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Who decides how faith should be taught?

What some theologians said about the mandatum in discussion following the panel’s presentation:

In response to the question, “Does a bishop have a legitimate role in deciding how faith can be taught?” Terrence Tilley said, “Traditionally the magisterial role has been to set limits on what can be said.” But the recent direction of the magisterium has been to establish “what should, may or ought be said. Since I prefer the negative role” -- a magisterium that sets limits rather than dictates content -- “I don’t see the mandatum as the most effective way.”

Sr. Theresa Moser, in response to the same question: “Part of the role of a theologian is to hold bishops’ feet to the fire, to confront issues we see in the classroom and in the world around us.”

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A woman who asked to remain anonymous said that, on a recent job interview at a U.S. college, she had been taken to the bishops’ office for a “pre-mandatum” interview, where she was asked, among other things, whether she had “ever been in trouble with the magisterium.” The woman wondered whether such an interview was appropriate, given that the mandatum is not yet in effect and is not to be used as part of the hiring process. Guidelines call for theologians hired after the effective date of the mandatum to obtain one within the academic year, or within six months of being hired, whichever affords more time.

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Holy Cross Fr. Michael Baxter of the University of Notre Dame challenged a prevalent opinion that the mandatum, by allowing church leaders outside the university to control what is taught, represents a turning point in the nation’s tradition of academic freedom. “Both the modern corporation and the military have long been forces on universities,” he said. For example, said Baxter, “Science departments are funded by the Department of Defense, and the culture of corporations permeates business schools.”

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Anthony Blasi of Tennessee State University, delegate from his institution to the American Association of University Professors, predicted Catholic schools would become the laughingstock of academia if the mandatum is put into effect.

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Jesuit Fr. Francis Buckley of the University of San Francisco said he had decided after long reflection to neither request nor accept a mandatum, though he gives retreats to U.S. bishops and holds many of them in high esteem. “I oppose the mandatum because it is going to chill dialogue, and because, metaphorically, it is like using a Tommy gun to kill a fly.

“The flies may not be hit,” he said, referring to the a few theologians that bishops might regard as problematic, “but many innocent bystanders will be hurt.” Further, said Buckley, by refusing a mandatum, theologians can “express their support for the bishops who (previously) voted 224-6” in favor of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, while sidestepping the matter of the mandatum.

-- Pamela Schaeffer

National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2001