On the nature of a Catholic University: Land o’ Lakes statement vs Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Don Bosco's Vision of the Two Pillars

Don Bosco’s Vision of the Two Pillars

Last 16 July 2013, the Philippine Supreme Court indefinitely placed the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law on hold until further notice.  The RH Law was supported by many faculty members and students in Ateneo de Manila University with the claim that it is possible to support the RH Law in good conscience.  This claim  was also supported by professors and students from De La Salle University.  The roots of this claim run deep and can be traced back to the Land o’ Lakes Statement of 1967 which was signed by several administrators of US Catholic Universities, headed by Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who was also the president of University of Notre Dame.  The Land o’ Lakes spread like wildfire and eventually reached the Philippine shores.  In response to the wake of destruction of Catholic Universities caused by the Land o’ Lakes Statement, Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990 to stem the tide and provide a pillar of support for for administrators of Catholic Universities who cannot anymore find their sense of direction in the sea of battle. (Note: In Don Bosco’s Vision of the Two Pillars, the weapons of the enemy ships against the Barque of Peter include “books and pamphlets.”)

What’s the connection of the Land o’ Lakes Statement to the RH Law?  In 1960 the pill was invented and dissenting theologians pressed the papacy to reconsider the ban on contraceptives.  In 1963, Pope John XXIII established the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control which proposed in its 1966 official report to Pope Paul VI that artificial contraceptives are not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples may use them.  However, the Commission’s minority report led by the Jesuit John Ford argued as follows:

“If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 [when Casti Connubii was promulgated) and in 1951.

“It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which Popes and Bishops have either condemned, or at least not approved.”[7]

(You may read Ford’s lengthy biography here which narrates in detail the actions of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control.) These reports were leaked to the press in Spring of 1967.  Pope Paul VI, hearing of the possible press releases, made a preemptive announcement in Oct 29, 1966, saying:

It seems to me, cannot be considered definitive, because they have serious implications with respect to not a few weighty questions—questions of a doctrinal, pastoral and social order—which cannot be isolated and put to the side, but require a logical consideration in the context of the issues under study.

On July 23, 1967 the Land o’ Lakes Statement came out, proclaiming the autonomy of Catholic universities from the Church hierarchy, including the papacy.  Because of the proximity of the events, one can say that the Land o’ Lakes Statement is for the support of the use of the Pill as stated in the Majority report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, but which is contrary to the mind of Pope Paul VI.  A year later, in July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” which described contraception as “intrinsically wrong” that cannot be justified in the normal relations in the whole of married life.  In December 2012, the President Noynoy Aquino ratified the RH Law promotes the use of contraceptives.  And now, the Philippine Supreme Court still has to decide on the law’s constitutionality.

In this article, what I propose to do is to present the controversial excerpts in Land o’ Lakes Statement in bold font and comment on them in normal font.  Specifically, I shall show how each statement contradicts with those of Ex Corde Ecclesiae and other Papal Encyclicals.

1.  Land o’ Lakes: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

With this statement, the Catholic University becomes independent of the Church hierarchy, particularly the bishops of the diocese where the university belongs.   This contradicts with Article 5 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

Every Catholic University is to maintain communion with the universal Church and the Holy See; it is to be in close communion with the local Church and in particular with the diocesan Bishops of the region or nation in which it is located. In ways consistent with its nature as a University, a Catholic University will contribute to the Church’s work of evangelization.

Each Bishop has a responsibility to promote the welfare of the Catholic Universities in his diocese and has the right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic character. If problems should arise conceming this Catholic character, the local Bishop is to take the initiatives necessary to resolve the matter, working with the competent university authorities in accordance with established procedures(52) and, if necessary, with the help of the Holy See.

2. Land o’ Lakes: “The theological faculty must engage directly in exploring the depths of Christian tradition and the total religious heritage of the world, in order to come to the best possible intellectual understanding of religion and revelation, of man in all his varied relationships to God. Particularly important today is the theological exploration of all human relations and the elaboration of a Christian anthropology. Furthermore, theological investigation today must serve the ecumenical goals of collaboration and unity.”

This statement makes Catholic theology just one of the many ways to interpret religion and revelation.  Furthermore, the statement makes ecumenical collaboration with non-Catholic and even non-Christian faith systems the goal of theological investigation, which goes against the primacy of the teaching of Catholic doctrine.  As stated in Article 4 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

All teachers and all administrators, at the time of their appointment, are to be informed about the Catholic identity of the Institution and its implications, and about their responsibility to promote, or at least to respect, that identity.

In ways appropriate to the different academic disciplines, all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching. In particular, Catholic theologians, aware that they fulfill a mandate received from the Church, are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition(50).

Those university teachers and administrators who belong to other Churches, ecclesial communities, or religions, as well as those who profess no religious belief, and also all students, are to recognize and respect the distinctive Catholic identity of the University. In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.

Don Bosco's Vision of the Two Columns: The Attack of the Enemy Ships on the Barque of Peter

Don Bosco’s Vision of the Two Columns: The Attack of the Enemy Ships on the Barque of Peter

3.  Land o’ Lakes: “In a Catholic university all recognized university areas of study are frankly and fully accepted and their internal autonomy affirmed and guaranteed. There must be no theological or philosophical imperialism; all scientific and disciplinary methods, and methodologies, must be given due honor and respect. However, there will necessarily result from the interdisciplinary discussions an awareness that there is a philosophical and theological dimension to most intellectual subjects when they are pursued far enough. Hence, in a Catholic university there will be a special interest in interdisciplinary problems and relationships.”

This is similar to the previous point, but this time extended from Theological Disciplines to all areas of study of the university.  So we can use the same response as that in point 2.  We can also add a statement from Article 2 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected(46). Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.

The “theological and philosophical imperialism” alluded to in the Land o’ Lakes statement  may refer to Catholic theology and philosophy in general, and to St. Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae in particular.  As stated in Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris:

17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.”(34) The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield. And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

31. While, therefore, We hold that every word of wisdom, every useful thing by whomsoever discovered or planned, ought to be received with a willing and grateful mind, We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences. The wisdom of St. Thomas, We say; for if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated-if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way-it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age. Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others. Let the universities already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for the refutation of prevailing errors. But, lest the false for the true or the corrupt for the pure be drunk in, be ye watchful that the doctrine of Thomas be drawn from his own fountains, or at least from those rivulets which, derived from the very fount, have thus far flowed, according to the established agreement of learned men, pure and clear; be careful to guard the minds of youth from those which are said to flow thence, but in reality are gathered from strange and unwholesome streams.

The “scientific, disciplinary, and methodologies” alluded to in the Land o’ Lakes statement that must be given “honor and respect” can apply even to Modernist errors enumerated in Lamentabile Sane of Pope Pius X:

WITH TRULY LAMENTABLE RESULTS, our age, casting aside all restraint in its search for the ultimate causes of things, frequently pursues novelties so ardently that it rejects the legacy of the human race. Thus it falls into very serious errors, which are even more serious when they concern sacred authority, the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and the principal mysteries of Faith. The fact that many Catholic writers also go beyond the limits determined by the Fathers and the Church herself is extremely regrettable. In the name of higher knowledge and historical research, (they say), they are looking for that progress of dogmas which is, in reality, nothing but the corruption of dogmas.

These errors are being daily spread among the faithful. Lest they captivate the faithful’s minds and corrupt the purity of their faith, His Holiness, Pius X, by Divine Providence, Pope, has decided that the chief errors should be noted and condemned by the Office of this Holy Roman and Universal Congregation.

4. Land o’ Lakes: “Every university, Catholic or not, serves as the critical reflective intelligence of its society. In keeping with this general function, the Catholic university has the added obligation of performing this same service for the Church. Hence, the university should carry on a continual examination of all aspects and all activities of the Church and should objectively evaluate them. The Church would thus have the benefit of continual counsel from Catholic universities. Catholic universities in the recent past have hardly played this role at all. It may well be one of the most important functions of the Catholic university of the future.”

This is a one-sided statement: the university can counsel the Church, but not the other way around.  But Article 5 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae says that it is the Bishop who shall evaluate the Catholic character of Catholic universities.  In fact, Catholic Universities are required to report to the Bishop about their activities:

Each Bishop has a responsibility to promote the welfare of the Catholic Universities in his diocese and has the right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic character. If problems should arise conceming this Catholic character, the local Bishop is to take the initiatives necessary to resolve the matter, working with the competent university authorities in accordance with established procedures(52) and, if necessary, with the help of the Holy See.

Periodically, each Catholic University, to which Artide 3, 1 and 2 refers, is to communicate relevant information about the University and its activities to the competent ecclesiastical Authority. Other Catholic Universities are to communicate this information to the Bishop of the diocese in which the principal seat of the Institution is located.

5. Land o’ Lakes: “With regard to the undergraduate — the university should endeavor to present a collegiate education that is truly geared to modern society. The student must come to a basic understanding of the actual world in which he lives today. This means that the intellectual campus of a Catholic university has no boundaries and no barriers. It draws knowledge and understanding from all the traditions of mankind; it explores the insights and achievements of the great men of every age; it looks to the current frontiers of advancing knowledge and brings all the results to bear relevantly on man’s life today. The whole world of knowledge and ideas must be open to the student; there must be no outlawed books or subjects. Thus the student will be able to develop his own capabilities and to fulfill himself by using the intellectual resources presented to him.

“Along with this and integrated into it should be a competent presentation of relevant, living, Catholic thought.”

The last sentence is almost an afterthought, after laying out the idea that all sources of knowledge are equal.  This Land o’ Lakes statement does not say explicitly state the primacy of Catholic doctrine; rather, Catholic doctrine just one of the doctrines that may be integrated into the teaching of the courses if this doctrine is relevant enough.  Otherwise, it can simply tossed away.  In contrast to this Land o’ Lakes statement, this is what the Article 4 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae states:

5. The education of students is to combine academic and professional development with formation in moral and religious principles and the social teachings of the Church; the programme of studies for each of the various professions is to include an appropriate ethical formation in that profession. Courses in Catholic doctrine are to be made available to all students(51).

 6. Land o’ Lakes: “Within the university community the student should be able not simply to study theology and Christianity, but should find himself in a social situation in which he can express his Christianity in a variety of ways and live it experientially and experimentally. The students and faculty can explore together new forms of Christian living, of Christian witness, and of Christian service.

“The students will be able to participate in and contribute to a variety of liturgical functions, at best, creatively contemporary and experimental. They will find the meaning of the sacraments for themselves by joining theoretical understanding to the lived experience of them. Thus the students will find and indeed create extraordinary opportunities for a full, meaningful liturgical and sacramental life.”

Note the following phrases to describe expressions of Christianity: “variety of ways”, “experientially”, and “experimentally”.  Note also the similar phrases used for describing liturgical functions: “variety”, “creatively contemporary”, “experimental”, and something students do not only “participate in” but also “contribute to”.  These are code words for tinkering with the words and rubrics of the Holy Mass and the administration of the Sacraments.  That is why one sometimes if not many times hear masses which require lots of experimental and experiential tinkerings: priests changing the words and gestures, masses held outside of churches in stole over ordinary clothes with people sitting down on the grass, the Body of Christ picked up and eaten like potato chips, and earth liturgies which are more for Mother Earth worship and not for the Triune God.

7.  Conclusion

The Land o’ Lakes statement is a statement against the primacy of Catholic doctrine and worship.  And the errors of this statement has infected many Catholic universities, not only those in the US but also those in the Philippines, such as Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University whose professors have espoused positions in support of the RH Bill (now a law), contrary to explicit teachings of the Catholic Church regarding contraception, as stated in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and taught by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  As stated in Article 4 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

 In ways appropriate to the different academic disciplines, all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching. In particular, Catholic theologians, aware that they fulfill a mandate received from the Church, are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition(50).

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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