“I don't think anyone here has it [the mandatum],” Notre Dame junior Daniel Rober said. “That's the presumption that I take when I look at the content of the course.”
Rober described the lower-level theology foundations courses as a “crapshoot.” He said he chooses courses carefully based upon the course description and talking with older students who have already taken the classes.
Theology student Brian MacMichael said it's worse for theology majors. “The vast majority of theology majors are very impressionable,” he said. “Most of them have a genuine interest in the field of theology but do not enter the discipline with a working knowledge of the Catholic faith. It's dangerous because they ask questions believing they are getting the right answers.”
Ironically, MacMichael said, the school crows about requiring theology courses, but those courses might actually undermine students ’ faith.
“There was a systematic attempt to undermine what the Church is teaching in the name of academic integrity,” said Father Brian Herlocker, a 2000 theology graduate from Notre Dame, describing his theology education at the school.
“We were supposed to look at all sides, but that isn't what happened,” said Father Herlocker, who is ordained in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., and works at the Newman Foundation at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “Instead, if we read Veritatis Splendor [The Splendor of Truth, Pope John Paul II's 1993 encyclical] at all it was to set it up as a straw man or to show how out of touch the Pope was.”
Samuel Vasquez, a 1999 theology graduate, agreed. “My Scripture classes were horrible,” he said, “particularly those taught by a Baptist professor. They gut the Scriptures of any transcendent aspects.”
Vasquez is currently enrolled in the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University.
Rober said he has been able to keep his faith at Notre Dame and he has hope for its future.
“It's possible to find the right answers,” Rober said, “especially among the young priests. Students should not be fearful that Notre Dame is a heterodox place. The more faithful who come here, the better it will get. You learn by having to fight for your faith.”
Father Herlocker also had praise for theology department chair John Cavadini.
“He [Cavadini] is working in a place that is deeply entrenched and he is trying to make the changes that are needed,” Father Herlocker said.
“Notre Dame will change,” Vasquez added, “but it will take a generation.”
— Tim Drake