Panelists at a March 11 forum on Ex Corde Ecclesiae offered their analysis of the papal document and discussed how it is likely - and unlikely - to affect Boston College and other American Catholic colleges and universities.
While some of the talk surrounding Ex Corde stems from inaccurate media coverage and misunderstanding of Church procedures, said Monan Professor of Law Daniel Coquillette, the Boston College community should not discount the document's potential impact.
University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, makes a point at the Jesuit Institute forum on Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Other panelists, from left, are Monan Professor of Law Daniel Coquillette and Adj. Prof. Francis Sullivan, SJ (Theology).
"Anything that affects our university, and its Jesuit and Catholic nature, should affect all of us," Coquillette told an audience of over 150 gathered in Gasson 100 for the event, sponsored by the Jesuit Institute. "Once we begin to think of the University as a group of people who are Jesuit or Catholic, and another group of people who don't care, I think we're in trouble at that point. We must have shared vision; it's part of the great strength of Boston College."
Coquillette was joined by University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, and Adj. Prof. Francis Sullivan, SJ (Theology), on the panel. School of Education Dean Mary Brabeck served as moderator. The three panelists each presented brief statements on Ex Corde, then joined Brabeck in responding to questions and comments from the audience.
Ex Corde , issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990, discusses the relationship between Catholic colleges and universities in the US and the Catholic Church. Work on implementing the document has been in progress in individual countries, and in 1996 American bishops approved a set of draft implementation norms. The Vatican returned the norms, asking for more juridical statements, and last October a new draft was circulated.
Local and national media coverage of the issue earlier this year, Brabeck noted, generated interest and concern in the University community. Some articles may have left the mistaken impression that the Vatican might assume governance of Catholic colleges and universities and require a quota of Catholic faculty.
Sorting through the facts is difficult, Brabeck said, because canon law and the history and language of Church procedures are largely unfamiliar to the public.
The panelists pointed out that the implementation document is still a work in progress: American bishops are inviting comment on the current draft until May 1, and after reviewing statements, will consider the norms at their meeting in November.
Coquillette said the document had attracted "wide support" among Catholics and non-Catholics, and represents the type of shared vision those who work in Catholic universities want and expect. Those who rely exclusively on media coverage of Ex Corde , he said, might get the impression that Boston College's fundamental autonomy and charter would be in jeopardy.
Not only is BC protected by its charter and accreditation with various organizations that safeguard academic freedom, he said, but "the ordinances themselves say that academic freedom is an essential component of a Catholic university." Coquillette added that the University community should seek ways of influencing the Ex Corde process in as positive a way as possible, and not fall victim to dissension.
Fr. Monan - who has been involved in high-level reviews and discussions of Ex Corde since its early stages - provided an overview of the papal document, which he said was "intended to be encouraging and inspirational" and would "encourage the strengthening of the universities and their Catholic character."
Fr. Monan noted that university presidents were not represented on the subcommittee of American bishops assigned to revise the 1996 draft norms, although they were given an opportunity to respond to the document produced. Instead of reconciling the differing viewpoints in a new text at that point, he explained, the implementation committee circulated the report, which eventually found its way into the public eye.
"This is not the time for exaggerated concerns or views of imminent danger," Fr. Monan said. "We are dealing with a subcommittee report that was circulated not for a vote, but for comment, and not merely to bishops but university personnel across the country."
He said that many bishops had already expressed concerns about the report, and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had been assembling a group to produce an alternative document.
Fr. Monan also pointed out that Boston College was established by the Massachusetts General Court, and has designated a board of trustees as its ultimate governing body. While the University views its Jesuit and Catholic character as inseparable from BC, he said, "for the trustees not to have control is impossible under Massachusetts law."
Fr. Sullivan discussed the possibility and implications of Catholic theology professors needing a mandate from local bishops in order to teach, as suggested in the Ex Corde report. He noted that canon laws, while promulgated for the Church as a whole, "can contain a law which ... may not be appropriate for a particular region." That was the view expressed by the US bishops in their 1996 draft, he said, "and I submit they are the best qualified body to make such a judgment for its own region."
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