ATLANTA, June 15 (AP) -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved policies Friday to keep church-affiliated colleges and hospitals in line with official teaching.

The change in moral directives for the 1,140 Catholic health care facilities, which treat 85 million patients annually, is designed to close a loophole through which some have participated with non-Catholic partners that provide sterilizations.

The new policy states that Catholic facilities cannot cooperate to any degree with "intrinsically immoral" practices such as abortion, euthanasia and sterilization. They are directed "as a rule" to avoid involvement with any of those procedures in their partnerships.

Several bishops worried that some moral theologians will find grounds and methods for merged hospitals to cooperate with sterilizations. "There's a lot of money tied up in this," said Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty of Scranton, Pa.

But Joseph Galante, coadjutor bishop of Dallas, thought the text "leaves no wiggle room."

The bishops also approved a statement on the Mideast crisis that urged an end to Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank, saying Palestinians see "daily indignities, abuse and violence." It also urged Palestinian leaders to "clearly renounce violence and terrorist acts" and "take effective steps to stop them."

The American Jewish Committee found the statement a "marked improvement" over one last November in which the bishops for the first time endorsed "establishment of an internationally recognized Palestinian state."

But the Jewish committee said religious leaders should acknowledge that Palestinians "spurned a generous and far-reaching offer for peace from Israel" last year and instead launched a terror campaign that includes "exploitation of religion."

The bishops also issued statements warning of the dangers of global warming and urging American openness to refugees. The meeting of the 266 American bishops concludes Saturday.

After prodding from the Vatican, the bishops set up a process by which all Catholics teaching theology at church-related schools are supposed to get certifications of orthodoxy from their local bishops by next June. Some professors have already said they won't apply.

The hospital measure forbids Catholic institutions from being either directly or indirectly involved with sterilization as a birth control measure when they work with non-Catholic health care agencies.

The teaching policy was years in the making and won approval by a voice vote.

But it came over the objections of academics at America's 235 Catholic universities and colleges. They have said the new system cuts into academic freedom and could result in the loss of public funding for school programs.

The policy requires professors to receive a mandatum, or special certification, from the local bishop recognizing their commitment "to teach authentic Catholic doctrine" and avoid presenting as Catholic teaching "anything contrary to" official beliefs.

A last-minute insert to the policy says bishops should provide "the reasons and sources" if a professor is denied the mandatum, but scholars' organizations wanted much broader "due process" protection.

Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield, Mo., who chaired the committee that wrote the bishops' overall college policy in 1999, said "we don't know exactly what will happen" now that the certification process is in place.

Some professors will be quick to apply, he said.

"Some will not ask for it and will reject the mandatum if it is offered to them," Leibrecht said. "We're just going to have to take some time to persuade people. This is the mode we are in."

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, who led a special panel in how to implement the mandatum, told the bishops Thursday they can do nothing if scholars refuse to comply. However, academic observers think the system could gradually limit dissent from church policies on college campuses.

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  • Ex Corde Ecclesiae will force liberal theologians to finally choose to teach all or nothing. By Ralph McInerny
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    Professors are on the front line of scrutiny
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