Theologians' mandate praised for promoting Catholic identity in colleges

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Cardinal Raymond Burke.

A newly-released report on Catholic colleges and universities discusses the importance of a mandate for theologians to ensure strong Catholic identity among institutions of higher education.

“The secularism in society, the errors which we find so commonly in many sectors of society, has its influence also on the Church,” explained Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, chief judge for the Vatican’s canon law courts.

“The Church must take her own prudent and necessary measures to make sure that error doesn’t enter in to the university level of the Catholic college,” he told the Cardinal Newman Society.

Cardinal Burke made his remarks in an interview for a new report by the society, which works to support the renewal of Catholic identity in institutions of higher education.

The report responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s address to several American bishops gathered in Rome on May 5.

In that address, the Pope observed the need for Catholic colleges and universities “to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission in service of the Gospel.”

He said that “much remains to be done” in this realm, particularly in the area of complying with Canon 812 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which states, “Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.”

The report warned that many Catholic institutions in the U.S. have rejected this mandate, highlighting the Holy Father’s concerns about “instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership.”

The mandate, often called by its Latin name, “mandatum,” is a recognition by the local Church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is in full communion with the Catholic Church and has committed to adhere to Church teaching.

A theologian requests and receives the mandatum in writing from the local bishop. However, the Cardinal Newman Society report noted that many Catholic colleges in the U.S. do not require their professors to receive a mandatum or even record which ones choose to do so.

This could lead to college students being taught viewpoints that are contrary to Catholic teaching without realizing that their professors are not in alignment with the Church, the report warned.

Cardinal Burke reflected on the Pope’s description of the mandatum as “a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity in the Church’s educational apostolate.”

The cardinal explained that the mandatum is tangible because it is “a public declaration” of communion with the Church.

The public nature of this declaration is important, he said, because it “gives that assurance to students that, if they enroll in a given college or university, they can count upon receiving a solid education in Catholic theology.”

The cardinal said that a university that is Catholic will want all its teachers of theology or the theological disciplines to have a mandate and will not retain professors in these areas that do not have one.

Theology professors interviewed in the report agreed that the mandatum “is crucial to the integrity of a college or university as Catholic.”

Dennis Martin, theologian at Loyola University Chicago, said the mandatum places “the burden of conscience onto the theologian, first, to present the faith accurately and then, if he disagrees with it, to deal with that unfaithfulness in his conscience and acknowledge it to himself and students.”

Father Matthew Lamb, theology chairman at Ave Maria University, warned that theologians who reject the Magisterium’s teaching are “sowing the seeds of further scandals.”

He observed that the devastating recent sexual abuse scandals “sprang from failures in moral and theological formation and proper oversight.”

The theologians emphasized that their primary role is to serve Christ by carrying on his teaching to their students.

Stressing the Holy Father’s call for renewal, the report concluded that by complying with the mandatum, “Catholic colleges and universities can significantly strengthen their Catholic identity.”

“Ultimately the mandatum is one tool toward the larger goal of promoting fidelity in Catholic theology and, more broadly, throughout Catholic higher education,” it said.

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