Creighton Doesn't Hide Professors' Status


OMAHA, Neb. —Micah Kiel received his diploma from Creighton University with a double major in communications and Spanish on May 15.

He also has a hefty number of credits in theology and philosophy, thanks to a requirement that all Creighton students take three courses in each discipline.

“The joke on campus is that once you leave Creighton, you almost have a theology minor,” said Kiel, who hails from Des Moines, Iowa. “In learning about our [Catholic] religion and the religions of others, it helps us to be more who we are.”

Among the nation's 28 Jesuit institutions of higher education, Creighton University stands alone. Whereas the others have not revealed which theology faculty members have received the man-datum, a bishop's statement that they are teaching in line with Church doctrine, Creighton has. Much of that is due to the approach of Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Elden Curtiss.

In November 2000, Archbishop Curtiss expressed his concerns to the U.S. bishops' conference's ad hoc committee on the mandatum.

“Bishops are concerned about undergraduates at universities and the quality of the theology they are receiving there,” Archbishop Curtiss told the committee. “The expectation of Catholics, if they send their children to a Catholic college or university, [is] that grounding is going to take place.”

The archbishop added that he thought it was his obligation to make it public if there were professors of Catholic theology who would not seek the mandatum.

In early 2001, Archbishop Curtiss met with Creighton's theology faculty. With the assistance of former theology chairman Father Richard Hauser, Archbishop Curtiss carried on a dialogue with the theology faculty.

“What made this possible was the accord between the archbishop and the theology department,” explained Father Hauser, professor of systematic and spiritual theology.

“I promised the faculty that if there was ever an issue, I would dialogue with them personally,” Archbishop Curtiss said. “Therefore, they didn't see the mandatum as a threat.”

“The Holy Father's intention was that the bishop would dialogue with the faculty and show that they were in union with the Church and the teaching magisterium,” he said. “I told the faculty that if they did not sign the mandatum, I would make that public.”

Department chairman John O'Keefe put a copy of the mandatum in the mailbox of each faculty member. In the end, all but one of Creighton's theology faculty members received the mandatum.

Archbishop Curtiss told the Register that one faculty member felt he could not sign the mandatum for matters of conscience but told him he was willing to support the archbishop and the teachings of the Church. In response, Archbishop Curtiss gave that professor a verbal mandatum.

Jesuit schools nationwide enroll 190,000 of the 700,000 students at America's Catholic colleges and universities. The situation at Creighton is unusual not only among Jesuit institutions but also among Catholic colleges and universities in general.

Since 1983, canon law has required that a theologian teaching in a Catholic university receive a mandatum from the local bishop. The mandatum is the bishop's recognition of the theologian's intention to teach in full communion with the Church's magisterium, or teaching office. The requirement was highlighted in a footnote in Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

For the past year, the Register has been investigating Catholic colleges and universities featured in U.S. News & World Report's college guide, asking: Are parents and students allowed to know whether those who teach theology intend to teach in communion with the Church? Or is secrecy about the canon-law mandatum being used to protect dissenters?

Very few schools are willing to say whether their professors have the canon-law mandatum.

During his meeting with U.S. cardinals in 2002, Pope John Paul II linked the dissent cover-up with the sex-abuse cover up saying parents “must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.”

Creighton is ranked first among master's universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges 2004.

History of Dissent

The roots of the higher-education crisis go back decades.

In July 1967, 26 Catholic college and university presidents gathered at the Land O' Lakes Conference to discuss the future of Catholic higher education. At that conference, the university presidents and administrators declared, “The Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Many observers point to the conference as one of the causes for the secularization that has since plagued Catholic institutions of higher learning.

Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), was a response to that secularization. As its title indicates, these institutions grew “from the heart of the Church.”

Their mission and their life should reflect that, the Pope said.

Archbishop Curtiss is one of a few U.S. bishops who have revealed whether theology faculty in his diocese have received the mandatum. He has joined Chicago Cardinal Francis George; Steubenville, Ohio, Bishop Daniel Conlon; Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop James Patrick Keleher; and Allentown, Pa., Bishop Edward Cullen in publicly stating that the mandatum is not a private matter.

“The mandatum is a public reality,” Cardinal George told the Register last year. “It's a personal act, but personal acts are sometimes public — like receiving the sacraments.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated in a 1990 “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian” that “the theologian who is not disposed to think with the Church (sentire cum Ecclesia) contradicts the commitment he freely and knowingly accepted to teach in the name of the Church.”

The Vatican-approved U.S. application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae set the deadline for bishops to require the mandatum as June 1, 2002. The U.S. application will come up for review by the U.S. bishops' conference in May 2006, five years after the norms implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae went into effect.

In the meantime, there has been no mechanism for accountability, nor is there a review board to monitor bishops' compliance. At this stage, nearly two years later, some bishops have yet to require the mandatum or even to grant it where theology professors have voluntarily requested it.

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk told the Register that if people want to know whether a professor has or has not complied with the mandatum requirement, “they should raise it with the professor himself.” Archbishop Pilarczyk headed the U.S. bishops' conference ad hoc committee on the mandatum.

“I'm not prepared to say that [compliance] has been perfect,” Archbishop Pilarczyk told Register correspondent Edward Pentin in Rome. “It's been adequate, but it's open to improvement.”

A Matter of Mission

Father Hauser, the former theology department chairman at Creighton, said the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae at his university has been due in part to the theology department's clearly stated mission.

Theology faculty members spent two years working on the mission, which was formulated in 1997. Some theology departments, he said, have a problem with the mandatum because their mission is either too “open or undefined.”

“We stated that we are a department of theology, not religious studies, and we do our studies in the work of Tradition,” Father Hauser said. “We operate under the assumption that we are believing Catholic Christians in keeping with the Tradition.”

The department's mission statement specifies that the department, as Catholic, bears the characteristic of “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.”

Students have appreciated the approach taken by the theology department.

“My spirituality classes have been good,” said Franciscan Sister Monica Spates, who is approaching the end of a master's degree program in Christian spirituality. She particularly enjoyed a course that focused on saints from the early disciples to the present day.

“The content was excellent and it really made you love the Church,” Sister Monica said. “How can I not love the Church when it consists of people who wanted to give so much to the Lord?”

New graduate Schwartz agreed. “The mission grounds the department and the school in a real solid way,” he said. The former Lutheran became a Catholic during his freshman year and said his time at Creighton both strengthened and deepened his faith.

“Theology here has given me a richer sense of the Church's Tradition,” he said.

Jesuit superior general Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach was once quoted by Father Richard John Neuhaus as saying, “For some [Jesuit] universities, it is probably too late to restore their Catholic character.”

“I'm blessed,” Archbishop Curtiss said. “I [have] probably the only Jesuit university in the world with everyone on board.”

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.