Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ACCU Explains Excising Website of their Call to Rescind 'Catholics in Political Life'

John Allen at NCR reported Jun 17 that the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had suggested at its June 11-12 board meeting that the U.S. Bishops should "scrap their current policy and make a clearer distinction between 'honoring' a politician who holds views contrary to church teaching and merely providing a platform."

The policy in question was the U.S. Bishops' 2004 statement, "Catholics in Political Life," which said among other things that:
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy and several of the more than 70 U.S. Bishops who publicly objected to Notre Dame's granting of an honorary degree in law to President Obama this spring said the move violated "Catholics in Political Life".

John Allen based his entry about ACCU's call to withdraw "Catholics in Political Life" on a report in the association's summer newsletter which read:
“In response to a request from Bishop Thomas Curry, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, the Board held a lengthy discussion concerning campus speaker policies. This conversation continued a dialogue started by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who informed bishops in 2006 that their document ‘Catholics in Political Life’ warranted further clarification regarding its application to Catholic higher education.

“ACCU’s directors informally concluded that it would be desirable for the USCCB to withdraw ‘Catholics in Political Life’ since it was written as a stop-gap statement prior to the 2004 national election. A successor document, if any, should distinguish between ‘honors’ and ‘platforms’ and should acknowledge more clearly the differing roles of campus authorities and bishops. In addition, ACCU’s directors suggested that juridical expressions of bishops’ or universities’ responsibilities should be kept to a minimum, lest they inhibit the ‘mutual trust, close and consistent collaboration, and continuing dialogue’ to which Ex corde Ecclesiae calls Church and university authorities.”

The Cardinal Newman Society's Patrick J. Reilly immediately objected to the statement saying, "Lobbying the bishops to back off a perfectly reasonable policy would be a shameful action by the Catholic higher education establishment, and hardly an appropriate response to Notre Dame's betrayal of the nation's bishops and the university's own Catholic mission."

Then on July 1st, Lifesite and Lifenews reported that the second paragraph of ACCU's statement had been removed from the online version of the association's summer "Update" newsletter.

The Catholic Key sent an email to ACCU's Vice-President and newsletter editor Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D., asking for comment. ACCU President Richard A. Yanikoski, Ph.D., responded. Following is the exchange:
1. Was it removed?

Yes, one paragraph was removed.

2. Why was it removed?

Two reasons: (1) ACCU's Update went live before the final, normal internal edit had been completed. That occurred because two of us were just returning from San Diego and other responsibilities delayed the final edit. (2) The paragraph which was deleted in the final edit had already been quoted out of context by the Cardinal Newman Society for the express purpose of making it appear (falsely) that presidents of Catholic colleges and universities were opposing the bishops. In fact, ACCU's conversation about "Catholics in Political Life" was expressly in response to several questions posed to us by Bishop Thomas Curry, chair of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education. He requested advice, as the story in Update had indicated.

3. Did anyone request its removal? Who?

The decision was entirely internal.

4. Assuming it was removed for not representing a final or authoritative position of the association, is there now a process to develop an official position on "Catholics in Political Life"?

ACCU and the USCCB will work together to draft some form of successor document to "Catholics in Political Life," at least insofar as Catholic higher education is involved. The timing and manner of the collaborative process have not been set, but most likely will be discussed this autumn when the Committee next meets. You may confirm this in the interview John Allen did with Bishop Curry the week of the USCCB meeting in San Antonio (check NCRonline).

Patrick Reilly disputes Yanikoski's claim that "Update" had gone live before final editing. In fact, he said, when the newsletter was emailed to all subscribers Jun. 16 by Dr. Galligan-Stierle, it contained the now missing paragraph. Reilly sent the following statement:
“The ACCU’s position was stated so clearly, that even the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter understood its meaning. The ACCU said it wants the bishops’ 2004 policy scuttled. It allowed that a replacement policy, “if any,” should use clearer language, but then it followed with a threat: “juridical expressions” of educators’ duties “should be kept to a minimum, lest they inhibit” the friendly relationship between universities and their bishops.

“After beating their breasts and issuing the same sort of empty threats they threw at the bishops in 1990 when Ex corde Ecclesiae was issued, it appears that some Catholic university leaders may be duly embarrassed. They should be, not only because of their disrespect toward the bishops and their failure to uphold Catholic principles, but because they have now shamefully sought to hide a publicly stated position and declare it a ‘draft.’”

Regardless the origin of the paragraph and its removal, a June 18 Catholic News Service report seems to confirm both that ACCU does want "Catholics in Political Life" scuttled and that Bishop Curry intends to discuss a revision with them:
"The ACCU is encouraging more dialogue with the bishops, collectively and individually, and not necessarily more documents that are written at a particular moment, but survive indefinitely," Yanikoski told Catholic News Service June 17.

"Ultimately, that is the problem with the 2004 document. It was written in the moment of political heat," during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, he said.

He maintained the 2004 statement is incomplete, has internal ambiguities, uses language that is not consistent with canon law, and that its application is subject to interpretation.

It is possible the bishops will revisit their 2004 statement in the coming months, said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Education, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, an independent national Catholic newspaper based in Kansas City, Mo.

Attempts by CNS to reach Bishop Curry were unsuccessful.

Whatever Bishop Curry may think of the document, I can't envision a situation where the U.S. bishops would water down "Catholics in Political Life" in a way pleasing to those college presidents keen on providing platforms and honors for politicians who "act in defiance of our fundamental moral principals". We know there are at least 80 of them who would strongly oppose such a move.