WASHINGTON—The new fund-raising chief for an academic institute that wants to fund scholars outside the reach of U.S. bishops has downplayed the controversy surrounding his employer.

Hugh Michael Dempsey, of Green-sburg, Pa., refused to comment to the Register about the status of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, which bills itself as “not … jurisdictionally related” to the bishops. “I don't really know all the particulars about that,” Dempsey said.

A private foundation in Europe called Argidius will contribute $10 million to the Washington, D.C.-based institute, provided that it shows its fund-raising capabilities, according to the institute's brochures.

Dempsey was scheduled to start in his new position July 26. He said he did not know what salary to expect.

The self-described “free-standing” academic institute, also known as the Commission on Catholic Scholarship, is headed by Marianist Father James Heft, chancellor of the University of Dayton. The institute wants to raise $60 million for an endowment to fund scholarship that fits its understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

U.S. bishops are planning to meet in November to decide on new norms for safeguarding the authenticity of theological education at Catholic colleges and universities. Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, calls for norms for theology professors to receive a “mandate” from a “competent ecclesial authority.” Many Catholic education leaders fear the new academic institute would bypass such ecclesial authority.

“I'm familiar with the Ex Corde Ecclesiae issue,” Dempsey said, “but until I know more about all the relevant issues, I can't comment.” Asked about his personal commitment to the Church's magisterium, he said, “Until I know more, my comment would be irrelevant.”

Asked about his new job, he said, “I am a member of the Order of Malta, and the Order of the Holy Sepulcher and I felt for a very long time that I wanted to do more serious concentration on the faith and helping to expand people's understanding of the faith. My understanding of the institute is its main mission is to expand people's understanding of the faith and helping the faith to be relevant to people's lives.”

The institute plans to give grants exclusively to theology faculty at the discretion of the Commission on Catholic Scholarship. The institute's literature states that it hopes universities “will encourage some of their supporters to assist this important initiative [with donations].”

Concern about the religious identity of Catholic colleges and universities has peaked in recent months. Earlier this year media attention focused on a theology dean at the University of Detroit Mercy who gave public speeches denouncing the Church for opposing abortion. Georgetown University allowed use of campus facilities for a student-hosted talk by pornographer Larry Flynt, who used vulgar language to denounce the Catholic Church for opposing pornography. And a number of Catholic colleges have honored public promoters of abortion at their commencement addresses.

Dempsey received his undergraduate and master's degrees from Bloomsburg University, and a doctorate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He heads the Dempsey Group, which provides management consultant services.

He has served as president of The Eye and Ear Institute of Pittsburgh and has been associated with several local organizations in Westmoreland County, Pa.

Dempsey said he was a vice chairman of the Catholic Campaign for America briefly during its first year of operation. He said he will seek funds through “leadership grants” from sources in the United States and abroad.

—Register staff