Oversight vs. Control
I am disturbed by the explicitly negative slant manifested in the news item “Control Increases” ("Changing Scenes," New Year 2000) concerning the decision of the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States to affirm the implementation of Pope John Paul II’s 1990 document Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The heading set the tone and texture with a precise choice of vocabulary, the word “control” (sure to alert the antennae of all members in the world of higher education). The descriptive expanded with the rhetoric of “asserted a new control” (somehow alluding to prior controls?) and an action to “legislate more stringent oversight” (stringent connotes power and external rigidity). A pointed reference to fear that this will curtail academic freedom and the possibility of dissent follows. Archbishop Rembert Weakland (one of the few to speak against the draft and the only person quoted in this report) asserts with alarm that theologians will fear being at the whims of individual bishops, but also the object of vigilante groups. I think that the ever straightforward C. S. Lewis would call this smudge and blur.
Some comments are in order. First, in light of the fact that the word Catholic (a distinctive term referring to a distinguishing characteristic and imperative responsibility of the church) qualifies the word university (college, seminary), Ex Corde is clear: the key insight involves the implications of speaking about the university in the church (rather than the university and the church). It has a relationship to the church that is essential to its institutional identity (EC 27), which consequently requires of the members of its community a personal fidelity to the church. The presupposition is that a Catholic university undertakes its distinctive task within the communion of the church. This includes a proper acknowledgment of the role of bishops as leaders and teachers of the church. In turn, this requires that the bishops acknowledge what is required for a Catholic university’s specific contribution to the general ecclesial mission, namely institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
Although institutional autonomy, like academic freedom, is assuredly an important element of higher education (both of these concepts are upheld in EC General Norms, Article 2), it is nonetheless not absolute. Even secular universities regularly accede to and comply with various regulations imposed upon them from the outside: by federal, state, and local governments, accrediting agencies, professional societies and associations. To regard the oversight (which differs from control) of the Catholic Church over the teaching of Catholic theology as stringent or curtailing is to postulate a form of institutional autonomy that does not exist in the current arena of higher education in the United States.
Secondly, the discipline of theology is a reflection upon faith from within the commitment of faith. Catholic theology is composed of a body of normative doctrine—authoritatively determined. Individual theologians are free to explain, defend, promote the tradition (or perhaps leave it); they are not free to dissolve or recreate it. This is why dialogue between bishops and theologians is essential (EC 29). Theological inquiry and teaching must be faithful to the Church, rightly probed within the horizons of faith.
Finally, the vocabulary regarding the links between the bishops and the local Catholic colleges and university is contextualized more clearly in terms of relationship and dialogue. The dynamic context of the document suggests bishops assist Catholic universities through close personal and pastoral relationships characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue (EC 28). Emphasizing again that dialogue between bishops and theologians is essential (EC 29), the document presents a straightforward, unambiguous invitation to a spirit of collaboration and communion.
Recognizing the fact that the meaning and possibilities of Ex Corde and the challenging process of its implementation are of import, I think that the editors of In Trust should have presented this report with greater accuracy, clarity, and depth.
J. Sheila Galligan, I.H.M.
Sister Galligan is a member of the Board of Trustees of Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
By the Numbers
Thank you for the good article about Saint Paul School of Theology in your last issue ("A Match Made in Heaven?"). Only one clarification needs to be made. The enrollment percentages on page 21 should be 50 percent United Methodist from the four surrounding states, 25 percent United Methodist from other places, and 25 percent from twenty-five other denominations. We appreciate the contributions of In Trust magazine to theological education.
Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
Kansas City, Missouri
Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is president of Saint Paul School of Theology.