The following is an edited transcript of Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha's contribution to a discussion on the 'mandatum' for Catholic theologians, during the US bishops conference on 15 November 2000. The 'mandatum' indicates a commitment to the local bishop by a theologian to teach theology in line with the Catholic Faith. The text is available courtesy of 'Voices', the publication of Women for Faith and Family.
From a practical viewpoint, bishops are concerned about undergraduates at universities, and the quality of the theology that they are receiving there. At the graduate level, there has to be an understanding of the difference between exposure to a lot of speculative ideas and the kind of undergraduate religious base that needs to be provided for students - and the expectation of Catholics, if they send their children to a Catholic college or university, that that grounding is going to take place.
From my perspective, I would expect those who are teaching undergraduates at the university to seek the mandatum: to say, "Yes, I am teaching in line with the Church and can be trusted to [do so] with these young people who are being sent to a Catholic university". It would be my obligation to have them seek that and to dialogue with them if, for some reason, they did not. I would want to know why, and make public the fact that there were teachers who said they were professors of Catholic theology, but would not be seeking the mandatum.
It is not just a matter of take it or leave it - that is not the intention of Pope John Paul or of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. There was concern expressed around the world that if people send their children to a Catholic college or university they are going to be grounded in the Faith, and not led in directions that call into question the teachings of the Church.
The bishops' committee [on the mandatum] will offer us some guidelines, but all of us in our own situation are going to have to follow those guidelines. I have to follow them according to my conscience as the chief catechist in the archdiocese.
I don't think there is a division between catechetics and theology at the undergraduate level. That has been part of our problem - a problem to which we, the Church and the Holy Father have been responding. The Holy Father expects us to do that - so I don't think we're playing games.
If we are playing games, if it does not make any difference whether somebody asks for a mandatum or not, or whether the bishop is going to grant it or not, well, then, this is an exercise in futility.
In conscience, I have to try to implement this. Anybody who wants to say "I'm teaching Catholic theology" in the Omaha Archdiocese ought to seek the mandatum, and I ought to be in dialogue with them about that. Otherwise I don't think I am fulfilling my obligation as teacher.
As for enforcement, if I declare that this person does not have a mandate to teach Catholic theology in this university, it is going to have some impact as regards the constituents, the public that is out there, the parents who think their children are getting a [religious] base - the reason they chose to send them to a Catholic university. You cannot force anybody, but you can certainly have an impact if you say, "This teacher does not have a mandatum from me."