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Cardinal Burke Says Theologians' Mandatum Should Be Required by Colleges, Disclosed to Students

Theologians, Canonists Respond to Pope Benedict's Call for Compliance

"The Catholic university will want that all its teachers of theology or the theological disciplines have a mandate and will not retain the professor in teaching Catholic theology or the theological disciplines who does not have a mandate, because to do so would be to call into question the whole raison d'etre of the university."

Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke


MANASSAS, Va. (Cardinal Newman Society) - Catholic families have a right to know which theology professors have the mandatum, and Catholic colleges and universities should require it as a condition for employment, affirmed the Vatican's chief judge Cardinal Raymond Burke in a new report prompted by recent concerns from Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Burke and several bishops, canon law experts, and theologians discussed the mandatum with The Cardinal Newman Society in an online report published today. It can be read here

The report, titled "A Mandate for Fidelity," follows upon a May 5th address by Pope Benedict to several American bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome.  The Pope expressed concern that "much remains to be done" toward the renewal of Catholic identity in U.S. Catholic colleges and universities, "especially in such areas as compliance with the mandate laid down in Canon 812 for those who teach theological disciplines."

He cited "the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church's pastoral leadership."

Canon 812 of the Catholic Church's canon law states, "Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority."

As implemented by the U.S. bishops, a theology professor requests a "mandate" (commonly identified by the Latin mandatum) from the bishop presiding over the diocese where the theologian is employed.  The professor commits, in writing, "to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church's Magisterium," according to U.S. guidelines.

But in the United States, many Catholic colleges and universities have not required theology professors to have the mandatum, or even to disclose to students and their families which professors have the bishop's recognition.  The 1990s saw vigorous opposition to the mandatum by some theologians and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, but the controversy has since cooled down, largely because in practice the mandatum has not had much relevance to students and college leaders.

Now Pope Benedict's concern about a lack of "compliance" with Canon 812 renews questions about Catholic colleges and universities' obligations relative to the mandatum.  The Cardinal Newman Society asked several experts including Cardinal Burke, archbishop emeritus of St. Louis and prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest canon law court, to explain what canon law requires.

Citing Pope Benedict's description of the mandatum as "a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity," Cardinal Burke said:

"It's tangible in the sense that it's a public declaration, in writing, on the part of the ecclesiastical authority that a theologian is teaching in communion with the Church, and people have a right to know that so that if you, for instance, are at a Catholic university or parents are sending their children to the Catholic university, they know that the professors who are teaching theological disciplines at the university are teaching in communion with the Church. They are assured in that by the public declaration of the diocesan bishop."

 "The fact that I teach in accord with the Magisterium is a public factor," added Cardinal Burke. "That's not some private, secret thing between myself and the Lord."

Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap., executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Cardinal Newman Society that theology professors ought to be proud of receiving the mandatum, which is an honor "recognizing that theologians have a true vocation in the Church."

"I wouldn't know why you wouldn't want it to be public. The whole point is public recognition that somebody is truly a Catholic theologian. I don't know why you would want to keep that hidden when the Church is bestowing the mandatum to recognize that somebody is truly a Catholic theologian."

Asked whether only theology professors with the mandatum should be employed at a Catholic college or university, Cardinal Burke responded "yes" and added:

".[T]he Catholic university will want that all its teachers of theology or the theological disciplines have a mandate and will not, of course, retain the professor in teaching Catholic theology or the theological disciplines who does not have a mandate, because to do so would be to call into question the whole raison d'etre of the university. If a Catholic university doesn't distinguish itself for its care, that those who are teaching theology and the other theological disciplines are doing so in communion with the Magisterium, what reason does it have to exist?"

In preparing the report, The Cardinal Newman Society consulted many other experts in theology and canon law, including Archbishop Emeritus Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Bishop Emeritus Joseph Martino of Scranton, Gregorian University canonist Fr. James Conn, SJ, canonist Robert Flummerfelt, and theologians Msgr. Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary's University, Fr. Edward O'Connor, CSC, of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria University, Brian Benestad of the University of Scranton, Larry Chapp of DeSales University, Mark Lowery and Christopher Malloy of the University of Dallas, and Dennis Martin of Loyola University Chicago.

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The Cardinal Newman Society is dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities.This article is used with permission.

Keywords: Mandate, orthodoxy, theology, Catholic Colleges, catholic Universities, Cardinal Burke, Vatican, Cardinal newman Society



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1 - 10 of 11 Comments

  1. John Switzer, PhD
    1 year ago

    To Mr. Bob:

    Kind sir, I never denied your rights as a parent nor those of students. As a Roman Catholic theologian, I believe that knowledge and information are truly important. My only point, by which I stand, is that perhaps this issue is a bit more complicated than some would allow. I'm all for information--in its entirety!

    To Ms. Diane:

    I agree with you about the Holy Father ... I think he's a terrific theologian.

  2. Judy Claar
    1 year ago

    Great! Wonderful! Magnificent! Who would have thought that Catholic Theology was not in communion with Rome? (Of course not all, but some). I am so thankful this is cleared up now! However, we need to pray for those young minds, that were shaped into thinking and believing otherwise. It is my opinion, that it has helped loosen the ties to the Holy Trinity and the Holy See. Perhaps, leaned their minds toward Secularism and the liberal left. My facts are personal observances...out of the mouths of babes themselves. How is an adult Catholic like me, with 12 years of teaching CCD, and minor Church responsibilities, (in their mind), able to dispute any Church doctrine, with young minds, when they say they get their information from a Theology Professor, or priest ? Of course I can go w/backup to and from my priest, but the discussion has already reached an impasse, because their mind they are only open to the "New". So, I sincerely, Thank our Lord for St. Benedict! Prayers...

  3. John J Plick
    1 year ago

    “The 1990s saw vigorous opposition to the mandatum by some theologians and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, but the controversy has since cooled down, largely because in practice the mandatum has not had much relevance to students and college leaders.” This is an utterly naïve and disastrous statement. The priorities of the laity and the priorities of the clergy MUST differ qualitatively. That the laity has become blind (like the Laodiceans) to the importance of proper doctrine and practice is bad enough, but that these “theologians” have been allowed to “win” such a victory is even more horrific. It truly constitutes a victory for idolatry, which, although would seem quite irrelevant to some souls in this present temporality, will seem tragic beyond imagination in Eternity.

  4. David Carlon
    1 year ago

    How long Lord will we suffer blind and disobedient educated dolts who lack humility and common sense? Thank you Cardinal Burke!

  5. Joan
    1 year ago

    It would be hard to make the Mandatum required at 'catholic' colleges since the schools made themselves private non-profits? They are not headed by priests or religious anymore (usually). Too many non-catholics work in Catholic schools and want to teach on their bias about Christianity and Catholicism so I dunno. But it would be wonderful if they would be forced to disclose whether the had a Mandatum or not and prove it with documentation.

  6. Bob
    1 year ago

    To John Switzer: If I were to attend a Catholic University and be required to take courses in Theology, I would have the right to know that the professors teaching those classes were endorsed by the teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium. Why in the world would I attend a Catholic University without this "guarantee"? By the same token, if I were sending my child to a Catholic University, often paying large sums of money for that education, I would want some type of guarantee that my child was getting what I am paying for...a Catholic education, not a Protestant one. This mandate should be required for EVERY professor in the theological disciplines at EVERY Catholic University. Those professors out there who feel otherwise are arrogant, prideful, people who believe there is no higher authority than themselves, just because they have a PhD behind their name.

  7. Ray
    1 year ago

    This seems obvious, and is easily accepted in other professional arenas (think certifications, licenses, etc.). It is long overdue, and another sign of rejuvenated leadership from our US bishops. May God bless them and strengthen them.

    @Michael - Amen on expanding this to all Catholic schools. I've thought about that idea many times. The primary difference is that the family is expected to be the primary instructor of the faith until kids are grown. Still, too many times our Catholic schools are hurting the spiritual development of our children.

  8. mike may
    1 year ago

    way to go Bruke. still miiss you in LaCrosse WI

  9. michael
    1 year ago

    While I believe that this mandate is absolutely necessary and the policy instituted as soon as possible, I cannot overemphasize the importance of accurate catholic training at the grammar and high school levels.
    I have two daughters who have distanced themselves from the church primarily because they could not understand the paradox of liberal mindedness eminating from the secular faculty present in their first 12 years of instruction. It turned them off and they moved to seek the peace of Christ elsewhere.
    It saddens me and I pray for them often. I am also very concerned about the thousands of students facing similar circumstances.

  10. Diane
    1 year ago

    To John Switzer- there is a Bishop with monumental theological"savvy" as you call it,the Bishop of Rome, Pope BenedictXVI. He also has the authority, in union with the other Bishops to order such a step to be taken. You do not operate as a theologian or teacher in a Catholic University outside that scope.


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