Look Before You Sign

Ex corde and college trustees

The revised, and now Vatican-approved, local ordinances ["U.S. norms"] of the Catholic bishops of the United States for the implementation of the 1990 Apostolic Constitution Ex corde ecclesiae go into effect next May. They prescribe requirements for Catholic colleges and universities to be "officially" Catholic. A large majority of the Catholic universities that are not officially so are to be found in the United States. They are the focus of what follows, for they must now decide whether to become "officially" Catholic.

Under Caesar’s laws, not ostensibly contrary to Catholic faith or morals, each member of a university’s governing body ["trustee"], whether cleric, religious, or lay person, Catholic or non-Catholic, has a fiduciary duty to decide whether or not accepting this invitation from the papacy is in the best interests of the university. Secular law does not dictate a fiduciary’s decision; it only requires that he or she be adequately informed and consider all the relevant data.

There is much to be said, and undoubtedly much will be said at university governance meetings, in favor of embracing Ex corde. The document is certainly not radical, having antecedents in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (nothing to be done or taught contrary to faith or morals and hierarchical supervision) and the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law.

University trustees, however, must look at both sides of the coin. To...

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About the Author

John F. Hunt is a retired partner of the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City.