By John Heuertz
Special to The Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY — The Bishop Helmsing Institute celebrated the opening of its 2012-2013 academic year with an Open House and mandatum ceremony at the Catholic Center on Thursday evening, August 23.
Based in canon law since 1983, the mandatum “is fundamentally an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Robert W. Finn welcomed the small congregation in the Our Lady of Ephesus chapel with remarks that focused on the unbroken continuity of Catholic teaching from the time of Christ to the present.
“When I was consecrated a bishop the Gospels were held over my head,” he said.
“I know I have to depend on you, and I know that you will carry out this mandate in my name to be faithful to Church teaching for the good of the Church.”
In the brief ceremony, full-time and adjunct BHI faculty members swore to their belief in all that the Church teaches as contained in the Nicene Creed and then recited it.
In a separate statement they affirmed belief in the rightness of the Church’s teaching authority and promised to exercise it faithfully. Each then signed the profession and the bishop granted the mandatum.
It’s sort of a social contract. At its web site, the USCCB explains that the mandatum recognizes that a professor has both academic freedom of inquiry and also the responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine – “and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”
Thus it gives present and future BHI students assurance that they will get only genuine Catholic teaching.
The mandatum is required by canon law, but BHI faculty members say they benefit from it in ways other than having their freedom of inquiry guaranteed.
“It means I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing,” said Father Gregory Lockwood, pastor of Christ the King parish.
“It helps me to see myself as a small part of something that Christ has handed down through the centuries in His Church. I commit myself to that,” said Dr. Russell Hobbs, a new BHI faculty member a former Baptist and a recent convert to Catholicism.
“Pope John Paul II was a great general in the war for holiness and through this mandatum I can be a part of that,” said Prof. Frank Dinovo. “It’s not to cause trouble, but to help win the world for Christ.”
“Everyone wanted to do it,” said BHI Associate Director Dr. Timothy Brennan. “We really like the idea of everyone being on the same page.”
“Every teacher at the Institute now has the mandatum. There may be another catechetical institute in the country where that is true, but I don’t know of it.”
Father Lockwood gave a talk on the ups and downs of Marian studies since the Second Vatican Council at the ice cream social after the ceremony.
A Mariologist for 25 years, he focused on “Lumen Gentium,” the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church whose last chapter is devoted exclusively to Mary.
“I think it’s important that Mary’s looked upon as a very important theological data,” he said, “and this is the best single document written on Mary in the 20th century.”
But Chapter 8 was largely ignored for 15 years because the spirit of the age was that “we’re modern people now and not credulous morons any longer,” Father Lockwood said.
The floodgates opened in 1978 when Father Karl Rahner SJ, an influential German Jesuit theologian, pointed out something that seems obvious in retrospect: that if we’re going to talk about the nature of Christ, we need to talk about Mary too.
“Mary was the capstone of all the stuff in Lumen Gentium because she was the one who did everything right,” Father Lockwood said. “We’re sitting on a gold mine in Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium.”
“You’re supposed to teach what the Church teaches and learn what the Church teaches. We’re good at prayer and devotion of Mary. But we need the theology too.”
“We’re the ones that have to implement the Second Vatican Council. So if we want to be Vatican II Catholics, we will learn about the second most mentioned person in the New Testament. She deserves it. She did her part and now let us do our part.”
“As the bishop is tasked with passing on the Faith, so we’re tasked with acting faithfully in his name when we pass it on,” said diocesan Chancellor Jude Huntz.
The mandatum is usually done only once for each person, Huntz said.
Visit nccbuscc.org/bishops/mandatumguidelines.shtml for more information on “mandatum” from the USCCB.