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Savoring Discoveries

Through the pages of America magazine, where I found him so often, may I pay tribute to Richard A. McCormick, S.J., a universal theologian and close personal friend (Signs of the Times, 2/26)? As a moral theologian he was a genius at achieving clarity with brevity, a master at blending common sense and theological profundity, a synthesizer of the moral theological strains of thought of many scholars, a respectful presenter of his own insights and convictions.

Dick McCormick and I had a close friendship, many times enjoyed in Alaska. He epitomized for me a Latin expression that fascinated me in high school, simplex munditiis. I still translate that as simple elegance, which he showed as a friend but even more as a priest.

May he savor what he now will discover about all those theological questions.

(Most Rev.) Francis T. Hurley

Archbishop of Anchorage

Anchorage, Alaska

 

A World of Difference

I continue to look forward each week to receiving America, even after many years as a subscriber; the quality of the articles has never diminished, even in those that I would disagree with!

Kudos to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien for Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate (2/12). As I follow this discussion (I have been a trustee of two Catholic colleges), there is one point that I have never seen made. Those once former Protestant universities now with no ties to their founding churches were indeed founded by the churches. In the instance of Catholic colleges and universities, the vast majority (at least in this country) were founded not by the church but by religious communities. I feel this makes a whole world of difference which I’m not certain has been picked up on by those (especially Catholic) who point with alarm at Catholic colleges and universities.

Gerald P. Cohen, C.S.C.

University Roman Catholic Chaplain

Wesleyan University

Middletown, Conn.

 

Checkbook Mandate

The assertion that it is still unclear to everyone, including the bishops themselves, how the mandate will be implemented, as the Rev. Richard P. McBrien states in Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate (2/12), assumes a woeful lack of creativity in the church. But it’s really not that difficult to foresee a workable scenario. For example, Catholic colleges and universities could indicate in their catalogues next to each theologian’s credentials that a mandate either was or was not sought and, if sought, whether it was granted.

This would arm parents and potential students with valuable foreknowledge, empower them to ask good questions of faculty members during the college search process and let them learn first-hand what personal principles prevent a person from seeking a mandate, or what has prevented a mandate from being granted. They could determine, for example, that a professor in question is a sincere genius whose orthodoxy is a bit askew. Or, they might discover that a theologian is merely on an ego trip, one with potential for leading students down a moral and intellectual blind alley.

With this approach, no academic freedoms or principles would be compromised, and no one would be reassigned, sued or fired. This remedy follows in the tradition of academic free inquiry and American democratic principles. It’s also in concert with Cardinal Newman’s hope that one day the laity be given a voice in church affairs. The final mandate, then, would rest with the consumers of higher education who, after careful examination of conscience, either ratify a college or university with their checkbook, or reject it and walk away.

Edward A. Burke

Roseland, N.J.

 

Dimly Lit Line

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien argues that the central reason not to seek a mandate is that academic freedom and institutional integrity cannot permit the introduction of an external, non-academic agent into essentially academic decisions of who may teach (2/12). How, then, would he distinguish the cases of medical schools where, for example, a professor of surgery may be required to have a valid license to practice medicinesomething provided by the external, non-academic agent of a state medical board? Similarly, might the need for a valid professional license also exist for faculty members at other professional schools such as law, engineering or architecture. While Father McBrien rightly cites the principle of academic freedom, I would like to see some analysis on how such freedom is exercised now by professors also subject to professional licensing bodies not under the control of the academic administration of a university and college [or] the chair or faculty of a department....

Until such cases can be distinguished or discounted, I’m not sure the line is as bright as Father McBrien has drawn it.

Steve Kurdziel

Shaker Heights, Ohio

 

Active Partners

Thank you for publishing the article by the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, Why I Will Not Seek a Mandate (2/12), which voices the concerns of many in Catholic higher education. I am disappointed, though, that Professor McBrien failed to note the active involvement of the College Theology Society in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae discussions.

Since the foundation of the College Theology Society in the 1950’s, the primary focus of its membership (well over 900 at last count, and growing) has been teaching and research in Catholic colleges and universities. In recent years, the C.T.S. and C.T.S.A. have been active partners in addressing the type of issues raised by the implementation document, especially the mandatum. So regarding future discussions, Professor McBrien should have said: Not only should theologians be involved; they should be selected by the officers and board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theology Society.

Mary Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J.

President, College Theology Society

San Francisco, Calif.

 

More Complex

I had difficulty understanding what ecclesiology the Rev. Richard P. McBrien employs to support the argument he raises in his article, Why I Shall Not Seek a Mandate (2/12). That argument focuses around the claim that the bishop is an external, non-academic agent being inserted in the internal, academic processes of Catholic higher education. But if Catholic colleges and universities intend to promote the message and mission of the church, how can the bishop be external to that end? Are these institutions integral to the life of the church or not?

As a pastor of two parishes with grade and high schools, I never considered myself external to their operation or activities, even though I never tried to usurp the role of their administrators or teachers. Since the mission of those schools derived from the priorities of the parish community, the relationship between church and school was clear and compelling.

The history of Catholic colleges and universities is more complex than that of parochial grade and high schools, but there is no less reason for a clear relationship to exist between church and school if those colleges and universities intend to reflect and promote the mission of the church.

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are important components to be safeguarded, but they should not be used as fronts for ideological independence. If these institutions serve to promote the mission of the church, then there ought to exist a link to the Catholic community through its leadership in the office of the bishop.

(Most Rev.) John Nienstedt

Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit

Detroit, Mich.

Comments

Jim Egan, S.J. | 1/19/2007 - 10:25am
Your March 4 issue arrived unusually early in Kampala. It was passed on to me as I was leaving to take a sabbath day on the shores of Lake Victoria. I always go to the letters first. The responses to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s mandatum article expressed the kind of intelligent challenges that I have come to expect from America’s readers. More letters, please! I noticed those few recently calling for more feeding of faith...good for you.

Then I went to the book reviews and there I found superb summaries and evaluations by Richard Hauser, S.J., of the recent books on Merton—another dose of good news revealed in this American monk with his humanity showing, as well as God and his life-grounded prayer—a call to all of us to keep growing and not fear the questions.

“Rome and ICEL” by Bishop Donald Trautman speaks with clarity, vigor and intelligence to a recently unfocused attack on ICEL and the episcopates with which it has been collaborating for the last 30 years. We are not voiceless after all. We have not been abandoned to secret manipulations and “back-door” policymaking.

Finally, I almost passed over “Descend on Us in Fire” by Paul Mariani. How happy I am I did not. Here is the Good News in pure form. The message of life becomes the message of the Gospel.

Jim Egan, S.J. | 1/19/2007 - 10:25am
Your March 4 issue arrived unusually early in Kampala. It was passed on to me as I was leaving to take a sabbath day on the shores of Lake Victoria. I always go to the letters first. The responses to the Rev. Richard P. McBrien’s mandatum article expressed the kind of intelligent challenges that I have come to expect from America’s readers. More letters, please! I noticed those few recently calling for more feeding of faith...good for you.

Then I went to the book reviews and there I found superb summaries and evaluations by Richard Hauser, S.J., of the recent books on Merton—another dose of good news revealed in this American monk with his humanity showing, as well as God and his life-grounded prayer—a call to all of us to keep growing and not fear the questions.

“Rome and ICEL” by Bishop Donald Trautman speaks with clarity, vigor and intelligence to a recently unfocused attack on ICEL and the episcopates with which it has been collaborating for the last 30 years. We are not voiceless after all. We have not been abandoned to secret manipulations and “back-door” policymaking.

Finally, I almost passed over “Descend on Us in Fire” by Paul Mariani. How happy I am I did not. Here is the Good News in pure form. The message of life becomes the message of the Gospel.

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