WASHINGTON, June 7 (CNS)--The National Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Wednesday that the Vatican has approved the U.S. bishops' particular norms for Catholic colleges and universities.

They will take effect May 3, 2001, one year from the date of the Vatican decree of ``recognition'' or approval.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, NCCB president, said the purpose of the U.S. norms ``is, above all, to strengthen our Catholic colleges and universities, especially by helping them to maintain their Catholic identity.''

However, critics say the norms endanger academic freedom and government funding.

The bishops approved the norms at their general meeting last November in a document titled ```Ex Corde Ecclesiae': An Application to the United States.''

The Latin part of that title, which means ``from the heart of the church,'' comes from the name of Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education.

The papal document set out a vision of the mission and role of Catholic institutes of higher learning and established general norms applicable to such institutions worldwide. It called on bishops' conferences to develop more specific applications of the papal text to the situation of Catholic colleges and universities in their own countries.

In a statement sent to bishops June 1 and released Wednesday, Fiorenza said the yearlong period before the U.S. application takes effect will be used to resolve questions and deal with ``practical matters of implementation.''

During that time, he said, ``the issues behind many of these inquiries will be addressed in dialogue with college and university presidents, theologians and canonists.''

The application discusses the theological and pastoral principles of the role of Catholic institutions of higher learning in the life of the church and the civic community.

It says what Catholic identity means for those institutions and spells out ways in which that Catholic identity and inspiration is to be nurtured in a university's foundational documents, board, administration, faculty and student body, in campus life, service to others and academics, research and interaction with culture.

It speaks of the collaboration, mutual trust and ongoing dialogue that must mark the relationship between the university and church authorities.

Throughout years of development of the U.S. application, one of the most vigorously debated issues was how to apply in the U.S. context the general church law that theology professors need a ``mandatum,'' or mandate to teach, from the competent ecclesiastical authority, the diocesan bishop.

Participants in the debate struggled to achieve a delicate balance of institutional autonomy for the university, academic freedom for its professors and the right and responsibility of the bishop to safeguard the faithful teaching of Catholic doctrine to the people of God in his diocese.

The Vatican approved the principles the bishops adopted for the ``mandatum''--including their theological and legal description of what it is and is not and their principle that ordinarily once a theologian has received a ``mandatum'' it goes with him, even if he takes up a new post in a different diocese.

The ``mandatum,'' as described in the norms:

  • ``Is fundamentally an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is a teacher within the full communion of the Catholic Church.''
  • ``Should not be construed as an appointment, authorization, delegation or approbation of one's teaching by church authorities. Those who have received a `mandatum' teach in their own name in virtue of their baptism and their academic and professional competence, not in the name of the bishop or of the church's magisterium.''
  • ``Recognizes the 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.''
  • In a footnote to the norm on how the ``mandatum'' is to be construed, the document says that ``it is not the responsibility of a Catholic university to seek the `mandatum'; this is a personal obligation of each professor.''

    It adds, ``If a particular professor lacks a `mandatum' and continues to teach a theological discipline, the university must determine what further action may be taken in accordance with its own mission and statutes.''

    The norms also discuss the process by which a `mandatum' is granted, denied or removed.

    They say the bishop of the diocese where the institution is located is the competent authority to grant it, he may do so personally or through a delegate, and conferral, denial or revocation should be in writing.

    The norms also say, ``Without prejudice to the rights of the local bishop, a `mandatum,' once granted, remains in effect wherever and as long as the professor teaches unless and until withdrawn by competent ecclesiastical authority.''

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