Notre Dame to Parents: We Won't Tell

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame students are required to take theology courses. Nevertheless, it's nearly impossible for students and their parents to know which Notre Dame theology faculty teach with the Church and which do not.

Brian MacMichael found out the hard way. He said one theology course was enough to make him wonder whether he had made a mistake when he transferred to the school from the University of Florida.


Investigative series

“The course was on the sacraments,” MacMichael explained, “and when the professor taught on the Eucharist she taught that Christ was equally as present in the community presence as in the Eucharist.”

When MacMichael cited Pope Paul VI's 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei(On the Holy Eucharist) to demonstrate that Christ is uniquely present in the Eucharist, he was disregarded.

“She held her ground, reiterating that Christ was just as present in the assembly during Mass,” he recounted.

“I was worried that perhaps this was what the entire theology department was like,” MacMichael said.

But doesn't the entire theology department have the canon law-required mandatums from the bishop certifying that they teach with the Church? No one there will say.

When the Register called to ask which professors at Notre Dame had canon-law mandatums to teach theology, neither theology department chair John Cavadini, university president Father Edward Malloy nor Bishop John D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese responded.

Leon Dixon of Muncie, Ind., is a 1966 Notre Dame graduate. He recalls his father, a 1948 graduate of the law school, complaining about the loss of Catholic values at Notre Dame. Dixon's daughter, Elesia, just completed her freshman year at the university.

“My daughter's freshman religion teacher was an agnostic,” said Dixon. “I can get an agnostic religion instructor anywhere in the world for a boatload less money. If Notre Dame holds itself out, as it attempts to do, as a Catholic university, then it needs to be with the Pope.”

Dixon said that he has written to the bishop regarding his concerns about the mandatum.

“This sort of omertà is a Catholic problem,” he said. “If Mr. [Gov. Frank] Keating had to resign because he felt the American bishops were acting like a mafia, on the intellectual side [Notre Dame] has a problem that will not be solved by the muzzling of internal Catholic intellectuals or of Notre Dame graduates whose real-world accomplishments and learning dwarf those of the faculty. It exposes their lies regarding’ academic freedom.’”

During his meeting with the U.S. cardinals last year, Pope John Paul II said 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.”

The Register is investigating Catholic colleges and universities featured in U.S. News & World Report's college guide, asking: Are parents allowed to know whether those who teach theology even intend to teach in communion with the Church? Or has the opposite happened — is the canon-law man-datum being used to protect dissenters?

Since 1983, canon law has required that a theologian teaching in a Catholic university receive a mandatum from the local bishop, showing his intention to teach with the Church. The requirement was highlighted in a footnote in Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae(From the Heart of the Church). U.S. bishops began requiring the mandatum in 2001.

But parents say universities won't say who has a mandatum.

The Gamut

Do theology professors have mandatums at Notre Dame?

Responses from theology faculty, said Michael Garvey, assistant director of news and information, would be predictable.

“Father Richard McBrien will say that it's impossible to have any free thought if you implement it,” Garvey said, “and Father Edward O'Connor will say that it's impossible to have any free thought if you do not implement it.”

Indeed, the views of some of Notre Dame's theology faculty are well known.

Father McBrien declared in the Jesuits' America magazine, “I shall not seek a mandate because the requirement of a mandate compromises the academic integrity of the faculty and the university.”

Another theology faculty member, Lawrence Cunningham, has been quoted as saying he “resented” the fact that Catholics should have to take an oath of fidelity to their faith.

“Notre Dame has, for all practical purposes, decided to evade the mandate,” Father O'Connor said via e-mail.

The University of Notre Dame is ranked 19th among national doctoral universities by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges 2003. Overall, the proportion of Catholics on Notre Dame's tenured and tenure-track faculty has fallen to about 55%.

Parents’ Rights

A recent University of California-Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute survey suggested Catholic colleges, far from instilling the faith in students, are just as likely to cause students to lose their faith. That scares parents who don't want to pay for a Catholic education only to see their child taught that the faith isn't true.

That's the concern of Ken and Anne Marie Schroeder of Cincinnati, who want to find a college for their four children.

Their daughter Julie visited Notre Dame in June. While Julie liked the school, her mother was not quite so sure about it.

“We care about the mandatum and the Catholicity of the college,” Anne Marie Schroeder said.

A high school senior, Julie is interested in possibly studying biology and genetics. “I would really like to know that Catholic values are being instilled in these areas of study,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said the mandatum has been on her mind at each of the four colleges her daughter has visited.

“You want to know that your child is being taught the truth,” she said. “It would be great if the man-datum information was published or somehow made available. At least I would know what we were going into.”

David Hoppe, a Notre Dame alum, saw his daughter Katie graduate from the school in May. His son Geoff is currently a sophomore. Non-Catholic professors taught both of his children's freshman theology courses.

“One of the great regrets that I have, as an alumnus, is that the theology department is clearly the weakest department in the university,” said David Hoppe, of Burke, Va., who graduated from Notre Dame in 1973. “That should not be. It would be difficult to attend Notre Dame and receive a theology degree and believe that you had learned the Catholic faith.”

“I would have thought that it would be important to have a core curriculum course at a Catholic university taught by a Catholic,” Hoppe said. “It's not the strongest recommendation one can give a Catholic university when one says to stay away from its theology department.”

Still, Hoppe thinks Notre Dame has much to offer.

“You can still find good professors who inculcate the Catholic faith in the subjects they teach,” he said. “Students have the opportunity to attend daily Mass in their dorms. It's still a place where it is easy to live and grow in your faith. Notre Dame still has a religious grounding that many of the major Catholic universities have lost.”

One of the few professors who has written publicly about the man-datum is Notre Dame law professor emeritus Charles Rice.

Rice, writing for the Observer, the daily newspaper at Notre Dame, said: “It is fair to say that if Notre Dame will not ensure that its required courses in theology are faithful to the Church's magisterium, those courses (and required philosophy courses) should no longer be required. If the professors want to do their own thing, let them and the university abandon any claim that it is the’ Catholic’ thing and let the students decide whether to take such courses.”

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.