Pope's rules disquiet educators

September 26, 1990|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

Roman Catholic universities are "part of mainstream American culture" and should not restrict themselves to Catholic viewpoints, a local Catholic educator said in reaction to a new papal document that recognizes intellectual freedom while calling for adherence to church values and doctrine in the schools.

"The key thing about Catholic higher education is to get the spirit of Catholic doctrine in place without truly locking into it," said Joseph Procaccini, a professor of education at Loyola College.

"Otherwise, you have this cocooning where everything has a Catholic orientation. Our universities have become part of mainstream American culture. They've long ago moved beyond being schools where Catholic ideas are taught to Catholic students."

Pope John Paul II yesterday issued a 50-page apostolic constitution that said teachers and students at Catholic universities should have academic freedom. But, he said, "All Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teachings."

The new standards, 11 years in the making, were revised after Catholic educators in the United States criticized earlier drafts for allegedly threatening academic freedom and handing control of the schools to bishops.

This document comes three months after the Vatican declared that Catholic theologians should uphold church doctrine and refrain from open dissent.

The United States has 235 Catholic institutions of higher learning, the world's largest Catholic university system. There are about 925 Catholic institutions of higher learning in the world.

William Portier, chairman of the theology department at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, called the papal document "recognition of the fact that Catholic universities in the U.S. are different, more independent than those in Europe."

As for the document's stipulation that the faculties and student bodies of Catholic universities be mostly Catholic, Portier said, "I don't have any problem with that. If I went up the road to Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, I'd expect to find Lutheran teachers there."

William Collinge, a theology professor at Mount St. Mary's, said he wanted to read the document before commenting on it fully. However, he said, "it would seem pretty implausible to me" to expect a Catholic university with a postgraduate professional school -- such as the law and medical schools of Georgetown University -- to have a primarily Catholic faculty.

"Those are Catholic institutions by name, but they're generally regarded as secular schools for the subjects they teach and the students they attract," Collinge added.

Glendora Hughes, assistant general counsel to the Maryland Human Relations Commission, said a job applicant generally is not required to declare his religious affiliation to a potential employer.

But, in the case of a church-controlled institution, she said, "it gets a little muddy" because constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the separation of church and state may allow the institution to ask a job applicant to state his religion.

However, the legal ground may seem less solid if the institution is receiving federal funding, such as student loan money, she added.

At Loyola College, a Jesuit-run school in north Baltimore, there are 209 full-time faculty members, 118 of whom stated their church affiliation on their job applications. Of these 118, there were 55 who said they were Catholic, spokesman Mark Kelly said.

Procaccini said he would "see it as a detriment" if the universities were required to have largely Catholic faculties and student bodies.

"Part of a good education is being around people with different values systems," he said. "Loyola has always been welcoming of all kinds of people, not just Catholics. We'd become pretty provincial if we kept it all Catholic."

He also cautioned that American Catholics should not become alarmed at the new Vatican document.

"Rome states something and hopes people will adhere to it, but I think Rome has more of a tolerance of differences than people tend to believe," said Procaccini.

"Americans hear these pronouncements and start feeling guilty and defensive, over-reacting to the situation, I think."

In 1986, the Vatican removed the Rev. Charles Curran from his job as theologian at the Catholic University of America in Washington. Curran had expressed dissent over church teachings on sexual issues, such as artificial birth control, homosexuality and abortion.

"But, if you look closely at that case, Catholic U. is one of the handful of American Catholic schools that is rather directly answerable to the Vatican," said Procaccini. "So it shouldn't be surprising that the Vatican stripped him of his job. That's just the way that particular school is set up. You wouldn't see that sort of thing at most Catholic colleges in the U.S."

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