A Tale of Two Universities

A Tale of Two Universities

Dr Ralph McInerny, Dr Alan Schreck

The American 'Crisis' magazine is a contemporary of 'AD2000'. Professor Ralph McInerney is co-publisher of 'Crisis' and a Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame University. His comments on the state of theology at American Catholic universities are very revealing, as is the response to Dr McInerney's article from Dr Alan Schreck, Chairman of the Department of Theology/Philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Together, they shed further light on the earlier article about Thomas Aquinas College and the need for discernment by those extending Catholic higher education in Australia, especially on the Notre Dame model.

Notre Dame University

by Ralph McInerney

Anyone who has watched the decline of Roman Catholic theology over the past several decades would have bet the ranch that theologians in our colleges and universities would react as they have to the publication of formulas for the Profession of Faith and an Oath of Fidelity.

Father James Burtchaell, my esteemed colleague, debased his wit and intelligence to the Charlie Curran level of theological discourse in a sarcastic piece in the National Catholic Reporter [a 'liberal' weekly] ... It is depressing to have it driven home that not even theologians of Burtschaell's undeniable gifts give a damn about such Vatican documents.

I have argued elsewhere and earlier that "theologian" has become hopelessly equivocal as between what Vatican II and other magisterial documents mean by the term and the sense it must have to cover those who hold positions in our departments of theology.

The reason a mandatum docendi [authorisation to teach the Catholic faith] appals them is that accepting one would amount to the declaration that their teaching is done in terms of a wider community of whose faith the bishops and the Holy Father are the authoritative interpreters. In short, such theologians are not Roman Catholic theologians; they have declared their independence from the Magisterium in the name of academic freedom. And they seem to be in control.

Clearly then it would be a waste of time to engage such theologians in argument over the meaning of documents whose presuppositions they reject. The anti-papist Watchtower of my youth would have hesitated to speak of the Pope as these theologians do.

If then it would be a waste of time for bishops to discuss the matter with such theologians - if they cannot make that profession of faith, they must consider the bishop as just an off-campus pest - what is to be done?

There is a swift and simple solution.

At the University of Notre Dame, to take an example, six credits in theology are required for graduation. What is the historical basis for that requirement? That the educated Catholic should receive a comparably high education in his religious faith and arrive at a more profound understanding of what the Church teaches.

By their own strident and frequent declarations, this is no longer what our theology departments offer. Requiring theology for graduation has lost its raison d'etre. The conclusion is obvious. Put theology on the free market. If students want to take theology, they will take it for what it is. Our theologians insist upon their freedom from Rome. Students should have a comparable freedom. Perhaps truth in labelling would prove the death of such departments, perhaps not. But in either case, the truth would be served.

Furthermore, all those gifts that have made life so plush and pleasant for dissidents must be reconsidered. Is it perhaps illegal to put money given to further the teaching of the Church at the disposal of those who attack and mock that teaching? Surely those so jealous of their integrity in matters of oaths and professions will not wish to take money under false pretences.

To show my bona fides in making this suggestion, I propose that a similar requirement in philosophy be dropped as well. The reason for the philosophy requirement participates, historically, in that advanced for the theology requirement.

Such a decision would take everybody off the hook in one fell blow. Bishops would no longer have to answer the outraged letters of parents.

Theologians could go on ignoring letters from Rome. The bishops could say, "They don't speak for the Church", and the theologians could alter the pronoun and make the same solemn profession.

Once a man for all seasons gave his life rather than repudiate the Pope. Now those who have lost their savour mock the Holy Father. More than once in recent years I have thought how peculiarly relevant to our times is H.F.M. Prescott's novel of the English Reformation, Man on a Donkey. Anti-Romanism, anti- papalism have come to characterise our institutions of higher learning. I suppose It was somewhat like this during the Reformation. Now as then one longs for heroes. For saints.

In the present atmosphere, thumbing one's nose at the Pope is easy, but it would be an act of grace, in both senses of the term, if the good professors at Notre Dame's theology department stood before the high altar in Sacred Heart Church and pronounced their Profession of Faith. Pray God that they will.

Franciscan University of Steubenville

by Alan Schreck

While wholeheartedly agreeing with Dr Ralph McInerney's perspective in "Deregulating Theology" (May 1989 Crisis), I have the pleasing duty of disproving a couple of particular statements he made.

He stated: "There is no chance that our university theologians will publicly declare themselves as Roman Catholic theologians loyal to the Pope." Not so, at least not at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where I serve as Chairman of the Theology/Philosophy Department.

At our Baccalaureate Mass on May 12, 1989, our president, Father Michael Scanlan TOR, Dean of Faculty, Dr Michael Healy, all of our seven full-time theology professors, and all of the Franciscan priests who teach and minister on our campus, publicly made the Profession of Faith and took the Oath of Fidelity, which were graciously received by our bishop, Albert Ottenweller. It should be noted that we first approached the bishop, expressing our desire to make the Profession and take the Oath voluntarily, if he would be willing to receive and confirm this act in the name of the Church.

Sometimes people ask me why on a relatively small campus (1200 students), we have 160 undergraduates majoring in theology (compared with 50 or 60 at Notre Dame), theology classes for non-majors are full, 70- 80 percent of our resident students attend daily Mass, and a high percentage daily pray the rosary, study Scripture, and pray in the chapels and in small groups. Why? Of course, it is the grace of God, but I also think that teaching the truth of the Catholic faith with zeal in the classroom, announcing it boldly from the pulpit, and applying it faithfully to students' lives through campus ministry has a lot to do with it. In any case, it is certainly not true on our campus that "the loyal Roman Catholic ... no longer feels at home."

As a graduate (BA) of the University of Notre Dame, I certainly pray that the professors of Notre Dame's theology department (and those of every Catholic theology faculty) will make their Profession of Faith and take the Oath of Fidelity before God and their bishop.

In the meantime, I sincerely thank the Lord and count it a privilege to be teaching at a truly Catholic university where the faculty teach the Catholic faith, and where students are eager to hear and believe it.

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