Academic Institute Mum About Move From D.C.

Dear Sir:

I was a member of the commission on Catholic Scholarship (CCS) which worked for two years to draw up a plan for establishing an Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (IACS) about which the Register has published several articles. I was away from Catholic University when the author of the latest article, Brian McGuire, called for an interview. I regret that we were not able to talk, although I have to admit that my desire to submit to a Register-inter-view was somewhat lessened by the memory of a 30-minute interview with another Register reporter, in which I corrected several mistakes in his article and explained several other things, but which was never used by him or anyone else in subsequent Register articles.

There are several mistakes in Mr. McGuire's latest article (Register, September 5-11, 1999). First, the CCS and the IACS are not the same thing. It was the CCS that had an office in Washington, D.C., not the IACS, which does not exist except to the degree that it was applied for and received tax-exempt status. Whether it will ever exist except as a noble dream will depend on the success of a fund-raising campaign now being planned. The CCS, as such, its planning-work ended, is dissolved, although some individual members of it are assisting in the effort to raise funds for the Institute.

Second, what you describe as a “move” from Washington, D.C., to Greensburg, PA, means nothing more than the fund-raising office is now located near the residence of Dr. Hugh Dempsey, who has agreed to chair the effort. If sufficient funding can be found to establish it, the IACS, as Greensburg Bishop Anthony Bosco fully knows, will be located elsewhere. But no decision has yet been made about the location of the IACS.

Third, the members of the CCS will not constitute the board of directors of the IACS if and when the latter is established. It is a mistake, then, to refer to the former as members of the latter's board of directors which has not yet been constituted.

Fourth, an earlier article in the Register (August 1-7, 1999) states that “the institute plans to give grants exclusively to theology faculty at the discretion of the commission on Catholic Scholarship.” There are three mistakes in this statement. First, as already stated, the CCS has already been dissolved. Second, decisions about grants will be made by the IACS's board of directors, which has not yet been established. Third, it was never the intention that the IACS will “give grants exclusively to theology faculty.” It has not been planned as a theological center but as a center where anyone interested in recovering and understanding the Catholic tradition or in applying it to contemporary issues may apply to work and may receive financial and institutional support for their investigation. These may be historians, philosophers psychologists sociologists, physical scientists etc., as well, of course, as theologians.

Fifth, two remarks with regard to your regular association of the proposed Institute with the controversies over the implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae. First, informal conversations about establishing such an Institute began long before the document was published, and the two plenary meetings of the CCS that document was never a focus of discussion. Second, the reason for this is clear: we never envisaged the IACS as a college or university; we never planned that it would offer courses or grant degrees; we never thought of it as a rival to or substitute for Catholic colleges and universities; we thought of it simply as a research-center. Since Ex corde Ecclesiae is a document about Catholic colleges and universities and since the IACS will not be a Catholic college or university, it would follow that Ex corde Ecclesiae does not apply to the proposed IACS.

On the other hand, the IACS will provide another institutional basis for that dialogue between faith and reason that is urged in Ex corde Ecclesiae and in Fides et Ratio, precisely by offering opportunities for a scholarly study that the Pope insists is necessary. In this way it will also in its own way strengthen the contributions that Catholic colleges and universities can make to that great enterprise.

Sixth, the article cites one of the early documents of the CCS in which it is said that the IACS will be “free-standing” and “not jurisdictionally related” to the U.S. bishops. The first adjective means that it will not be associated with any university, Catholic or other, a decision that was made precisely to make it attractive to Catholic scholars at any institutions, rivalry among whom is not unknown. your article gives an invidious interpretation of the second phrase, once paraphrasing it as “operating outside Catholic Church structures” and once as “outside the line of bishops.” In my interview with a Register reporter I explained in some detail what the phrase meant, but since no use has been made of that explanation in subsequent articles, allow me to explain again what it means.

Both the Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law defend the right of the faithful to found and to participate in various types of associations. Vatican II's Decree on the Lay Apostolate, #24, discussed various ways in which associations of the faithful are related to the hierarchy. Here the Council spoke first of “enterprises that are established by the free choice of the laity and are governed by their prudent judgment,” and the Council notes that these kinds of associations have often been praised and recommended by the hierarchy. Such enterprises, the Council adds, may not call themselves “Catholic” without approval of the competent ecclesiastical authority.

From such enterprises the text distinguished others which the hierarchy chooses to promote, and in which it assumes particular responsibility as, for example, by an official “mandate,” which, however, is said to leave the laity their rightful freedom to act on their own initiative. Finally, the Council speaks of other activities, more closely connected with the bishops’ role, which are undertaken in view of a hierarchical “mission” and in which “the laity are fully subject to superior ecclesiastical moderation.”

Three cases are therefore described by the Council, in ascending order of jurisdictional relationship with the hierarchy. The least formal such relationship is the first, and it is this type of association, and its relationship to the hierarchy, that was intended in the statement that the IACS would not be “jurisdictionally related” to the hierarchy. The right of Catholics to form such associations is clearly spelled out in the Code of Canon Law (canons 215 and 216).

For a group of the Catholic faithful, such as the CCS, to avail themselves of this canonically guaranteed freedom and right to consider establishing an association, such as the IACS, is unfairly described by you as an attempt to operate “outside Catholic Church structures” or “outside the line of bishops” or to “sidestep” the American hierarchy, as one of your earlier articles put it (March 28-April 3). Not only do “Catholic Church structures,” as defined both by the Council and the Code, have room for such an institution; Catholic s are even said to have a right to form them. I suspect that the great majority of Catholic institutions and associations in the United States, including other, already existing , fellowships of Catholic scholars, not to mention Catholic newspapers, have the same canonical status: that is, they do not operate under episcopal mandate much less under a formal mission which makes them, in the words of the Council, “Fully subject to episcopal moderation.” It was because the IACS was not envisaged as exemplifying either of these two cases of formal mandates or missions that it was described as not “jurisdictionally related” to the U.S. bishops. In other respects, of course, the IACS will operate, as we said, within the communion of the Church, which includes, of course, the jurisdictional responsibilities of bishops, whose “support and encouragement” it recognizes it will need and has already begun to seek and receive.

Seventh, I am sorry that your reporting has been so marred by mistakes addressed above that you have not provided your readers with an accurate idea of what the IACS, if it can get off the ground, wishes to do: to provide scholars interested in Catholicism as both an ancient and a still-living and powerful tradition an opportunity to take time off from their usual responsibilities and to concentrate for a period of time on a piece of work that will illuminate and carry that tradition forward. Many Catholic scholars will tell you that there is an institutional imbalance in funding-opportunities in the U.S. today, one that makes it very difficult to get grants for work on religion in general and on Catholicism in particular. The IACS was designed to balance the scales. I am sorry that both you and the critics you cite show so little sympathy with the idea. This attitude contrasts starkly with the enthusiastic support that has been received from many academic leaders and from members of the hierarchy both here and in Europe, support that grounds our confidence that the IACS will soon become a reality.

Sincerely Yours, Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak John and Gertrude Hubbard Chair in Religious Studies Catholic University of America

Editor's Note:

At the heart of Father Komonchak's concerns about the Register's coverage is the charge that we have unduly conflated two organizations.

Yet it is Father Komonchak, a member of the Commission on Catholic Scholarship (which he says is now defunct), who writes to us to correct our stories about the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (which he says does not yet exist).

Again, in a Sept. 23 interview, Father James Heft told the Register that Father Komonchak speaks for the institute. If we have treated the organizations as one project, we are in good company.

Father Komonchak then charges that the Register has unfairly linked the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies with the debate about John Paul II's 1990 Apostolic Constitution for Higher Education Ex Corde Ecclesiae. But institute founder Father Heft is also chairman of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and is very much at the center of the Ex Corde Ecclesiae debate, as are others involved in the institute.

For instance, in the Jan. 26 USA Today, Father Heft suggested that the bishops are using the debate to try to “run schools.” Father Heft, when given the opportunity, would not say that the institute project and Ex Corde Ecclesiae are unrelated.

Later, Father Komonchak addresses a phrase that the Register has often quoted. It is from a fact sheet in which the group called its project the “Catholic Institute for Advanced Studies” and claimed that it is “not jursdictionally related” to the bishops.

There has been too much confusion about who is and who isn't under Church control. For instance, in January, Holy Cross Father Edward Malloy, president of Notre Dame, and Jesuit Father J. Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College, wrote an article in America magazine in which they suggested that their own universities are not “canonically Catholic.”

This sort of legalism obscures the letter and spirit of Vatican II and canon law. We should all be committed to the bishops, not out of fear in a “control” relationship, but out of love in a “communio” relationship.

Last, Father Komonchak says he is sorry that the Register coverage contained error. We regret that the institute's officials would not cooperate with us during the reporting of our stories. We welcome them to help us correct the record before publication in future stories.