The biggest surprise for many at Pope Benedict XVI's meeting yesterday with Catholic educators was his failure to even mention the 1990 Vatican document Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church").
The document (and a 1999 implementation document by the U.S. bishops that the Vatican approved the following year) was resisted by many Catholic educators as an encroachment on academic freedom. What's most controversial are juridical elements in the documents, especially the requirement that theologians at Catholic schools request and receive a "mandatum" from the local bishop, essentially to recognize formally a professor's commitment to Church teaching. But Ex Corde proposes a positive vision of what Catholic identity means in the environment of higher education.
“I was surprised that that there was no explicit reference [in Pope Benedict's speech] but it certainly was referenced implicitly,” Vincentian Father David O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America and host of the papal speech, told me this morning.
“Perhaps 20 years later, [the pope] is offering a new presentation, a new vision that is in clear continuity of thought [with Ex Corde],” he said. Father O’Connell, a canon lawyer by training, said the juridical provisions of Ex Corde are as valid as ever. “This was not a legislative speech, it was a speech of encouragement and guidance.”
Another participant told me that he thought the pope might have avoided mentioning Ex Corde for pastoral reasons. Essentially, the pope knew that some in the room would have had a visceral reaction at mention of the document, and by avoiding it he avoided having them tune out.
Father O'Connell strongly disagreed. He said Pope Benedict is pastoral, yes, but is hardly known for mincing words when he wants to make a point.
In other news: Father O’Connell said he was struck by Pope Benedict’s “mastery of balance. The speech did not lean to the left or lean to the right. That could only come credibly by one who has walked in our shoes.”
And he said he was struck at the warmth of the gratitude the pope expressed to "the men and women who bear the heat of the day” in Catholic education, and the pope's "obvious great concern that Catholic education continue despite the struggles, despite the difficulties we have to endure.”