Newman Society Urges Bishops to Implement 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae'

Author: Arthur J. Brew


Arthur J. Brew

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the process of implementing the Holy Father's efforts to keep Catholic institutions of higher learning "Catholic," has received significant and positive input from the Cardinal Newman Society, a group of young graduates from some of the same schools many believe have drifted steadily toward secularism.

<Ex Corde Ecclesiae> ("From the Heart of the Church") is Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution outlining the Vatican's idea of an authentic Catholic university.

The Cardinal Newman Society takes its name and inspiration from the great English convert of the 19th century who wrote brilliantly about religious education.

The bishops hope to publish a draft implementing the Pope's instruction by June and have it in the hands of all attending their annual meeting in Washington this November. They received a preliminary report last fall from Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. He said that because of the "diversity" among U.S.

Catholic colleges and universities and because of the many different groups involved in Catholic higher education, dialogs about <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> are not easy.

Fr. Terrence Toland, S.J., former president of St. Joseph's University, will serve as project director for the bishops' implementation committee.

In a letter last fall to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Cardinal Newman Society noted that the discussion of the proposed ordinances has tended to focus on the complexities of implementation without reference to the fundamental insights of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>.

"As a result," the society wrote, "we believe that the discussion has produced comments and suggestions that are contrary to the Holy Father's norms for Catholic higher education. It is our concern that, while the draft ordinances provide a strong foundation for legitimate discussion, the tendencies of many of the discussion's participants to ignore the fundamentals of <Ex Corde Ecclesiae> could lead to the development of final ordinances that do not implement the apostolic constitution, but in fact tend to water down or even contradict the Vatican's norms."

The society charges that a misconception about truth and its attainment "is clearly evident in the policies of many historically Catholic universities to support, and even encourage, students and faculty members who advocate immoral activity. The proliferation of student groups and faculty members publicly supporting abortion, homosexual activity, contraception, and radical dissension from Church teaching underscores the extent to which historically Catholic university campuses increasingly reflect American society and its rejection of faith."

Called into question is the definition of "academic freedom" which, the Newman Society says, "embraces the methodologies of rational doubt but forbids the 'interference' of ethical and spiritual concerns that might affect academic research and teaching. It is with this view of academic freedom that many administrators have argued against any involvement of the bishops with the activities and policies of their institutions.

"We believe," the society says, "that any compromise by the bishops concerning the Vatican's definition of academic freedom would permit historically Catholic universities subsequently to compromise their devotion to the faith. Any university that does not recognize the centrality of revealed truth in all studies and the teaching authority of the bishops cannot be truly Catholic."

The Newman Society's board of advisers includes Bishop Austin Vaughan, Msgr. William B. Smith, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Fr. Richard Neuhaus, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Judie Brown, Dr. James Hitchcock, and Dr. Janet Smith.

Chapters of the society are being formed on many Catholic campuses throughout the country. For additional information, write to: The Cardinal Newman Society, P.O. Box 75274, Washington, D.C., 20013. Tax-deductible donations will be gratefully acknowledged.

This article was taken from the February 9, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.