines” provide that the bishop “should notify the appropriate authority in the college or university.” So, if a heretical theology teacher refuses to sign a mandatum, the bishop will report him to the very college or university which opposes the whole idea of a mandatum. In other words, the bishops are going around in circles after eleven years of doing nothing to insure Catholic orthodoxy at Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries.

But let’s try to be positive about this. If the bishops published the names of those who did sign, and those who did not sign, the mandatum then at least we in the pews could select Catholic colleges and seminaries where the professors state that they are actually willing to profess Catholic doctrine — which, after all, is what a Catholic theology professor is supposed to do. Call it truth in advertising.

Now if the bishops are unwilling to do even this much, then it would be time to draw the obvious conclusion: the American hierarchy as a whole (and there are notable exceptions) is a corrupt institution which is simply unwilling to defend the deposit of the faith from enemies within the Church. The results speak for themselves.