CHICAGO—It's time for United States bishops to fully embrace and enact Pope John Paul II's request for a juridical mandate for theologians at Catholic colleges and universities, said Cardinal Francis E. George, archbishop of Chicago.

Cardinal George spoke to the Register about the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities' proposal for the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Pope's 1990 document on Catholic higher education.

The U.S. bishops submitted a plan for implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae to the Vatican in 1996. It was sent back for revision because it did not include provisions for juridical application of the mandate in which bishops would certify teachers as qualified to teach Catholic theology. A subcommittee, under the direction of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, has drafted a new implementation proposal for review by the full bishops' conference.

“Is she implying all bishops are fundamentalists? Fundamentalist Bible colleges don't even have bishops. The fact is, the good work of our top Catholic institutions will remain the same, whether there's a mandate or not.”

In April, the association devised an alternative proposal for the subcommittee to consider, which calls for theology professors to work “in fidelity with the magisterium,” but did not mention a mandate. The group's work was prompted by Cardinal George who addressed the association and invited its members to suggest their own ideas for juridical implementation.

“It's apparent the ACCU has come to grips with this issue in ways they never have before, and I'm grateful to them for that,” Cardinal George said. “But the fact remains, their proposal does not incorporate the mandate, and therefore it falls short.”

The mandate called for by Ex Corde Ecclesiae is prescribed in Canon 812 of the 1993 Code of Canon Law. Because the Pope has included Canon 812 in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Cardinal George said, there is no room for compromise.

“It is part of the code of the Church, and the bishops will not get away with a plan to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae if it does not include the mandate.”

Monika Hellwig, executive director of the colleges association, said anyone who thinks an implementation plan for Ex Corde Ecclesiae must contain Canon 812 is taking the Holy See too literally. She opposes the mandate on grounds it will give bishops too much control over Catholic higher education.

Hellwig said if Catholic colleges lose “any” amount of autonomy to bishops they will be taken less seriously among competing academic institutions. She told the Register the mandate would move Catholic institutions in the direction of fundamentalist Bible schools. Hellwig said the Pope doesn't want colleges and universities to become “Catholic ghettos,” in which students and faculty shut themselves off from the outside world.

“That's not serious criticism,” Cardinal George said. “She really can't be serious. Is she implying all bishops are fundamentalists? Fundamentalist Bible colleges don't even have bishops. The fact is, the good work of our top Catholic institutions will remain the same, whether there's a mandate or not.”

The cardinal suspects a majority of faculty fear the mandate, and said it's possible most college presidents remain confused about it. He said the mandate will in no way give bishops control over schools.

“This would set up a mechanism for bishops to certify theologians,” Cardinal George said. “It's up to each individual university whether they want to require a theologian to have the mandate. A university that opts to require the mandate for a theologian would be no different than a university deciding a theologian needs to obtain a Ph.D. from Yale or Notre Dame.

“All colleges want autonomy and independence, and that is certainly something we should respect. But colleges and universities must conform to state laws, standards of accrediting agencies, and all sorts of things force them to conform in some manner. The idea that they exist in complete autonomy simply isn't true.”

In greater Chicago, six of eight Catholic college presidents signed the Association's proposal, but with a revision that included adherence to Canon 812. They include: William Carroll, Benedictine University; Donna Carroll, Dominican University; Christian Brother James Gaffney, Lewis Univerisity; Richard A. Yanikoski, Xavier Univerity; and James Doppke, University of St. Francis.

The president of DePaul University, Vincentian Father John Minogue, and the president of Barat College, Lucy Morros, declined to sign the revision.

Hellwig said the revision by the six presidents is unacceptable. Cardinal George said he hopes the revision made by the presidents — all who serve within his archdiocese — might reflect a mood that is beginning to catch on throughout the country.

Hellwig countered that most of the 230 college presidents who belong to her organization remain steadfast in their opposition to the mandate.

“I'm sure there is a lot of confusion out there, but we can't wait around until all the confusion clears,” the cardinal said. “We have to have implementation of the code in the next proposal that goes to Rome. So what's needed on campus is a climate of trust for what the bishops need to do.”

The U.S. bishops' conference may be partly to blame for the campus confusion and opposition, observed Cardinal George. Instead of confining their consultations in recent years to hearing from college presidents, he said the bishops could have promoted better communication and understanding by meeting with faculty and staff at Catholic colleges throughout the country.

“I think it was a mistake not to include more people in the discussions, because it has left a large number of faculty and staff to draw conclusions without accurate information about this,” Cardinal George said. “I think if more people had been included, there would be more understanding and a lot less fear about all of this.”

Although Cardinal George finds the college association's proposal inadequate, he's convinced the group genuinely wants colleges and universities to teach in communion with the Church. Overall, said the cardinal, he's pleased with the state of Catholic higher education.

“Of course, just when you think things are looking up, you hear a pile of stories that make you think maybe they're not,” the cardinal conceded.

In May, for example, at least 10 Catholic colleges invited commencement speakers who have been overtly pro-choice on abortion.

“Commencement speakers with pro-choice views are totally inappropriate at any college or university that claims to be Catholic, or to function in the Catholic tradition,” the cardinal said.

“Inviting someone as a commencement speaker is a clear sign of approval. Abortion is literally a life or death issue, so to honor someone who supports it risks compromising that institution's public witness to the Gospel.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.