Thursday, March 31, 2011

UD grads: what's going on?

I read this yesterday:

IRVING, Texas — The University of Dallas has always prided itself on its faithfulness to the magisterium, but only quick action by the administration and local bishops fended off a sudden rebellion of undergrads, alumni and parents seeking to defend UD’s orthodoxy against perceived threats.

Triggering the insurrection was an open letter from a high-profile father of five UD grads objecting in advance to the imminent approval of a new undergrad program for parish lay ministers at UD’s School of Ministry, which some have called “doctrinally challenged.”

The letter went viral among campus bloggers, sparked dozens of incendiary emails to UD’s president, Thomas Keefe, and a petition with several hundred signatures (UD has 1,400 students). The university’s board of trustees nonetheless approved the new program on March 3.

“Heresy is not being taught at the University of Dallas. Blasphemy is not being taught at the University of Dallas,” Keefe told the Register. “Any faculty that do not comport with the teachings of the Church will not be teaching at this university.”

The parent who raised the alarm is Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. His letter began: “Depending on how the board of the University of Dallas votes tonight, I (proud father of five UD alumni children) may well be telling folks: ‘Don’t send your kids to UD. It used to be great but now is a danger to their faith.’”

I know there are a lot of University of Dallas graduates out there, so my questions are to them: what, exactly, is this all about? Is there any reason to be worried about UD's committment to orthodox Catholicism? Is the original parent who complained out of line, or are various statements by Bishops Farrell and Vann (of Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively) enough to satisfy critics of the proposed School of Ministry?

For all readers: what do you think of a Catholic university having an undergrad program for lay ministers? Is that blurring the lines between the laity and the priesthood, or simply a pragmatic response to the increased role of the laity in parish life?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this matter in the comment boxes--I really do want to hear what others are thinking about this.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the University of Dallas page discussing the controversial new undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry, and here is the page describing the major. Frankly, I find it rather vague. What sort of "ministries" are the lay majors supposed to be trained to do?

UPDATE 2: A reader writes:

This past weekend I attended a Catechetical weekend sponsored by my diocese. OSV brought in Bill Huebsch, who is an adjunct professor at UD's school of ministry AND who taught in their 'semester in Rome' program for 2010.
He spoke AGAINST infant baptism, claimed the adoption of the Nicene Creed turned the Church from a community of believers into a 'social club', and mentioned that 'before Vatican 2, it was a sin for Catholics to read the Bible.' Oh, yeah. And before V2 all Catholics were mindlessly obedient robots who were sure they'd go to hell if they accidentally ate meat on a Friday, and after Vatican 2, we all are full of faith and good feelings and blah, blah, blah... you know the standard baby boomer drill.
This gives me a better idea of the "meat" of the controversy. Some of what I read made it seem as though merely having an undergrad degree in pastoral ministry was the main issue (and for some it may be) but this reader's experience shows that the largest area of concern is that the students selecting this major may be taught heterodox and even heretical material by teachers who do not accept the fullness of Catholic teaching.

And that simply perpetuates the problems we have now, of lay pastoral ministers, DREs, catechists etc. being woefully ignorant about the real teachings of the Catholic Church, but ready to spout off any amount of total nonsense inflicted upon them by "scholars" who are functionally heretics in terms of their acceptance of and adherence to Church teachings as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If I were a UD grad, I'd be mad about this, too.


Charlotte said...

I posted this on the Facebook page of a U.D. graduate.

Anyway, I think you need to define "lay minister." I mean, I know what that is, but at the same time, I don't. You know what I mean? The fact that I have to ask to have a discussion proves that it's a murky/vague issue.

Red Cardigan said...

Charlotte, one of the problems I see is that the University's description leaves the whole thing unfortunately vague. There is reference to "ministries" (plural) and to serving the Church, but clearly undergrads won't be spending four years training to be EMHCs or choir directors (well, they couldn't, anyway, as it's not a music program).

melanie said...

Although I agree somewhat vague, how can this not be a good thing? I mean if the goal would be to bring real education in Orthodoxy out into parish life as extensions of the priest, say, for example, to teach catechism, minister to the sick, hold bible studies grounded in a background study of theology, I am not sure why the strong reaction against it? It seems like just what the church needs? But maybe I just don't understand "lay ministry"? Is this seen as like step one to women being priests or something?

To me it sounds like a great program.

Diamantina da Brescia said...

I would prefer that pastoral ministy be an undergraduate minor instead of a major: pastoral ministry sounds more like a specialization for graduate school. However, I can see how the major in pastoral ministry could help train lay pastoral associates in parishes that have no resident priest, or directors of religious education in all kinds of Catholic parishes. It could also help young men who want to become deacons later on in life.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that nobody is discussing the specific issues raised the article. UD's administration successful turned the argument away from the concrete assertions and instead focused the debate on the need for the program, thus positioning themselves behind the bishops without having to answer for the presence of dissenters in their faculty. To return this discussion to the concrete issues initially raise I would like to point out two real concerns. One, Dr. Fagan cites a position statement issued by the Convocation of the Federation of Dominican Sisters held in Chicago, April 21-24, 2005. The meeting, titled "OP: One Planet, One People, One Teaching," produced a statement that asked for the Catholic Church to "allow women to be ordained." This statement was to be presented to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist by none other than Sr. Dorothy Jonaitis, OP herself. Not only does she adhere to the principles in the statement, she was intended to be their primary advocate before the episcopal synod.
Two, Dr. Jerome Walsh, who not only currently teaches but is publicly engaging himself in the academic discourse at UD (hence his own editorial in the student newspaper where he butts heads with Dr. Susan Hanssen and Dr. Chris Malloy) published an article, which Dr. Fagan cites in its entirety via a hyperlink, where he argues how the Book of Leviticus does not forbid non-penetrative acts between men, and that other forms of homosexual expressions "encompassing the whole range of physical expressions of affection that do not entail penetration, are not envisaged in these laws."

These are the facts. If they are fabrications or figments of Dr. Fagan's imagination, then Dean Brian Schmisek needs to prove it rather than dismissing them entirely. And if such facutly ARE at the School of Ministry, and if such faculty DID pass Schmisek's vetting process, which he assures us as being stringent and faithful, can we not say that his leadership is gravely negligent and incompetent, to say the least?

Tony said...

I'm not opposed to a "lay ministry" program, depending on what the particular ministries are.

I am currently in formation for ministry through my diocese for facilitating the RCIA process. There are other choices such as pro-life, pastoral, parish administration, etc. These all focus on roles that might have been performed by the parish priest(s) in the past, but do not doctrinally require a cleric.

My problem with this (as I explained to the sister teaching our sacraments class), is the normalization of roles such as "eucharistic services in the absence of a priest". I explained that instead of being a response to a lack of priestly vocations, they would be a self-fulfilling prophecy as young men realized that priests were not really required and chose not to enter the priesthood.

It all depends how a program like this is used.

Maureen said...

I went thru the lay ministry program in my Archdiocese and it was a pile of dissenting dung. I don't trust these programs at all.

Melanie B said...

The real debate isn't the question of the need for a program to train lay ministers so much as fact that the program will force the integration of the hitherto separate School of Ministry into the existing undergraduate program. The University's theology department is solidly orthodox, the School of Ministry, on the other hand, is riddled with heterodoxy. The School of Ministry is definitely a problem-- and has been one for a long time and has been ignored by the bishops, which is why their reassurances about the new program aren't soothing people's fears. This is not just a few hysterical people. I've had several friends who took degrees from the School of Ministry and have told me about their classes. One friend has told me about a class he took on Women in the Church in which the instructor was advocating for women's ordination. My sister had Dr Walsh (formerly Father Walsh, he' left the priesthood) when she was an undergrad theology major at UD. My understanding is that he no longer teaches in the undergrad program precisely because of his heterodox positions. However he has been teaching in the School of Ministry.

Now, it's possible that the bishops are planning to use the foundation of this new program as an opportunity to do some quiet housecleaning of the current School of Ministry faculty. I really hope that's the case. But so far none of their public statements have directly addressed the question. They've basically said: Trust us. But since the problems have been ongoing and they haven't addressed them thus far. I think there might be good reasons for the bishops to want to handle things quietly and they may very well intend to fix things. However, I can see why people are questioning whether the bishops are really going to follow through or whether they are just mouthing promises. I do have very solid orthodox friends on the UD theology faculty whose worries have not been calmed by the bishops' statements.

So my feeling, based on the limited information I have, is that there is reason to be worried. Though there is also reason to be hopeful. The problem the University has always faced is a divided leadership. The Board of Trustees has many members who do not share the same vision of the University's mission that faculty and students have embraced.

As for your final question of ministries, my assumption was that they meant to address the fact that most religious education programs are already being run by lay people, some with very minimal training and serious gaps in their understanding of the faith. I do think there is a need to educate the people who are going to be educating our children. My impression is that that is the purpose of this new program: to train catechists and DREs and people who lead Bible study groups and get people into parishes who know their faith and have been trained to pass it on.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I think some of the concern also has to do with some legacy issues regarding the history of what used to be the IRPS (Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies) which was known for it's solid teaching. I don't know the specifics, but it seemed at the time that the IRPS was disbanded and most of the incredibly orthodox people involved in it (Janet Smith & Fr. Mitch Pacwa to name a few) left the school shortly thereafter, if I remember correctly. I might have a friend who has more info about it and I will point her in your direction. Melanie B, do you know any specifics regarding the dissolution of the IRPS?

Defensor1956 said...

See Tim Drake's article on the IRPS Departure. Definitely puts all of this in historical context. Did you know that the former directors of IRPS who moved to Ave Maria and are looking to bring their new program to North Texas by starting a satellite pastoral ministry program in Fort Worth scheduled to begin in August 2011? See Ave Maria's IPT program website for details.

Here is the link to the comprehensive Drake article on the IRPS departure fiasco:
Drake Article

Melanie B said...

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda),

I don't know much about the IRPS situation. If you do have someone who can fill that in, I'd appreciate it.

Barbara said...

This controversy made local news when President Keefe used threatening language in a public forum, stating that he wanted to "punch out" people who emailed him to complain if he could meet them face to face. As you can see, in the interview he is completely unapologetic, and answers none of the legitimate concerns raised in the forum. So much for a man of liberal learning!

So, I have no hope that this administration will be receptive to any concern. None.

Anonymous said...

I have taken a few classes through the SOM over the years, mostly because it was my only option to pursue a graduate degree for my work in ministry. I am not currently enrolled and have been clueless about the situation until just recently. I have been fascinated to read this blog and comments. Additionally I have noticed that neither Dr. Walsh nor Dr. Opperman are listed on the UD website. The must have been let go. This is a very interesting development. Dr. Opperman was so new to the faculty and seemed to be held in high regard by UD/SOM leadership. Something is definitely brewing!

Anonymous said...

It would seem that the UD School of Ministry program for Vague Lay Ministries is a vehicle for populating diocesan and parish payrolls with the "Catholic, but ..." people mentioned in the blogger's short bio.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

History is not on their side. Perhaps President Keefe hasn't been there long enough to realize that the graduate program was not known for being a faithful, orthodox program, but I doubt it. To sit there and tell the protesters what amounts to essentially, "Trust us!" doesn't cut it because of the history. I think most of these people who are upset want a little more proof than that. Why not be open and transparent about what courses are required beyond the core curriculum for a degree in pastoral ministry and what will be taught in those courses. Let us also know which professors have agreed to sign an academic mandatum. If that information is available, he should be pointing to it with bells and whistles, not threatening to punch people.

On the other hand, UD has always been this way. I have to disagree with Melanie B. a little bit on the perception that their theology program has always been solidly orthodox. I know there were some very orthodox professors there, but you always had to pick and choose just like in all the other departments. The only department to avoid altogether was the Psychology Dept. I came to the school not even knowing it was a Catholic school. I'm sad to say that at that time it didn't concern me one way or the other. But I found my faith at UD even among the very liberal drama crowd. I found students who loved the Catholic Faith, knew what the Church actually taught and lived it, not like little hermits, but as real people in the real world. Maybe for those who came to UD thinking it was this bastion of orthodoxy, this realization would be a shock. But in my eyes, UD is now, the way it's always been only, with a majority of the student body in favor of more faithful, orthodox teaching... that's a huge step in a better direction! Heck, the Drama Dept. is currently performing the Wakefield Cycle right now on an outdoor stage and I hear it's wonderful! That never would have happened when I was there!!!

Will the board of directors listen to the students? No, they never have. Will the students be fighting with administrators? Of course, they always have. Will students and professors find themselves arguing with each other over Church teaching? Of course, they always have. That's UD. You can find a wonderful community of faithful Catholic students and professors, but you have to know where to look for them. It's not a utopia... it's UD. Utopia is only a book they study.

Anonymous said...


You need to read the actual piece by Fagan.