Right to Truth, Right to Know: DeSales is Proud of the Mandatum


When it came time for Susan and Joseph Lawruk of Middletown, Pa., to choose a college for their son, James, they considered several Catholic universities.

In the end they chose DeSales University because of its adherence to Church teaching. Not only did James' time at DeSales deepen his faith, but it strengthened the faith of his parents as well.

"James graduated having read over half of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals," Susan Lawruk said. "His time at DeSales also led me to learn more about St. Francis de Sales and deepened my own devotion and prayer life."

James graduated with a degree in computer science in May 2002. According to his mother, James was looking for a college where religion was important.

"He wanted to be able to express himself and be accepted," Lawruk said. "I'd hate to have him go to a Catholic school where they were not teaching the proper tenets of the faith and have him be confused. I would rather have him attend a secular school."

Thankfully, that wasn't a concern at DeSales.

"When I read what president Father Bernard O'Connor wrote in the school newsletter about the university being completely in accordance with Ex Corde Ecclesiae [the Pope's 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities], I said, 'Hurray!' and later told the president how glad I was to see that."

DeSales' (formerly known as Allentown College) approach to the mandatum stands in stark contrast to the majority of the nation's Catholic colleges. Whereas the mandatum is handled secretly at most other universities, DeSales' approach is transparent.

Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen, university president Father O'Connor and theology faculty Larry Chapp and Rodney Howsare all felt free to talk to the Register about the mandatum's importance to the university.

Their transparency is in itself unusual.

The Register is investigating Catholic colleges and universities featured in U.S. News & World Report's college guide, asking: Are parents allowed to know whether those who teach theology intend to teach in communion with the Church? Or has the opposite happened — is the canon-law mandatum being used to protect dissenters?

During his meeting with U.S. cardinals last year, the Holy Father said parents "must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life."

Canon law requires university theologians to have mandatums. Canon 812 reads: "It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandatum from the competent ecclesiastical authority."

Yet most universities the Register has contacted in this investigation refuse to discuss their mandatum policies.

"The diocese requested that we as individual professors apply for the mandatum," explained theology chair Chapp. "The process started in the fall of 2001 and was completed by the end of the summer in 2002. We have all received the mandate from the bishop."

"The theology faculty at DeSales were seeking a kind of recognition even before it was absolutely necessary," Bishop Cullen said. "I received a letter from the faculty along with an endorsement from Larry Chapp and the president seeking the mandatum. If every bishop had that, I think they would find the faithful of their diocese much happier. Parents want to send their children to an orthodox school and have a right to."

Not only have all the theology faculty received the mandatum, but the faculty and administration also are proud of that fact and willing to speak about it publicly.

"We market ourselves as the Catholic university for the LeHigh Valley," Father O'Connor explained. "We're 'out of the heart of the Church' and proud of it."

"In the future there will be two types of Catholic colleges," Father O'Connor said. "There will be the purely secular — which now includes many of the schools that had a religious founding — and there will be those that are clearly religious. We want to be part of the clearly, purely religious institutions … not presenting the secular story but an explicitly Catholic story."

Father O'Connor isn't afraid to tell the public that the school's theologians have the mandatum.

"I wrote in an editorial in a secular newspaper that Ex Corde Ecclesiae was brilliant," Father O'Connor said. "It makes perfect sense to keep these Catholic schools authentically Catholic."

"There is a sizable group of parents that do care" about the mandatum, Father O'Connor said. "More than ever, there is a sizable group of young people that know what they are looking for and want the real thing."

Chapp also said he would have no qualms about telling them he has the mandatum.

"The spirit of the canon is involved. This isn't the messianic secret here," Chapp said. "There is supposed to be a public witness. Parents should be able to know what the product is that they are buying for their kid. It is utterly deceptive for a Catholic university to advertise itself as Catholic only to have students show up to lose their faith."

Likewise, Bishop Cullen said he is happy to tell parents about the mandatum.

"They have a right to know," he said. "I might not go into particular people, but the expectation is that everyone on the theology faculty should have the mandatum. If they do not, that's what I would say, and that would be a matter for the president to deal with."

Theology junior Eric Lipscomb of Budd Lake, N.J., said he appreciates the fidelity to Church teaching found at DeSales. Lipscomb originally examined the Catholic University of America and King's College but eventually chose DeSales because it offered a theology program as opposed to a comparative religion program.

"The teachers are not trying to teach dualism or Buddhism," Lipscomb said. "You get an understanding of the essential teachings of the Church."

Lipscomb said his three years at DeSales have helped him to discern a possible religious vocation. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a vocation with the Capuchin Friars.

Right to Know

According to canon law, fidelity to the Church is something that is the right of any lay Catholic.

Canonist Pete Vere said canon 217 is very specific with regard to the rights of lay Catholics concerning a Catholic education. It states that Christ's faithful "have the right to a Christian education, which genuinely teaches them to strive for the maturity of the human person and at the same time to know and live the mystery of salvation."

"Thus the right to an orthodoxy within one's Catholic education is a universal right in the code," Vere said. "It applies to all of Christ's faithful, whether lay, religious or clergy. And it applies at every level of education, whether primary, secondary, post-secondary or even Sunday CCD. Dissent within our Catholic faculties, if brought into the classroom, deprives the faithful of their right to a Catholic education."

In November 2001, Archbishop Daniel Pilarcyzk, chair of the committee that drafted the U.S. implementation of the mandatum, told a meeting of U.S. bishops that the mandatum "has no teeth."

"This is not about hiring and firing," Archbishop Pilarcyzk said.

Truth in Advertising

Father O'Connor sees it differently.

"Catholic theology is what we teach here," he said. "The mandatum would be mentioned as part of the hiring process. We're clear from top to bottom — in our mission statement and our board — what we are looking for. Unless the candidate is of a similar type of view of life, he or she wouldn't fit in very well."

Theology chair Chapp agreed.

"As the chair, I have a right to know who has the mandatum," Chapp said. "I don't want anyone teaching here who has a problem with it."

Despite the common objection of most Catholic colleges, faculty at DeSales do not find the mandatum an infringement upon academic freedom.

"There is no such thing as pure academic freedom," said Chapp, dismissing the idea that there is a dichotomy between faith and freedom. "The Catholic faith enlivens truth, it does not suppress it. The faith liberates us because it is true. It makes us more free, not less. As soon as an academic liberates himself from the faith, he simply becomes a slave to the culture."

"It seems like a no-brainer," said theology faculty member Howsare, an Episcopal convert to the faith. "If I didn't want to teach Catholic theology, I would be a Methodist. It just makes sense."

"No matter what perspective you come from, you are influenced by some worldview," Howsare continued. "It's a strange notion of freedom that says that the only threat to academic freedom is the Church's notion of freedom."

Father O'Connor also sees the mandatum as truth in advertising.

"You can't legitimately use the word Catholic," he said, "unless you have something similar to what we have here.

See the full series of articles here:

Mandatum — Part I
Mandatum — Part II: Georgetown
Mandatum — Part III: Notre Dame
Mandatum — Part IV: Loyola
Mandatum — Part V: Benedictine College Embraces Mandatum
Mandatum — Part VI: Right to Truth, Right to Know: DeSales Is Proud of the Mandatum
Mandatum — Part VII: Taking an oath: Franciscan University of Steubenville


Tim Drake. "Mandatum Cover-Up? — Part VI: Right to Truth, Right to Know: DeSales is Proud of the Mandatum." National Catholic Register. (Nov. 16-22, 2003).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. All rights reserved. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.


Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author.  He has published more than 600 articles in various publications. He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. Tim Drake is the author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, Saints of the Jubilee, and Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church. He resides in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. Visit his website here.

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