Cardinal Burke: How to stop mandatum abuse…

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The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) has released a new report, “A Mandate for Fidelity,” concerning the mandatum (a bishop’s mandate) that’s required to teach theology in a Catholic institution of higher education.



The mandatum was specified by the 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae, and as implemented in the United States, requires a theology professor to request mandatum from the local bishop where the theologian teaches.  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.”


Canon 812 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law also requires theologians to possess a mandatum:

Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.


In addition, Canon 810 describes the responsibility of academic administrators at Catholic institutions of higher education in this regard:

It is the responsibility of the authority who is competent in accord with the statutes to provide for the appointment of teachers to Catholic universities who, besides their scientific and pedagogical suitability, are also outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and probity of life; when those requisite qualities are lacking they are to be removed from their positions in accord with the procedure set forth in the statutes.


The Motley Monk thinks the CNS report is especially worth reading for two reasons.


The first reason concerns the number of administrators and professors in the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges who have not taken the mandatum seriously.


The CNS report draws attention to a 2011 survey of U.S. Catholic university and college academic administrators indicating that:

  • 42% of respondents said their institutions have neither a department nor a chair of Catholic theology as required by Ex corde Ecclesiae
  •   7%+ responded that Catholic theology isn’t taught in their institutions.


Of the remaining 51% of respondents who said their institutions have a department or chair of Catholic theology:

  • 36% said they didn’t know whether their Theology professors have received the mandatum;
  • 10% reported some but not all of their theologians have received the mandatum; and,
  •   6% said no professors have received a mandatum.


The “dirty little secret” is that more than two decades after the publication of Ex corde Ecclesiae, nearly 50% of the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges don’t have a department or chair of Catholic theology.


The second reason for reading the CNS report concerns how, during those 2+ decades, many administrators and professors have “privatized” the mandatum, making it a private matter between the bishop and theologian.  And, apparently, bishops in whose dioceses Catholic universities and colleges are located aren’t very much interested in pushing the issue.


This conduct has evidently been brought to and caught the attention of Pope Benedict XVI, who in a May 5, 2012 ad limina address to a group of American bishops, expressed his concern that “much remains to be done” toward the renewal of Catholic identity in U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.  The Pope highlighted, in particular, “such areas as compliance with the mandate laid down in Canon 812 for those who teach theological disciplines.” He then cited “the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership.”


So, then, what does Canon 812 require?


Responding to a CNS inquiry, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican’s Supreme Court), Cardinal Raymond Burke, pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s description of the mandatum as “a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity.” Asserting that the mandatum is a public not private matter, 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.


Cardinal Burke added: “The fact that I teach in accord with the Magisterium is a public factor.  That’s not some private, secret thing between myself and the Lord” (italics added).


Should only theology professors with the mandatum be employed at a Catholic university or college?


Cardinal Burke responded “Yes,” adding:

…[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?




The Motley Monk concurs with Cardinal Burke’s assessment.


Academic administrators at the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges should take the mandatum seriously, if only because it provides a tangible—public—recognition of an institution’s fidelity to the Church and its teaching, which constitutes the essential identity of Catholic higher education.


If those academic administrators are not willing to require a mandatum as a condition for employment as well as tenure and promotion in rank for those who teach theology and theological disciplines, they should—at a minimum—make public to students and their parents those professors who teach theology or theological disciplines and are in communion with the Church.


Unfortunately, Cardinal Burke has no ordinary jurisdiction in the matter as he is not the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.  However, his opinion as the Church’s highest ranking juridical official after the Pope does carry great moral weight and should influence the thinking of the diocesan bishops in whose territory Catholic universities and colleges are located.  They can and should require those who teach theology or theological disciplines to possess a mandatum.



To read the CNS report, click on the following link:

To read Ex corde Ecclesiae, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link:

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  1. Does this mean that those with the mandatum must support the de facto opposition of the last two Popes to the death penalty…John Paul calling it “cruel” in 1999 and Benedict congradulating the Phillipine president for abolishing it several years ago…despite God giving it over 35 times in the Bible according to Cardinal Dulles ( and the Old Testament). Is every mandatum professor obliged to promote their position on that issue?

  2. I am sure the last two Popes are in opposition to the death penalty, but they are in opposition to homicide even more. God Himself said: “Thou shall not kill” For Justice to be done, homicide must be banned, first.

  3. Mary
    I think they both err. John Paul II had a bad biblical technique on both the death penalty and on wifely obedience: he used one passage on each topic to overcome multiple passages refuting him. He used Ephesians 5 and it’s mutual submission of spouses to void out 5 passages that called for or implied wifely obedience. On the death penalty, he spent many words on God’s protection of Cain from PRIVATE vengeance to void out the many times God called for or implied the death penalty within a governmental context ( Rom.13:4, Gn.9:6). For theologians to commit to following such papal thinking even if they know it’s deficient tells the world that our intellectual caliber is not that great. It means in 1520, all theologians would have had to follow Leo X’s support of burning heretics which is now considered sin after Vatican II.

  4. Perhaps, we should reflect on the words of Bl John Henry Newman, in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, ““It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become wore vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope… From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned… In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

    One would hope that bishops, in granting their mandate, would recognise the vital rôle of theologians in this process; theologians “thinking with the Church,” and ,thus, able to distinguish authentic development from corruptions.

  5. Michael PS,
    Yes and no. The Church has regressions: Pope Nicholas I opposing torture to extract confessions in Ad Consulta Vestra, in 866 A.D. which was later overturned by a series of Popes in the 13th century and beyond. Later is not always “developement”. Dei Verbum, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has something for each biblical partisan and thus for me it has this:

    the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God,but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as
    divinely revealed.”

    Simply not being done on wifely obedience ( absent in the catechism) or on the death penalty
    affirmed in Romans while the actual Roman empire had life sentences in the mines as an alternative which alternative John Paul saw as a recent modern developement.

  6. James,
    That explains Pope Sixtus V shortly thereafter executing in exactly that situation. The big problem though is this: the Old Testament death penalties for personal sin are void. They perdure as Aquinas said as statements to mankind as to which sins kill sanctifying grace. Arguably God wants only murderers executed now because only they are given in the death penalty God gives to both Jews and Gentiles in Genesis 9:6….and He gives it with a perduring reason: because murder is a form of sacrilege. If it is indeed part of the Noachide covenant, ccc 58 and 71 state that that covenant lasts til the end if time…one more reason the last two Popes seem to be working against the truth in this area.

  7. Commentors are straying away from the issue, opining on matters that have little to do with the mandatum.

    The issue is not the Church’s position in regard to the death penalty, just as 100+ years ago the issue wasn’t the Church changing its position on slavery. The simple fact is that neither Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taught a “black and white” theory concerning capital punishment. Thus, the Magisterium has left the door open to the possibility that there may be cases where the death penalty is applicable, for example, “in cases of absolute necessity when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society….such cases are extremely rare, if not practically nonexistent” (Evangelium Vitae, #56). This is not the case, for example, concerning Church teaching about abortion.

    The issue is that the mandate requires that theologians not misrepresent what the Church teaches or protest it, but to represent what the Church officially teaches. A theologian’s private opinions are one’s own, and the classroom is not the place for a theologian to teach one’s personal opinions and, in this case, to represent them as if they are the teaching of the Church.

    As St. Augustine once wrote: “What parent would be so absurdly curious as to pay tuition for his child to learn what his teacher thinks?”

  8. Motley Monk
    But do theologians under the mandatum have to believe or teach that execution is rarely necessary if they think that is a prudential judgement of simply the last two Popes which has been placed inside a catechism? Yes or no….regardless of what you think about execution. Do theologians have bind themselves to ccc 2267?

  9. bill bannon: The mandatum must include every dogma and doctrine in the Nicene Creed as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. People have a right to the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. If it is not the Truth, then it is a lie, perjury in a court of law, SSM, pornography, transgenderism, transhumanism, abuse of every sort, every violation of the Ten Commandments. This explains the infallibility of the Pope. Infallibility of the Pope is the Pope’s duty. The Pope is a priest who remains a citizen of the world as is Jesus Christ. This citizenship in the world and in the Catholic Church is often denied by those who tyrannize people. Individuals who reject the Truth of the Catholic Church are living in ignorance and ought not be imparting heresy.
    The woman does not have the persona of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary. A woman may love Jesus Christ as He chose to be the Son of Man, and because Jesus Christ chose to be the Son of Man, as do the stigmatists who choose to follow Jesus Christ’s choice, the woman remains the woman. If the woman does not share the sorrow of Mary, the Mother of God, she has lost her vocation to follow Jesus. The stigmatist too, must ask for ordination into the church of Jesus Christ, Son of Man.
    The Pope cannot forgive a murderer if the murderer is not repentant. As a priest, the pope can offer forgiveness of all sins, but unless the murderer repents, as Cain did before the Lord, the murderer cannot accept the Pope’s forgiveness. An unrepentant murderer puts all human beings in double jeopardy of life, wardens, guards, doctors, contractors, visitors and other inmates, therefore, the prison system is inadequate. The murderer is a scandal to others and continues his scandal by not being put to death by the state. The death penalty is the temporal punishment for capital one homicide. If the murderer lives to murder again, those who have sanctioned his life have enabled the homicide, have made themselves accomplices in the subsequent murder, unless the victim deserved to be put to death, which is the duty of the state, an office not held by the murderer.
    The office of husband and wife is a vocation for a man and a woman to love God in obedience to God, Who is LOVE, through love for the husband and wife. St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives and wives to be subject to their husband’s love, as Christ loves His Church. Subservience to a monster in human form is not called for in the Sacrament of Matrimony. In fact, it is doubtful that a monster in human form can contract a valid marriage. Same sex couples do not ascend to the office of husband and wife and therefore, remain outside of vocation and office.
    Signing the mandatum will give church officials the power to dismiss heretical teachers, dissenters and experimental theologians as teachers of the Faith, as they will have violated their own promse.

  10. My question remains unanswered…twice now. Do theologians have to support ccc 2267… that execution is rarely necessary… under the Mandatum… even if they think it to be the prudential sociology of two Popes?

  11. It’s a shame that for the last thirty years since Canon #812 was promulgated our
    bishops have chosen to sideline it whilst Catholic higher education devolves.
    I’ve never been impressed with their excuse that a mandatum is a private
    matter between theologians and their Ordinary– for it’s always seemed to me that if
    a man claims that his public teaching of Catholic theology is in accord with the Church,
    then his bishop’s assent to that claim should also be public.

    The past thirty years have given us the spectacle of many so-called Catholic theologians
    publicly claiming all sorts of nonsense to be validly Catholic– yet we must assume
    that these people still have their mandate from their bishop. We have no means to
    know if a mandatum was revoked or if it was ever granted in the first place.
    In a sense, the bishops under whom these theologians operate are aiding the spread
    of scandal. They have abdicated their responsibility as chief teacher and shepherd
    of their respective dioceses with this “it’s a private thing” dodge. Their decision to
    render Canon #812 a dead letter invites contempt for all church law.

    The mandatum is not a cure-all, it merely provides the Church with the means
    of separating those who speak for Her from those who, in fact, do not. With the
    current disregard for even that minimal distinction, anyone may claim to be
    a Catholic theologian. Think about it– colleges’ hiring and tenure committees and the
    editors at America and The National Catholic Reporter have more
    say over who is considered a Catholic theologian than any bishop.

  12. I conclude that theologians, very much like a salesman for Merck or GM, must teach under the mandatum what in some cases they internally don’t and can’t believe because modern penology ( life sentences) only protects society from captured murderers which in Guatemala is 3% of the total number of murderers…Rio captures 14% of murderers…the US captures 62% of murderers. Obviously modern penology is protecting families hardly at all in some Catholic countries…but ccc # 2267 says modern penology suffices. Detterence and capture rate never appear as factors perhaps because they require research while saying a lifer can’t murder does not at first glance require research…until you realize that they kill in prison in the US at about 71 cases per yer….above the execution rate.

  13. bill bannon. Your analysis is excellent. I thought that with the signing of the mandate, it is appropriate for the Catholic theologian to admit that he does not perfectly know the mind of God on the issue of capital punishment and to ask his students to pray for enlightenment. This would fulfill his mandatum.

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