Bishops and Universities

In the next two weeks, a few things are almost surely going to happen. The president will speak at Notre Dame’s commencement. Twenty percent of the US bishops and a few hundred thousand Catholics will have the climax to the upset they’ve nurtured for the past several weeks. More Catholics won’t notice at all, and some of them will even be so-called “good” Catholics.

Some have already portrayed this upset and its accompanying event as a turning point of sorts. Actually, I hope they’re right. It doesn’t seem as if universities and bishops have the best of relationships. Some mutual effort would seem to be indicated, and it’s not likely to play out with the script of bishops saying, “Jump,” and universities responding, “How high?” And if John Paul’s apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (ECE) is seem by some on the academic side as high-handed (Ex Discord?), let’s be frank and suggest that some bishops aren’t even bothering to live up to the duties they are given. Like this one:

Bishops have a particular responsibility to promote Catholic Universities, and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity, including the protection of their Catholic identity in relation to civil authorities. This will be achieved more effectively if close personal and pastoral relationships exist between University and Church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue. (ECE 28)

This would seem to place the burden of reaching out on the bishop. ECE also touts the connection of a Catholic university with regional bishops or the national conference. So given Notre Dame’s stature in the US (like it or not), it would seem that relationships with ND and other bishops are not out of keeping with the last pope’s thoughts. That would seem to stand a bit contrary to Bishop D’Arcy’s suggestion that he alone is the arbiter of the Notre Dame relationship.

Christus Dominus 35.4 also gives some timely guidance:

Catholic schools conducted by Religious are also subject to the authority of the local Ordinaries for purposes of general policy- making and vigilance, but the right of Religious to direct them remains intact. Religious also are bound to observe all those things which councils or conferences of bishops shall legitimately prescribe for observance by all.

The bishops have to realize that in dealing with universities, they are engaging (or not) with people who are at least their equals in education, including theological, politics (to say the least), diplomacy, fundraising, and influence among the laity. Would that be a tool for a combined effort at strengthening Catholic identity? If not, is it a likely conquest?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Bishops and Universities

  1. Todd:

    Bishop D’Arcy did not suggest that “he alone is the arbiter of the Notre Dame relationship”. He stated that as the Bishop of the diocese in which Notre Dame is located, he is the chief lawgiver and interpreter of the law for his diocese. And on that point the Bishop is exactly right. And his criticism of Notre Dame’s thinly-disguised attempt at doing an end-run around this authority was also right.

    The universities also have a responsibility in maintaining the “mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue” envisioned by ECE. And I would say that Fr. Jenkins’ and ND’s actions in this whole mess were more about getting the outcome they wanted (Obama speaking at ND) than observing the precept of ECE. Presenting the local ordinary with a fait accompli in a controversial matter is not how you build trust. Giving every appearance of doing an end-run around the bishop’s legitimate authority is not how one engages in “close and consistent cooperation”, and publishing specious justifications for these actions in the national press does not show an interest in honest “dialogue”.

    Notre Dame’s behavior to the bishop has been dishonest and shabby. If Fr. Jenkin’s loses his job, he will richly deserve it.

  2. Todd says:

    Fr Rob, thanks for commenting. My take is that you and Bishop D’Arcy have overstated your case.

    Inviting a commencement speaker and awarding an honorary degree: are you both sure this comes under church law and not under the particulars of governing a university? Is there something explicit about approval of such speakers and awards, especially considering the customary invitation ND gives to US presidents?

    I’m not denying the role of bishop within his diocese; I’m just suggesting two things: it’s not a matter of law, but of custom, and that the role of “chief lawgiver and interpreter” is not exclusive or absolute.

    “And his criticism of Notre Dame’s thinly-disguised attempt at doing an end-run around this authority was also right.”

    I don’t know that the criticism was “right” so much as it was a non-consultation. Bishop D’Arcy seems to concede in his statements that he recognizes his own culpability in the deteriorating relationship. If ND has a problem with him, the Gospel would put the burden on him to make the effort to repair the breach.

    So, yes, while universities share in the duties of a relationship, it seems as if Bishop D’Arcy and conservatives want to play it both ways. On one front, the bishop is primary governor, but on the other, if the relationship falters, it’s partly/mostly the other party’s fault.

    “Presenting the local ordinary with a fait accompli in a controversial matter is not how you build trust.”

    True. But none of us have been on the inside of this relationship. These incidents don’t happen in isolation. Some bishops would do well to heed the warning about provocation in Eph 6:4.

    “Notre Dame’s behavior to the bishop has been dishonest and shabby.”

    If they have never approached the bishop to approve previous speakers, we might have to concede it was also SOP.

    “If Fr. Jenkin’s loses his job, he will richly deserve it.”

    Probably the weakest part of your argument. ND is not a diocesan university. The Church does not run itself like Republican politics–though sometimes it’s worse. I think people who have gone overboard in criticizing the man and the university would deserve to have him remain in office, if for no other reason than to be a reminder of the limits of governance by temper tantrum.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    When this is over we can get back to worrying about things that matter …. like female Swiss Guards! Fallen angels and demons are loose in the confines of the Vatican. Will the Revealed Faith survive this feminization of the church? Is nothing sacred anymore?

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