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January 17, 2013, (Cardinal Newman Society) — Ten years after the finalization of Ex corde Ecclesiae, the relationship between the U.S. bishops and Catholic colleges has led to increased cooperation over the last decade, according to a new report from the bishops.

The “Final Report for the 10-year Review of The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States” recommends the formation of a working group of bishops and college presidents under the Catholic Education committee “to continue the dialogue about strategic subjects on a national level.” That working group would, according to the USCCB website, be tasked with gathering information on best practices, offer suggestions for local conversation, and, as needed, develop resources.

Areas to be studied include:

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Continuation of dialogue between bishops and presidents toward greater cooperation in advancing the mission of the Church

Hiring for mission

Formation of trustees, faculty and staff regarding Catholic identity

Addressing the need for improved, accurate and deeper theological and catechetical knowledge through curricular and pastoral means.

The review process began in January 2011 when bishops were asked to hold conversations with college and university presidents in their dioceses. More than 100 bishops reported on their conversations at regional meetings during the November 2011 General Assembly and, the report said, “the prevailing tone was positive and the news was good.”

“Bishops reported that they believe our institutions of Catholic higher education have made definite progress in advancing Catholic identity,” the report said. “The relationship between bishops and presidents on the local level can be characterized as positive and engaged, demonstrating progress on courtesy and cooperation in the last ten years. Clarity about Catholic identity among college and university leadership has fostered substantive dialogues and cultivated greater mission driven practices across the university.”

In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex corde Ecclesiae. The reaction in America was divided, with vocal opposition from many leaders and faculty of leading Catholic universities who declared it “unworkable.”  With that tension in mind, the U.S. bishops in 1996 issued guidelines to implement the apostolic constitution in American colleges. Those guidelines were long on pastoral approach and avoided strict mandates.

The Cardinal Newman Society was a leading voice in support of clear guidelines. The Vatican rejected the 1996 document, and the U.S. bishops continued their work under the leadership of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia. Finally, in 1999, the bishops approved clear guidelines which were approved by the Vatican as well as recommended procedures for the theologians’ mandatum in 2000. (Last year, The Cardinal Newman Society issued a report on the compliance of the mandatum requirement.)

Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a memo saying:

With more than 100 bishops reporting on their conversations at regional meetings during the November 201I General Assembly, the prevailing tone was positive and the news was good. Bishops reported that they believe our institutions of Catholic higher education have made definite progress in advancing Catholic identity. The relationship between bishops and presidents on the local level can be characterized as positive and engaged, demonstrating progress on courtesy and cooperation in the last ten years. Clarity about Catholic identity among college and university leadership has fostered substantive dialogues and cultivated greater mission driven practices across the university. In acknowledging that much progress has been made, we recognize there is still work to be done.

You can read the bishops’ report here.

Reprinted from The Cardinal Newman Society.

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