WASHINGTON (November 17, 1999) -- Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop John J. Leibrecht, who chaired the Ex Corde Ecclesiae Implementation Committee for the U.S. Catholic bishops, said that the application just passed respects Catholic higher educational institutions and does not involve undue influence or threaten academic freedom.
By a vote of 223 to 31 with one abstention, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, meeting in General Assembly November 15-18, voted to send to the Holy See their application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the document issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990 which deals with Catholic institutions of higher education.
The application needs the approval of the Holy See before it takes effect.
The bishops' document seeks to apply to Catholic higher education in the United States the themes and norms of Ex Corde Ecclesiae which fosters the Catholic identity of the Church's institutions of higher learning throughout the world.
In comments to the full body of Bishops and also after the vote, Bishop Leibrecht pointed out that the universities themselves are responsible for their Catholic identity; the application does not involve any Catholic institution of higher learning losing its proper autonomy in relationship to the diocesan bishop.
At the bishops' meeting, Bishop Leibrecht announced that his committee had accepted several amendments to the document distributed to the Bishops last October.
These included provision for the implementation to begin a year after the Holy See gives its approval to the application. During that year, the dialogue with Catholic university and college representatives, which has been going on for several years, would focus on mutual understanding of the application document. Also included was a provision for developing a process for granting the "mandatum," which a Bishop gives for a theologian to teach in a Catholic faculty of theology and related disciplines, to foster a consistent approach to granting (or withdrawing) the "mandatum."
The application, like Ex Corde Ecclesiae, offers theological and pastoral principles for Catholic higher education. It discusses the relationship of the Catholic college or university with the wider Church community, calls for continuing dialogue with university representatives, and offers a description of the characteristics of Catholic identity in the university or college setting.
The application also suggests that "to the extent possible," a majority of the board of trustees of a Catholic university or college be Catholic, the university or college president should also be Catholic, and, "in accordance with [the university's] procedures for the hiring and retention of professionally qualified faculty and relevant provisions of applicable federal and state law," to the extent possible, the university or college should strive to recruit a majority of Catholics as professors.
With regard to any possible problems created by the application with regard to the civil law, Bishops Leibrecht pointed out that requirements of civil law will be taken into account when implementing the application.
Bishop Leibrecht said that he has no information on when the Holy See will make its decision on the application document.