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Texas bishops, academics discuss mandatum

NCR Staff

Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio said he will ask theology teachers in his archdiocese to sign papers affirming their commitments to teach authentic Catholic doctrine, as U.S. bishops will soon require, but he won’t propose dismissal for those who refuse to sign. Flores discussed his approach in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News on Feb. 13. Flores has jurisdiction over four of the state’s seven Catholic institutions of higher education.

Two days later, on Feb. 15, a committee of Texas bishops met with university presidents in a two-hour, closed-door session at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. San Angelo bishop Michael Pfeifer headed the committee formed by Texas bishops to deal with the implications of Vatican rules on who can teach theology at Catholic schools (NCR, Feb. 16).

Pfeifer said the group discussed issues raised by the new requirement that Catholic theology professors receive a mandatum from local bishops certifying they will teach authentic Catholic theology. Pfeifer gave the state’s Catholic theologians a strong vote of confidence for their “tremendous contributions.”

Both Flores and some local theologians, according to the Express-News, predicted virtually all of San Antonio’s Catholic religion educators would sign a statement of fidelity and agree not to misrepresent Catholic theology when teaching it. “I’ve been here 30 years,” said the archbishop, “and we’ve never had a complaint about any theology professor.

“I told them to think about it for a couple of months and then we’d talk about it again,” Flores said. “But it’s simply a profession of faith, and we make a profession of faith every time we say the Creed at Mass.”

Pfeifer said he foresees that problems will arise only if a formal complaint is made against a teacher. In that event, university officials would investigate the complaint, unless it is anonymously submitted. Charles Cotrell, president of St. Mary’s University, said that all schools already have structures in place to insure that professors teach in accordance with their religious mission. Pfeifer said: “We’re not going to do this in a heavy-handed way. We all want to work together to come up with a system that’s mutually acceptable.”

Maryknoll Sr. Marcella Hoesl, academic dean and professor of systematic theology at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, told NCR she thought both Flores’ statement and early reports from the committee’s meeting seemed “positive, showing a deep trust in area theologians.

“Where doctrine is developing,” she said, “each issue will have to be dealt with, as it comes up, in situ, by both the ordinary and by the universities. That’s where the rubber will hit the road. As this process develops we’ll see its implications clarified.”

In mid-June all U.S. bishops will meet in Atlanta to approve national guidelines. Implementation of the mandatum is to occur one year after the Vatican approves the plan.

Rich Heffern’s e-mail address is rheffern@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, March 2, 2001