As we approach the 20th anniversary of what was supposed to be the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, there still are very few Catholic college administrators willing to even discuss the document. And even fewer bishops willing to enforce it. Refusing to comply with the document’s mandatum requiring all Catholic colleges to teach “in communion” with Church doctrine—and be accountable to their bishops—most Catholic college and university administrators have spent the past few decades to ignoring it.
The few exceptions are Catholic colleges and universities such as Franciscan University—where Ex Corde Ecclesiae guides hiring, curriculum and student life—and Ave Maria University, which recently re-published the papal document in a beautifully bound book and distributed it widely across campus. (It is also available on the University’s website.) But Ex Corde Ecclesiae is very much a “dead letter” on most Catholic campuses.
In fact, the reason that Ave Maria University decided to appeal to the Holy See through the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, DC for permission to reprint the papal document was because printed copies of the papal document are almost impossible to obtain. Ave Maria’s Provost Roger Nutt wrote in the Prologue:
Ex Corde Ecclesiae has been an inspiration and guide to the university since its founding, the document is used for orientation of new faculty and other formation opportunities on campus…It is our hope that this Ave Maria University reprint of Ex Corde Ecclesiae will facilitate interest in John Paul II’s vision for Catholic higher education and provide greater clarity to all the faithful about what the Church expects from her universities.
While Ave Maria University must be lauded for the important role Ex Corde plays on its campus, most of those working on the majority of the more than 200 Catholic campuses in the U.S. have long forgotten it. In fact, the document was most likely “dead” from the moment of its release in 1990, as the majority of Catholic college presidents refused, and continue to refuse, to implement it. One Catholic college professor, who was then the vice president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, called it the “death” of Catholic higher education. Notre Dame’s then-president Fr. Edward Malloy, along with Fr. Donald Monan, then-chancellor of Boston College, responded to the release of the document by publishing an article in America calling it “positively dangerous.”
Warning of “havoc” if it were adopted, the faculty senate at Notre Dame voted unanimously for the guidelines to be ignored. Mission mostly accomplished. Fiercely resisted, it took more than ten years for Catholic campuses to even pretend that they were beginning to implement it in 2002. Ten years later, in 2012, the Office of the Secretariat of Education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a Final Report for the Ten-Year-Review of the Application of Ex Corde Ecclesia. The USCCB’s “Final Report” was a one-page, self-congratulatory and platitudinous document that lauded “ongoing dialogue” and a “spirit of collaboration”—but said nothing about what was really happening in Catholic higher education.
The 2012 USCCB report ignored Notre Dame’s providing the highest honors to pro-abortion politicians including President Barack Obama and then-Vice-President Joe Biden. Notre Dame’s President John Jenkins rejected any pretense of “collaboration” with the presiding bishop, the now-deceased Bishop John D’Arcy, who publicly pleaded with him to reverse the decision to honor President Obama with an Honorary Degree at Commencement. The report also ignored Georgetown faculty’s lobbying for abortion and same-sex “marriage”, and its student pro-abortion club Hoyas for Choice. And it ignored Notre Dame’s “Coming Out Closets” event celebrating the GLBTQ community on campus. It also ignored the many Catholic universities with close ties to Planned Parenthood—the largest abortion provider in the country.
In fact, in 2011—the year before the USCCB released its “final report” of the great progress made by Catholic colleges—the Cardinal Newman Society reported 150 connections between Catholic colleges and Planned Parenthood. The connections included recommending Planned Parenthood as a health resource, hiring faculty who currently or previously worked at Planned Parenthood centers, hosting events and fund raisers for the organization, and encouraging students apply for internships and volunteer opportunities at various Planned Parenthood facilities. None of this was mentioned in the celebratory assessment of Ex Corde’s implementation in 2012.
Further, the single-page USCCB report was lauded by Catholic News Service and National Catholic Reporter, which proclaimed: “Bishops, colleges find good collaboration in Ex Corde review”, and even Our Sunday Visitor published a headline that pronounced: “Progress Seen in Boosting Catholic Identity on Campuses.”
Today, ten years later, most Catholic college faculty and administrators continue to resist any attempt by the bishops to “interfere” with the activities on their campuses—even when those activities are blatant violations of Catholic moral teachings. This independence was codified in a symbolic manifesto issued in 1967 at a meeting of the U. S. Catholic academic leaders in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, led by Notre Dame’s longtime president, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh. What became known as the “Land O’Lakes Statement” declared:
To perform its teaching and research function effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community.
This quest for independence from the Church continues. Last year, students at Loyola Marymount held a major fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in is campus dining hall. Describing the event on an online university calendar as “an opportunity for us to raise money for a cause we really care about and have fun at the same time,” a statement from Loyola Marymount portrayed the event as a “living example that LMU embraces its mission, commitments, and the complexities of free and honest discourse.”
Still, there is some hopeful news. Earlier this academic year, University of Dayton administrators revoked an invitation to speak at a campus conference that had been issued to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, a Special Rapporteur within the United Nations and a long-time advocate for expanding access to abortion and reproductive choice. Honoring abortion providers in a Facebook post on “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day,” Dr. Mofokeng suggested that, “If you’ve ever had one or know of a person who was assisted by a provider, take a moment today to call or send a card just to say Thank you. They do a tough job and seldom get the appreciation they so deserve.”
Dr. Mofokeng was never an appropriate speaker for a faithful Catholic campus. But it is clear that many on Dayton’s faculty thought she was and pushed back on the decision to disinvite Mofokeng. It was courageous for Dayton’s administration to revoke the invitation. They should be admired, not criticized, for this. But the campus has had problems in the past. It was only a few years ago that the University of Dayton was negatively sanctioned by the Cardinal Newman Society for congratulating some of the graduates of their sociology program who are pursuing careers at Planned Parenthood as a Center Director or Program Administrator.
The University of Dayton revocation should give faithful Catholics hope because it is a sign that the war to reclaim the Catholic identity on Catholic campuses is not yet lost. Dayton, like some other Catholic colleges, has published guidelines for guest speakers which ask (on page 20) “How does the speaker/theme of the event advance the educational goals of UD as a Catholic and Marianist university?” If the published guidelines had been followed, Dr. Mofokeng would not have been invited in the first place.
Thankfully, there are many faithful faculty and administrators on Catholic campuses who will never give up. But what kind of support can they expect from their bishops? According to Barbara H. McCrabb, the Assistant Director for Higher Education at the USCCB, there are no plans for a twenty-year assessment of the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. “The U.S. application called for a five and ten year assessment,” McCrabb told CWR, “at this time there are no plans to do an additional review.”
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