Bishop Dewane: Families Have ‘Right to Know’ Which Theology Professors Have Mandatum


If a Catholic college cannot assure that its theology professors are imparting the truths of the faith, then families should look to more faithful Catholic institutions, suggested Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., in an interview with The Cardinal Newman Society.

Sound theology is the heart of Catholic higher education; it helps students direct their learning, explore the beauty of the faith and better understand their relationship with God and the Church. Therefore the Church provides the academic mandatum, an acknowledgment by the local bishop of a “professor’s commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium,” according to the U.S. bishops’ guidelines.

Referencing Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican’s constitution on Catholic universities, Bishop Dewane noted that professors who have obtained the mandatum help Catholic colleges fulfill their mission. “It says that Catholicism is present and operative at such institutions. More profoundly, the individual professor evidences that desire to teach in communion, to express what the teachings of the Church are,” he said.

Still, it is not easy to find out which professors have obtained the mandatum. Many professors and Catholic colleges refuse to reveal such information, even to the students and their families.

Consequently, “it is in the interest of students and families who have this concern to go to universities and say, ‘How many of the professors in the theology department have taken the mandatum?’” Bishop Dewane advised. “And if somebody can’t answer that for them, then I think they have every right to make a very clear decision” by choosing a more appropriate institution.

There is no ecclesiastical equivalent to the Freedom of Information Act to demand information about which professors have the mandatum. “It is up to students and families,” said Bishop Dewane. “They should inquire from colleges and universities about their policies on the mandatum.”

If those questions can’t be answered, then parents and students should indicate their concern by “where they make their deposit,” he said.

“The right to know which professors [have the mandatum] has to be expressed,” Bishop Dewane encouraged. “Families and students need to make that known at the institution. It ensures that authentic Catholic teaching is provided to the faithful at Catholic institutions.”

That “right to know” was similarly proposed by other bishops and theologians—including Cardinal Raymond Burke and Pope Benedict XVI—in The Cardinal Newman Society’s 2012 report, “A Mandate for Fidelity.”

Generally, the mandatum has received little attention since it was implemented in the 1990s, in part due to the difficulty of identifying which theologians have received the mandatum. But in the last year, theologians at Catholic colleges have openly criticized bishops, undermined Catholic teaching, misrepresented Catholic doctrine, or been banned from teaching due to their failure to impart faithful Catholic theology.

“The truth is distant from our culture today,” said Bishop Dewane. “I don’t think you can have professors who are teaching theology then find themselves in a situation where they contradict the Church’s teachings or do it themselves in their teaching or public lives.”

Theology professors at Catholic colleges who openly oppose Church teaching create a tremendous disconnect, he explained. “When somebody takes the mandatum, then they have to be a witness to the truth that they teach.”

But that witness must be consistent both inside and outside the classroom. The work of some theology professors can go astray, misconstruing what the Church really teaches.

“We need to propose, in response to all that, a positive vision of reality that better satisfies the true human longings, that which makes the individual happy, that explains in a sense our human experience,” Bishop Dewane said. A faithful teaching of Catholic theology is the key to articulating the positive vision of the Catholic faith and God’s plan for humanity, he said.

Is it possible, then, for non-Catholics to faithfully teach Catholic theology?

“Academically, I think someone can do that and faithfully teach it,” Bishop Dewane said. However, “the Application of Ex corde Ecclesiae in the United States doesn’t seem to allow for a non-Catholic to teach theology without the mandatum.”

What is most important to note in those situations is that all professors are expected to commit to and be aware of the Catholic mission and identity of the college. For instance, “you might have a Jewish rabbi teaching at an institution, and they could teach Old Testament or Rabbinical foundations, and they could be very faithful” to the Catholic identity and mission of the college, he said. Yet, “the Application really did not foresee a non-Catholic teaching theology.”

Even before Saint Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church’s call for the mandatum in Ex corde Ecclesiae, “there was instruction for Catholics who teach the theological discipline in higher education,” Bishop Dewane said. “The responsibility has always been there. However, that responsibility is broadened today to where [the professors] have to seek the mandatum. It rests with the professor, not the institution so much.”

Bishop Dewane explained that the process to obtain the mandatum is actually rather simple. “The professor writes to the local bishop and requests the mandatum. In so doing, the professor declares to teach in full communion with the Church,” he said. Then the mandatum is granted by the bishop in written form and sometimes accompanied by an oath of fidelity.

This is the process that Bishop Dewane follows with Ave Maria University, which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity. Other Newman Guide colleges and programs that are not shy about disclosing the fact that all of their theology professors have obtained the mandatum include Aquinas College, Belmont Abbey College, The Catholic University of America (where professors also receive canonical missions for ecclesial degrees), Christendom College, Campion College, Catholic Pacific College, DeSales University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Holy Apostles College, Ignatius Angelicum Liberal Studies Program, International Theological Institute, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Northeast Catholic College, St. Gregory’s University, Thomas Aquinas College, The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, University of Dallas, University of Mary, University of St. Thomas in Houston, Walsh University and Wyoming Catholic College.

Bishop Dewane reminded that the faithful study of theology is critical to living a strong, Catholic life in the world today.

“Even our Holy Father, Pope Francis, says that you can’t separate theology and holiness,” the bishop said. “So I think it is best we keep them together and continue to look at what is the role of the Church vis-a-vis the teaching of theology.”

“We all have a call to holiness,” both students and teachers alike, he said. “And theology helps us to know the person of Christ ever better. And in so doing, it equips us to share Christ with the rest of the world.”

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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