Heart Attack: Catholic Academe Meets 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae'

Author: Michael J. Mazza


Michael J. Mazza

Michael J. Mazza is director of catechetics for the diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and a frequent contributor to Fidelity.

It is, by now, an all too common scenario: John and Mary Jones, lifelong Catholics, have always dreamed of having their children graduate from the same Catholic college from which they graduated. It is, for them, an honorable task in service of a long-held family tradition; a sense of respectability and even prestige comes with saying their kids went to a "Catholic school." So John and Mary scrimp and save, and assisted by a generous financial aid package, they proudly send their young adults off to campus in the fall.

It generally does not take very long before the family realizes that the school is not what it once was. Campus liturgies are the artificial constructs of feminist ideologues; theology classes deconstruct what little faith a modern Catholic brings to class; drug and alcohol use among the students is widespread as college administrators no longer even pretend to act <in loco parentis>; visiting hours in the dorms are long enough to be occasions of sin for even the most chaste of young adults, etc. etc.

John and Mary, as well as thousands of other Catholic parents in similar situations over the past twenty years, have had to learn the hard way that the relationship between many institutions of Catholic higher education and the Roman Catholic Church is tenuous at best. Those institutions which lie at the heart of the Church's mission of evangelizing a culture are, in these days, often at war with the Church herself.

The mutiny of Catholic academics is one of the most serious problems afflicting the Catholic Church in the United States today. The institutions that should be educating Catholics to critically examine the categories of the dominant culture have instead become the main vehicle by which Catholics are indoctrinated into the sexual values of the liberal regime. The <US News and World Report> reported recently (10/4/93) that a 1992 survey of students at 19 Jesuit-run schools found that 60 percent of the freshmen favored legalized abortion, up from 47 percent in 1988. A UCLA study found that 42 percent of freshmen at Catholic colleges approved of premarital sex provided the couple "really liked each other." Since Catholic higher education also provides the next generation of Catholic leaders, the insurrection within the seed beds from which future bishops, priests, sisters, and lay leaders will arise is especially troubling. To the extent that those institutions continue to produce graduates incapable of articulating a complete and coherent vision of the Catholic faith, the chances for authentic Catholic renewal, especially in the area of catechetics, will remain remote. As was documented by Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn in his 1991 book <Catechisms and Controversies>, the educational establishment in this country engaged in a blatant effort to sabotage the Catechism of the Catholic Church by publicly condemning it at a symposium at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. only weeks after the <sub secreto> drafts were circulated among the U.S. bishops. Much of the catechetical malaise in this country can be traced directly back to the destructive efforts of directors of religious education and pastors who have been taught by people like those who sponsored the Woodstock symposium. As Wrenn says:

One only has to leaf through The National Catholic Reporter's annual listing of "Summer Listings" to note the kinds of courses typically being offered to teachers and to note also the professors, too often open dissenters, teaching them.... The system might as well have been designed expressly to perpetuate a religious education establishment hostile to the authentic Catholic tradition and the teachings of the Church's magisterium (p. 112).

The Cost Of Dissent

All this comes as no surprise to Pope John Paul II, one of the keenest pontiffs of the 20th century. In his landmark encyclical <Veritatis Splendor>, the former university professor makes clear that Catholic colleges and universities have not been untouched by the errant theological and philosophical tendencies of our age. The "Christian community itself," he writes,

has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections... with regard to the Church's moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.... Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to "exhort consciences' and to "propose values," in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices (Vs. #4).

The consequences of such dissent, the pope goes on to say, have brought about "a genuine crisis, since the difficulties it engenders have most serious implications for the moral life of the faithful and for communion in the Church, as well as for a just and fraternal social life" (VS, #5). One wonders how many vocations—not to mention souls—are lost because of widespread dissent present in the Church today. It is certain that at least some of the reasons behind declining church attendance, dwindling contributions from the faithful, the increasing virulence of anti-Catholic propaganda in the media, and confusion in the area of catechetics can be traced, at least in part, to the disunity within the family of God that results from theological disorientation at Catholic institutions of higher education, which are, indeed, "born from the heart of the Church." The Holy Father condemns such dissent within these institutions, saying that "ever since Apostolic times the Church's Pastors have unambiguously condemned the behavior of those who fostered division by their teaching or by their actions" (VS, #26). The pope also labels dissent on the part of the teachers of the faithful as one of the cruelest forms of injustice, since it essentially is a form of theft committed against the People of God, who are entitled by their baptism to receive from those entrusted with any form of catechetical mission Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity (cf. VS, #113).

An Unwelcome Antidote

John Paul's concern for Catholic higher education was expressed most eloquently in the Apostolic Constitution <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>. The relatively short document is divided into two main sections. The first part deals with identity and mission of Catholic institutions of higher learning, which he says are "completely dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God" (ECE, #4). The pope is convinced that these institutions are "essential" to the growth of the Church "and to the development of Christian culture and human progress" (ECE, #11). The second part of the constitution consists of a presentation of general norms that apply to "all Catholic universities and other Catholic institutes of higher studies throughout the world." The norms, though technically in effect since the first day of the 1991 academic year, still await official implementation in the United States. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has established the <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> Implementation Committee, which in 1993 circulated a proposed set of ordinances aimed at providing "implementation guidelines that embody both the vision and the spirit of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>."

The proposed ordinances almost immediately drew fire from a number of different camps. While a few commentators have charged the proposed ordinances are "incomplete" and do not go far enough in fully implementing the comprehensive vision of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> other more numerous critics have displayed considerably more disdain for the ordinances. While paying lip service to the "vision" of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>, groups like the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) warn that "application of the ordinances could carry the American Catholic colleges and universities back to the 1950s, when our institutions were more homogeneous and operated outside the mainstream of higher education in the United States." In a letter to Bishop John Leibrecht, chair of the Bishops' ECE Implementation Committee, the ACCU urges that the "NCCB, individual bishops, and American Catholic institutions" make "repeated interventions with the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Holy See" to stress the negative consequences of "the application of the general norms of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> and the proposed ordinances in the United States."

In a November, 1993 statement, the Board of Trustees of the College Theology Society recommended that "because of the uniquely and beneficially American situation of our institutions, <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> remain the exhortatory and inspirational document that it is. We urge that no attempt be made to implement the Proposed Ordinances, which would undermine the identity of our institutions and threaten their existence as Catholic institutions." The CTS echoed the concerns of many others in Catholic academe in casting doubt on the competency of the bishops to ascertain whether or not a theology teacher is fit to teach, saying that "ordination and episcopal consecration do not supply theological competence." Statements like these are really nothing new, as even the authors of the <Commentary on the Code of Canon Law> (Paulist Press, 1985) decreed that the canons on higher education did not really apply to this country. "It is difficult if not impossible," the commentators opined, "to apply the canons as such to such divergent situations of the Catholic colleges and universities in the Fifty States of the United States," claiming "it is evident that the canons are designed for systems of higher education in situations considerably different from those in North America." The canon detailing the need for "those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies" to have a mandate, given by the "competent ecclesiastical authority," (cf. #812) is described as simply being "inapplicable in the United States." Holy Cross Father Edward Malloy, president of the University of Notre Dame, went so far as to say in February of 1994 that the "mandate" requirement, expressed not only in the Code, but also in <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> (Article 4) and the proposed ordinances (#5 and #6), was "offensive to the Catholic theological community" (<Origins>, 2/19/94). In a winter 1994 article in the ACCU's <Current Issues In Catholic Higher Education>, author Fr. William J. Rewak, S.J., president of Spring Hill College, approvingly quoted Peter Steinfels, erstwhile <Commonweal> editor and current <New York Times> religion correspondent and faculty member of the University of Notre Dame, in warning that the identity of a school cannot be imposed by outside authority. It must arise from the autonomous community of scholars itself, from decisions made by trustees or governing boards, presidents, deans, students and above all the faculty. Efforts by church officials, in Rome or elsewhere, to solve questions of Catholic identity by rule or fiat are doomed to be self-defeating.

The Door Is Opened From The Inside

The key to understanding the hostile attitude that many Catholic colleges and universities seem to display towards bishops today lies in tracing the historical roots of the conflict that has simmered since the 1960s. An historical analogy might be helpful. In Germany in the 1870s, Otto von Bismark and the Catholic Church were engaged in a struggle for control of the culture. One of the main battlegrounds for this <Kulturkampf> were the schools, those seed beds in which the minds of the next generation was being formed. Fortunately, the Church presented a unified front against Bismark and his "Enlightenment" agenda. Bismark, as a result, was forced to turn to the disaffected and schismatic Old Catholics for assistance in his attempt to control Catholic schools and seminaries.

In the <Kulturkampf>of the 1960s, however, the Enlightenment forces came preaching the doctrine of sexual, rather than political, rebellion. They also found the Church to be harboring more than a few quislings, and thus were able to establish strategically important beachheads within the Catholic camp in the form of contacts with key people inside some of her most important institutions.

The Notre Dame Conferences

On October 10, 1962, the Population Council, a tax-exempt organization founded in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller, 3rd granted the University of Notre Dame $5,000 for a two-day conference in early 1963 to "bring together representatives of different religious and other points of view to discuss problems of population growth, with particular interest in exploring areas of possible convergence in approaching these problems." The seeds for this meeting were planted the previous spring, when on May 10, 1962, CBS aired a documentary entitled "Birth Control and the Law." The show was widely criticized in the Catholic media as essentially an extended commercial for Planned Parenthood. Nevertheless, the appearance on the show of Notre Dame Theology professor Fr. John A. O'Brien, C.S.C., did attract the attention of some procontraceptive activists, who evidently liked what the priest from South Bend had to say. In July of 1962 Cass Canfield, Chairman of the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America and a board member of the Population Council, invited O'Brien to a meeting with other "Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergymen" to discuss, <inter alia>, ways in which religious groups and the Planned Parenthood Foundation could engage in "cooperative thought and action on these vital matters." Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh's assistant, George Schuster, wrote back to Canfield offering to host such a meeting at Notre Dame. Frank Notestein, then head of the Population Council, was excited about the possibilities of strengthening that element in the [Catholic] Church with which we have many common aspirations and a minimum of differences." For this reason, Notestein urged that only certain kinds of Catholics be invited to the meeting, i.e., those willing to work for a change in the Church's teaching. The Conference planners wanted to avoid any appearance of Planned Parenthood sponsorship, so Notestein nominated Hesburgh to chair the conference rather than the more public (not to mention controversial, given his connections with birth control) John D. Rockefeller 3rd.

The Ford Foundation assumed the funding for three similar conferences that were held at Notre Dame through 1965. These also represented the efforts of key people associated with the foundation establishment at helping that element in the Church which agreed that Church teaching concerning contraception was out of date and should be changed. The chair of the 1965 conference was a Catholic named Thomas Carney, a Notre Dame graduate and trustee and vice-president in charge of research and development for G.D. Searle Company, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country. Cass Canfield, chairman of the Planned Parenthood Foundation, was also in attendance at these conferences.

John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, one of the most influential promoters of population control and contraceptive technology in the 20th century, was fully aware of and a strong supporter of these conferences, even though he did not attend them personally. His efforts at changing church teaching operated on a higher level as well. During a 45 minute audience with the Holy Father in July of 1965, which had been arranged with the assistance of Notre Dame University President Hesburgh, Rockefeller tried to persuade Pope Paul VI of the wisdom of changing Church teaching on contraception. JDR referred to both the "overpopulation" problem and the recent introduction of the intra-uterine device, which his Population Council had worked so diligently to develop. Given the eventual ethical, medical, and legal impact of the IUD, it is extremely fortunate that the pontiff was not persuaded.

If Paul VI was not convinced of the wisdom of lightening up on church teaching, people like Ted Hesburgh evidently were. The impact of the foundation-sponsored conferences at Notre Dame was significant. Following a conference in the spring of 1965, the so-called "Notre Dame Statement" was released in the fall of that year. The statement, which was given wide publicity in the press, claimed the Church's teaching on contraception had become "unconvincing," and that conventional arguments against contraception "do not manifest an adequate appreciation of the findings of physiology, psychology, sociology, and demography, nor do they reveal a sufficient grasp of the complexity and the inherent value of sexuality in human life." Furthermore, the conference attendees concluded (assembled courtesy of the financial largesse of the Ford Foundation, not irrelevantly) that there was "dependable evidence" to conclude that "contraception is not intrinsically immoral, and that therefore there are certain circumstances in which it may be permitted or indeed even recommended." Finally, and most significantly, the members of the conference concluded that "in matters of public policy within a morally pluralistic society, Catholics, while rendering witness to their beliefs, need not for reasons of private morality oppose governmental programs of assistance in family limitation."

Msgr. George W. Casey, writing in the <Boston Pilot> on October 9, 1965, declared in an article entitled "Birth Control is Waiting in the Wings," that "a committee of responsible moral theologians and sociologists meeting under Catholic auspices have made a public declaration giving endorsement, however qualified, to contraception." The fact that in the popular mind Notre Dame was at least as Catholic as the pope, and that the "scholars" who drafted the statement were not disciplined in any way for their actions only added to the widespread confusion and disunity in the Church.

Two separate, but related, events in the spring and summer of 1967 served to further the divide between the Catholic church and her institutions of higher learning that had begun at the University of Notre Dame in 1962 with the foundation funded contraceptive conferences. In April, 1967, Fr. Charles Curran was notified that his contract to teach at the Catholic University of America was not being renewed. While the bishops on the University's Board of Trustees said nothing publicly on the reasons for the non-renewal, it is clear they were concerned about Curran's heterodox theology. After a media blitz by Curran's allies and a general strike on campus, which, according to news reports, involved some 6600 students and 600 professors, the bishops relented, and not only rehired Curran, but granted him full tenure.

The Land O' Lakes Statement

In July of that same year, the retreat house of the Holy Cross religious order in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin hosted a meeting of 26 leaders of Catholic academe from institutions such as Georgetown, Boston College, Seton Hall, Catholic University of America, St. Louis University, Fordham, and the University of Notre Dame. The paper drafted at this meeting, known as the "Land O' Lakes Statement," read, in part:

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.

The framers of the Land O' Lakes statement, which essentially represented their declaration of independence from the juridical control of the Catholic Church, also saw themselves as the true guardians of the Church:

The university should carry on a continual examination of all aspects and all activities of the church and should objectively evaluate them. The Church would thus have the benefit of continual counsel from Catholic universities. Catholic universities in the recent past have hardly played this role at all. It may well be one of the most important functions of the Catholic university of the future.

It goes without saying that the Land O' Lakes statement was never given approval by Rome. In fact, in a letter of April 25, 1973, which he asked to have attached to the document itself, Cardinal Garrone, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, spoke of the need for two further clarifications to be made in regard to the statement (these "clarifications" were evidently never made). Garrone wanted an explicit statement by each university of its Catholic character and commitment, as well as some assertion concerning the development of instruments by which faith, morality, and discipline would be safeguarded within these institutions. Furthermore, Garrone's letter concludes as follows:

Although the document envisages the existence of university institutions without statutory bonds linking them to ecclesiastical authority, it is to be noted that this in no way means that such institutions are removed from those relationships with the ecclesiastical hierarchy which must characterize all Catholic institutions.

Undaunted by Garrone's caveat, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) formally adopted the Land O' Lakes statement in 1976. Speaking for 223 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S., the NCEA stated that "a juridical relationship between the Church and Catholic institutions in the exercise of their proper autonomy" is not "desirable or even possible," though it did condescend to grant that "bishops and other Church leaders can provide significant insights into the particular needs of service to the local Church" ["Relations of American Catholic Colleges and Universities with the Church," Occasional Papers (NCEA), II, 1 (April, 1976), as quoted in <How To Keep Your University Catholic>, Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B., 1992, p. 541.

For over 25, the Land O' Lakes statement has functioned as a <de facto magna carta> for Catholic universities and colleges in the United States. With the publication of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>, which the pope himself calls a <magna carta> for Catholic institutions of higher learning (cf. ECE, #8) it is now up to the bishops to specifically point out the inadequacies of the Land O.' Lakes Statement and to wholeheartedly adopt the General Norms of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>.

Cutting The Umbilical Cord

That there are strong pastoral reasons for this course of action is self-evident. On July 30, 1968, Fr. Charles Curran was again in the headlines of an excited (perhaps even grateful?) media when he stunned the Catholic world with his well-orchestrated press conference barely 24 hours after <Humanae Vitae> was released, claiming, along with a significant number of professors from Catholic University and other schools, that Catholics could dissent from and disobey the moral prescriptions in the pope's encyclical. It is safe to say in hindsight that Curran's action had devastating consequences for the Church and society. Paul VI, it turns out, was nothing less than prophetic in his predictions for what would happen if contraception gained widespread acceptance. It could even be argued that the sexual revolution currently waging war on our society would not have become so powerful had it not been for the subversion of Catholic higher education, in which a few leading institutions brokered an exchange of their freedom to pursue Catholic truth for grants from contraceptive foundations, and eventually the federal government.

A little over 100 days after the <Humanae Vitae> protest, on November 21, 1968, Fordham University in New York officially severed its legal ties to the Catholic Church. While this move was ostensibly made in order to procure state aid, which had certain restrictions placed upon it by the Constitution of the State of New York, the relatively small amount of money obtained seemed to many observers entirely out of proportion, considering the structural changes that had to be made within the institution itself. Attorneys W. Gellhorn and R.K. Greenawalt, who had been commissioned by Fordham to determine what modifications would have to be made if Fordham were to become eligible for state aid, issued some rather striking norms. They recommended that Fordham stop referring to itself as Catholic, describing itself in as secular a way as possible; that the faculty should not have to be Catholic or even particularly sympathetic to Christianity; that some non-Catholics be hired to teach theology; that most crucifixes be removed from campus buildings; that non-Catholic religious groups be allowed to use the university chapels, etc. etc. Since 1968, Fordham University has been officially registered with the state of New York as a "nondenominational" institution.

"An Internal Schism"

The situation in contemporary Catholic higher education was described very ably by Rosemary Ruether in an article in the winter 1980 issue of the <Journal of Ecumenical Studies>. She characterized the status quo as being, "in effect, an internal schism.... The lack of consensus in the Catholic church on basic theological and exegetical matters, has nothing to do with academic disagreement and cannot be resolved on that basis. Fundamentally, it is a schism between two magisteria, the magisterium of the professors and the magisterium of the pope and the hierarchy. It is a power struggle, not an intellectual debate." She then outlines the strategy that for nearly three decades has been enormously successful in keeping some of the most important Church institutions, i.e., their schools of higher learning, out of Church control: "In short, one must use the liberal institutions of the secular society against the illiberal practices of the monarchical church to limit the latter's power."

Four years after Ruether's revealing admissions, Thomas Sheehan, professor of philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, wrote in the June 1984 <New York Review of Books> that "the dismantling of traditional Roman Catholic theology by Catholics themselves is a fait accompli.... [Those who] hold the chairs, get the grants, publish the books and define the limits of scientific exegesis and theology in the Catholic church today," according to Sheehan, are all at odds with the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

It is clear that move of Catholic institutions of higher learning away from the juridical control of ecclesiastical authority did not come about as a result of dispassionate, scholarly, and theological research into the nature of the Church. Rather, the hammer that drove the wedge between <sancta mater ecclesia> and the institutions to which she had given birth with the help of thousands of hard-earned dollars from millions of Catholic parents was little more than a desire on the part of some institutions to rid themselves of what they claim as the yoke of oppressive ecclesiastical control, all the while indenturing themselves to a foundation-government complex that rewarded dissent from church teaching with large sums of grant money. The treason of Catholic institutions of higher learning has been nothing less than the sexual revolution masquerading as academic freedom. The University of Notre Dame, so jealous of its academic freedom <vis-a-vis> the church, was more than content to let the Population Council dictate what kinds of Catholics were to be involved in their birth control conferences in the 1960s. And Fordham, so wary of Church intrusions into their day-to-day affairs, was the picture of obsequiousness when confronted by the state of New York, which tied state grants to the changing of the very nature and character of the institution.

"We Don't Need To Be Reformed"

If the publication of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> was meant to effect a change in this situation, it faces what can only be called an uphill battle. Shortly after the proposed schema for the Vatican document on Catholic higher education appeared, Fr. Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame lamented in <America> magazine that if the Church "can dictate who can teach. . . the university is not free and, in fact, is not a true university where the truth is sought and taught. It is, rather, a place of. . . religious indoctrination" (America, 11/1/86, p. 250). Commenting in a 1991 issue of Fordham's magazine, Hesburgh noted his resentment with efforts at reforming the Catholic university: "It is worth noting that the people who have produced these documents have never created anything in Catholic higher education themselves....American Catholic higher education is a success story. We don't need to be reformed."

Similar kinds of concerns are evident in the letter of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to the chair of the Bishops' Committee for the Implementation of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>. The ACCU bemoans the lack of sensitivity to the "particular history and circumstances of Catholic higher education in the United States" in the proposed norms, saying that "ecclesial communion rather than juridical control" is their clear preference in terms of the relationship between institutions and the church hierarchy. In a "Synthesis of Comments" generated by regional meetings of the ACCU, there was "wide-spread concern" that a stronger relationship between the bishop and the institution would jeopardize "the standing of these institutions in the higher education community in the United States, their eligibility for accreditation, their compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, and their continuing eligibility... for desperately needed federal and state funding." They also ask whether or not "the competent ecclesiastical authority" is "necessarily competent to judge the competence of a theologian to teach," and warn that any efforts to "gain control over lay theologians [or] control dissent on campus" might make the bishops personally liable in civil court.

The letter of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities to Bishop Leibrecht on <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> expresses similar anxieties. The presidents of the 28 Jesuit institutions of higher learning in this country expressed their alarm over the proposed ordinances, hinting that bishops might leave themselves vulnerable to "civil law suits if a professor without a mandate were denied promotion. If the mandate is also a judgment about 'probity of life,' would bishops be open to civil suit if a professor engaged, for example, in sexually inadmissible conduct?"

How legitimate are the concerns of the ACCU and the AJCU over issues like accreditation, academic freedom, federal funding, institutional autonomy, and discrimination lawsuits? Do they represent true concern for the Catholicity of the Church's institutions of higher learning and the legal well-being of individual bishops or are they a thin veil aimed at covering up their not-so-covert operation to wrest from the Church her institutions of higher learning Let us examine the issues one by one.


Anxiety over losing accreditation is often expressed by foes of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>, especially in light of the proposed norms concerning the role of a bishop and a college or university in his diocese (cf. ECE, #28). The influence of the bishop in college matters, it is feared, might be construed by accrediting agencies as an undue influence upon the college and, even, an encroachment upon academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

There is little data to justify this fear. As Dr. Kenneth D. Whitehead, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, pointed out in his 1988 book <Catholic Colleges and Federal Funding>, none of the nearly 50 schools which had been censured by the American Association of University Professors in 1987 for various offenses, (e.g., the revocation of tenure) lost its accredited status. Moreover, since accrediting agencies have historically been concerned with preserving educational quality, they have not been unreasonably intrusive. Whitehead points out, as one example, that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools supports "the right of an institution to pursue its established educational purpose," and recognizes the responsibility of a given institution's "governing board" to represent "the interests of the founders, the supporting religious group, the supporting governmental agency, or other supporting party."

If, however, accrediting agencies were to threaten to impose standards that were inimical to the Catholic ethos, it would be very possible for the over 200 Catholic institutions of higher education in this country to set up their own accreditation organization, as is their right under current U.S. law. The Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools and the Association of Bible Colleges are currently recognized by Secretary of Education for accrediting purposes. The nationally-recognized Commission on Recognition of Post-secondary Accreditation also recognizes these groups, as well as the Association of Theological Schools in the US and Canada. Thus, it clearly possible for Catholic colleges and universities to create their own accrediting body, should that ever become necessary.

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom, as currently defined by many in Catholic academe, is more often than not a one-way street against the rightful prerogatives of the Catholic church. Rare is the mention of the freedom of parents and students to receive an authentically Catholic education from those church-related institutions identified as such, and the freedom of the administrations of Catholic colleges and universities to place certain restrictions on abuses of authentic academic freedom. Such freedom is never an absolute right. A white supremacist pushing Nazi ideology in the sociology department would never be tolerated, for example, in an institution committed to the pursuit of truth.

There is ample evidence of administrations addressing such abuses, as in the case of Cornell and Stanford, both of which dismissed tenured professors in the 1960s for having incited rebellious students to engage in illegal actions (cf. Diane Ravitch, <The Troubled Crusade> (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 221) or of addressing the issue of academic tenure itself, as president Elizabeth Coleman recently did at Bennington College in Vermont by firing nearly one-third of the faculty the Board had deemed unqualified (cf. "Reality Bites," in the <New York Times Magazine>, Oct. 23, 1994).

Federal Funding

In her response to the schema on higher education proposed by the Vatican in 1986, in the April 10, 1986 issue of Origins, Sr. Alice Gallin, O.S.U., executive director of the ACCU, cites two U.S. Supreme Court cases: the 1971 <Tilton v. Richardson> and the 1976 case of <Roemer v. Board of Public Works> as proof that "favorable decisions regarding public aid to Catholic colleges or universities are founded on a perception by the court that the church does not control them." Gallin also claimed that "it is virtually certain that such aid would be withdrawn" if the Catholic Church were seen to be in control of Catholic colleges and universities.

This fear, though common, is also not supported by hard data. As was noted above, Whitehead found that none of the 47 institutions on the AAUP's Censure List suffered thereby from a lack of federal funding. Moreover, most federal funding (more than 90 percent) goes directly to students and not institutions. Even if federal funding for institutions became endangered, however, it would not cripple most institutions, since, on average, it constitutes only about 15 percent of their total income. State aid to institutions, on average, makes up about 3 percent of a given school's budgeted income.

Institutional Autonomy

The fear of Church "control" of Catholic institutions of higher learning is problematic. First, the word "control" connotes images which are more often than not caricatures of the authentic concern a bishop has, indeed, must have, for the spiritual welfare of the faithful in his diocese. Second, the fear of ecclesiastical control may lead institutions into a precarious legal situation <vis-a-vis> state and federal authorities. If Catholic colleges and universities were to abandon their legal ties to the Catholic Church in favor of securing federal monies they might lose the protection offered them by the Constitution as religious organizations. Governments might, for example, force those institutions to pay for abortion-related health coverage for their employees, or, if they have medical schools, to actually perform abortions if the government deems the providing of abortion by non-religious institutions as a civil right guaranteed to all Americans.


The threat of lawsuits is also brought up with great regularity as an excuse for not implementing the norms expressed in <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> and in Canon Law. Significant in this regard is the case of <Kamehameha Schools v. EEOC>, which involved a teaching candidate who was found to have been discriminated against because of her religious views by two historically Protestant schools. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of a lower court that had decided in favor of the schools, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in agreeing not to hear the case, left open the possibility that the criteria employed by the Appeals Court in the adjudication of the case could set a precedent with national repercussions by which schools could be judged "religious." Schools exempt from discrimination claims had to have, according to the Court, 1) a governing body with clear religious ties, 2) a clear "religious purpose," 3) hiring policies favoring teachers of a particular faith, 4) admissions policies favoring students of a particular faith, and 5) a curriculum that included substantial religious instruction.

In an <amicus curiae> brief filed with the Supreme Court in October of 1993, a group of religious organizations and colleges, including the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the University of Notre Dame, argued that the criteria used by the Ninth Circuit Court was excessively strict and unworkable. While that claim might have some merit, the case shows the practical danger of what might happen if a religious college or university does not assert its religious character; lawsuits could be filed against these institutions by disgruntled teachers who had been dismissed for one reason or another. If, however, teachers are informed "at the time of their appointment" (ECE, Article 4.2) of the Catholic identity of the institution and the consequent expectations, the institution cannot be sued for discrimination.

This point was proved in a recent case described in the July 16, 1994 number of <The Chronicle of Higher Education>. Donald Z. Scheiber sued St. John's University in New York after he was fired in 1990 as vice-president for student life. Scheiber charged he was discriminated against because he was Jewish. The New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of religious colleges to discriminate on the basis of faith in some cases, i.e., where a hiring decision was "calculated by the institution to effectuate its religious mission." The Court, however, ruled against St. John's in this particular case because, in part, Scheiber's position was not identified by the university as effectuating its religious mission and because St. John's advertised itself, somewhat confusedly, as "an equal opportunity employer."

The fact that certain institutions may legally "discriminate" was also shown in the February, 1989 decision of Judge Frederick Weisberg in the case between Fr. Charles Curran and the Catholic University of America. Weisberg denied Curran's lawsuit against his former employer for breach of contact, ruling that although the requirement of the canonical mission was not made explicit in Curran's contract with the University, when <Sapientia Christiana> (Pope John Paul II's 1979 Apostolic Constitution on Ecclesiastical Faculties and Universities) made the canonical mission an explicit requirement, the judge noted, "it should have come as no surprise to Professor Curran that he was expected to have one" (Larry Witham, <Curran vs. Catholic University>, Edington-Rand, 1991, p. 265). The judge ruled that Catholic University had the right to suspend a teacher whom it did not see fit to teach Catholic theology, and recoiled from the thought that a court would demand a religious school to have a particular individual teach religion against the express will of the institution.

"Dropping The Label"

There exists sufficient legal precedent, then, for concluding that religious institutions may govern themselves according to their own religious doctrines and disciplines, and that the arguments regarding accreditation, academic freedom, federal funding, institutional autonomy, and discrimination are easily answered.

Yet it is obvious that such knowledge has not reached or has not persuaded everyone in Catholic academe. Referring once again to the requirement of a mandate for theologians, Sr. Karen M. Kennelly, CSJ, president of Mt. St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, was quoted in a March 4, 1994 article in the <National Catholic Reporter> as saying, "I think it's quite clear that should bishops try to implement a mandate in the United Sates and. . . that is taken seriously, they will lay themselves open to a lot of unpleasant litigation and possibly end up being responsible for a lot of sincere Catholic colleges and universities dropping the label."

It is clear, however, that the issue is not quite as simple as all that, since what is involved here (i.e., the assets of Catholic colleges and universities) is church property which, according to Canon Law (#1292) cannot be alienated without the permission of the competent authority. In other words, if some institutions were to become disillusioned with the Church and attempt to drop their Catholic status and/or attempt to hand over control of the property and philosophy of the institution to say, a lay board of trustees (which has already happened in some places) that would be a clear violation of canon law. And, since U.S. law recognizes the rights of religious institutions to govern themselves, such an abandonment of an institution belonging to the Catholic Church would not be recognized in civil courts, either.

The Way To Peace

Such is the diagnosis of the malaise currently hampering efforts at episcopal-academia cooperation. What follows, then, is a proposed course of action to alleviate these tensions.

First, after establishing a relationship of trust with the institution's administration and faculty through open and honest communication, the bishop would ask all the theology faculty to make a profession of faith, according to the formula approved by the Apostolic See, in the presence of himself, the Chancellor, or his delegate, as is currently prescribed in Canon 833.

If only some agree to make this profession of faith, then the bishop may terminate the contracts of those individuals where appropriate and hire new teachers in their stead. If none of the teachers agree to take the oath, and/or if the institution itself is uncooperative, then the bishop may sue for alienation of church property in a court of canon law (cf. Canon 1292). As a last resort, the bishop may also refuse his permission to allow the institution to call itself "Catholic" (cf. Canon 808).

This course of action would undoubtedly be perceived as unpopular, or even unworkable by the power elites currently in control of Catholic academia. As we have seen, however, the United States of America is still sufficiently free to permit Catholic colleges and universities to be truly Catholic, subject in certain areas to the rightful concerns of episcopal authority, without fear of a loss of accreditation, authentic academic freedom, federal funding, institutional autonomy, or of being sued for illegal discrimination.

Doing It Right

The case of the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, offers a clear proof of this and stands as a sign of hope for the rejuvenation of Catholic higher education. Begun by Msgr. Eugene Kevane after being driven out of the school of religious education at Catholic U in the early '70s. NDI has been preparing religious and lay catechists for leadership positions in parishes, schools, and dioceses for over 20 years. The faculty of NDI all take the oath of fidelity to the Magisterium and boldly profess their orthodoxy inside and outside of the classroom.

The most striking thing about NDI's success is that in December of 1994, they were given full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the nationally-recognized accrediting agency that accredits schools all over the southeastern United States, including Georgetown and Duke. Dr. Stephen Miletic, academic dean at NDI, noted that the representatives from SACS dealt with the NDI staff in a professional manner and were very respectful of NDI's mission. "SACS evaluates you on what you say you're going to do as an institution. It then determines how well you actually do it." Miletic mentioned that SACS asked him about academic freedom, to which Miletic responded: "We guarantee the freedom of every teacher to teach Catholic truth." Next question, please.

NDI is just one example of how the vision of John Paul II for Catholic higher education can be successfully implemented in this country. <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> is a much needed document that gives hope to all Catholics concerned about fostering unity within the family of God on earth. If this important charter lies unattended, and the crisis of authority present in Catholic higher education goes unaddressed, millions of dollars from students, parents, parishes, and dioceses will continue to go to institutions essentially at war with the Church.

It is clear that the only group of people in this country with the power and authority to do something about this problem is the bishops. First of all, lay initiatives at comprehensive reform are simply not taken seriously. Second, Rome clearly wants the bishops to act, and has paved the way for strong action in the wake of the Curran case at Catholic University. Third, with the release of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> and the current favorable stance of U.S. law, the bishops have only to pick up the ball and run with it. It is obvious that the colleges will not steer themselves back into the Church, since many of them have bought into the secular notion that fidelity to the Catholic faith is a hindrance to the search for truth and worldly advancement. The bishops cannot continue to subsidize a revolution within the very heart of the Church and continue to hope the spiritual health of Catholics will improve. Nor can they expect that these institutions, as they stand today, will be able to turn out anything but thousands of young Catholics each year who are increasingly unable to articulate the vision of the Catholic faith as it needs to be expressed as humanity approaches the 21st century.

Taken from the February 1995 issue of "Fidelity" Magazine, 206 Marquette Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617.