Mandatum — Part VII: Taking an oath: Franciscan University of SteubenvilleTIM DRAKE
When Adrian and Beth Galvez of Williamsburg, Va., looked at colleges for their eldest daughter, Christa, they considered several Catholic institutions. In the end they chose Franciscan University of Steubenville because of its adherence to Church teachings.
had visited other Catholic universities that appeared to have given up being Catholic
for fear of losing grant dollars,” Adrian Galvez recalled. “One of the schools
had removed the crucifixes from its classrooms.”
At another school the
Galvezes visited, the tour guide seemed to apologize for the presence of religious
priests and brothers on campus.
“There’s no point in considering a school
that has abandoned its Catholic identity,” Galvez said. “Whatever pursuit our
children feel called to, what we don’t want is after having been given the privilege
of trying to plant the seed to follow God, for them to go to a university and
have that driven from them by some apparently well-meaning person.”
expects they will seriously consider Steubenville when their remaining three children
graduate from high school as well.
Ranked 24th among Midwestern universities
in U.S. News and World Report’s 2004 Guide to America’s
Best Colleges, Franciscan University of Steubenville is one of only a dozen
of the country’s 235 Catholic institutions of higher education whose theology
faculty have met canon law
requirements for the mandatum.
The mandatum is a recognition by his bishop
of a Catholic theologian’s pledge to teach in communion with the magisterium of
Since 1983, canon law has required that a theologian teaching
in a Catholic university receive a mandatum from the local bishop. The requirement
was highlighted in a footnote in Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution
on higher education, Ex
Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). U.S. bishops began requiring
the mandatum in 2001.
The Register has been 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 even intend to teach
in communion with the Church?
Or has the opposite happened— is the mandatum
being used to protect dissenters? Schools
which the Register has identified in compliance with the canon law mandate
are listed on the Register’s Web site (www.ncregister.
During his meeting with the U.S. cardinals in 2001, Pope John
Paul II 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.”
The majority of the nation’s Catholic colleges
and universities are treating the mandatum as a private matter between the individual
theology professor and his or her local bishop, making it virtually impossible
for students or their parents to know which professors have received the mandatum.
This, however, is not the case at Franciscan University.
Bishop Daniel Conlon; Third Order Regular Franciscan Father Terence Henry, the
university’s president; and theology department chairman Alan Schreck all spoke
with the Register about the mandatum’s importance to the eastern Ohio university.
“We have all applied for and received the mandatum,” Schreck said. “The mandatum,
for us, is an important thing. It’s our pledge of fidelity to the Church and expresses
where we have always stood.”
“Parents have sometimes been surprised that
the outcome of a supposedly Catholic education does not lead to a strengthening
of the lived-out faith but the opposite,” Father Henry said. “We see our mission
as part of a larger mission, which is to be at the heart of the Church. The only
way we can be there to produce the next generation of Catholic leaders is to be
When seminary professors of philosophy and theology began taking
the oath of fidelity in the late 1980s as required by Canon 833, Steubenville
decided to do likewise. In 1989, long before the U.S. bishops finalized guidelines
for the implementation of the mandatum, the university gained prominence by becoming
the first Catholic university in the United States whose theology faculty, priests
and campus ministers publicly pledged fidelity to the local bishop and the universal
At the beginning of every school year those responsible for theology
and ministry would recite the Creed and the bishop would administer the oath of
fidelity. It’s a tradition the university continues every fall. In the presence
of the university’s freshmen, those taking the oath “accept all that the Pope
teaches, and the bishops in union with him,” and promise “to preserve communion
with the Catholic Church, whether in speech or action.”
“This is what
we believe,” Schreck said. “We want to make a public statement that we are proudly
in submission to the Church.”
Bishop Conlon explained that the oath was
in place long before he became bishop 18 months ago.
“There is a great
openness on the part of the faculty,” he said. “I was invited to be a part of
that process.” Bishop Conlon explained the process: “In the fall the president
sends me a list of the new theology professors as well as their curriculum vitaes.
There is a Mass at the beginning of the school year at which these professors
come forward and make their profession of faith and oath of fidelity.”
The bishop said that after this happened last fall, the professors “sent me letters
asking for the mandatum, which I then granted.”
In addition, as part of
the process and as a way of getting to know them, Bishop Conlon invited the new
theology faculty members to meet with him as a group.
“The faculty is
open to the mandatum,” Bishop Conlon said. “That’s a natural consequence of what
they understand their role to be — to teach the Catholic faith in a critical way.
To be asked to teach that faith faithfully is not a problem for them. It is a
part of their mission.”
Last year, in preparation to teach at the university,
outgoing Bishop Gilbert Sheldon took the oath of fidelity before Bishop Conlon.
“He may be the only bishop in the world to have taken an oath of fidelity before
a fellow bishop with regard to his responsibilities as a teacher,” Father Henry
On Oct. 10, 14 of the university’s 20-member board of trustees also
took the oath. The remaining six planned to take it at a later date.
symbolism of the oath is not lost on either students or their parents.
Theology senior Maria Kemper said both she and her parents were impressed. “It
was such a strong stand with the magisterium,” she said. “They were saying that
they were not ashamed of Catholicism.” Kemper said she is thankful for the university’s
approach to the mandatum.
“I can trust the theology that is presented,”
Kemper said. “I don’t have to pull apart the idea to see what grain of truth is
locked inside. To be able to trust helps me both in my studies as well as in preparing
me for life outside of college.”
Right to Know
to canon law, that trust is something that is the right of any lay Catholic.
Canon 217 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.”
president Father Henry likened the mandatum to accreditation.
“If a parent
asked whether a university were accredited by a particular agency and the university
responded that it was a private matter, a parent would probably not consider that
school,” he said. “How can a parent find out if a school is Catholic if the school
is not helping him with the information he needs?”
In November 2001, Archbishop
Daniel Pilarcyzk, chairman 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.
University of Steubenville, however, is one of a number of Catholic colleges that
require the mandatum for hiring theology faculty.
These include the University
of St. Thomas in Houston, where the new secretary of the Vatican Congregation
for Catholic Education, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, was president until recently.
“In hiring, the chair knows the professional competence of the candidate,” Father
Henry said. “I screen with regard to mission. The professor needs to understand
that part of our mission is the mandatum, so if an interviewee told me he wasn’t
going to seek the mandatum, that is not someone I would want teaching here.”
Father Henry said the university has turned away candidates for that reason.
“We have told interviewees that we thought they would be better off somewhere
else,” he said.
Despite the common objection of most Catholic colleges,
neither faculty nor students at Steubenville find the mandatum an infringement
upon academic freedom.
“This does not violate, in any sense, responsible
academic freedom,” Schreck said. “We’re open to exploration of other points of
view as part of an academic study of religion, but we express allegiance to the
Catholic Church. We see theology as an ecclesial vocation.”
“Freedom should be limited by truth,” Kemper said. “You
can teach about Buddhism, but when it comes down to it, you must inform your mind
in accordance with truth. Learning about other things is good, but saying that
it’s all one is quite false.”
the full series of articles here:
Part II: Georgetown
Part III: Notre Dame
Part IV: Loyola
Part V: Benedictine College Embraces Mandatum
Part VI: Right to Truth, Right to Know: DeSales Is Proud of the Mandatum
Part VII: Taking an oath: Franciscan University of Steubenville
Tim Drake. "Mandatum Part VII: Taking an
oath: Franciscan University of Steubenville." National Catholic Register.
(Nov. 16-22, 2003).
This article is reprinted with permission
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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.
© 2003 National Catholic Register