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US Catholic bishops approve aligning church-related colleges with official doctrine

Responding to Vatican prodding, the US Catholic bishops last week overwhelmingly approved policies to keep church-affiliated colleges and hospitals in line with official teaching.

The policies, along with position statements on global warming and refugees, were approved on Friday during a meeting of the 266 American bishops.

The bishops set up a process by which Catholics teaching religious subjects at colleges linked to the church are supposed to get certifications of orthodoxy from their local bishops by next June.

The policy, years in the making, was backed despite objections from many academics at America's 235 Catholic campuses who said the system will threaten academic freedom, the schools' stature and public funding.

The policy requires professors to receive a mandatum, or special certification, recognizing their commitment "to teach authentic Catholic doctrine" and avoid presenting as Catholic teaching "anything contrary to" official beliefs.

A last-minute insert to the policy says bishops should provide "the reasons and sources" if a professor is denied the mandatum. But scholars' organizations wanted much broader "due process" protection.

Bishop John Leibrecht of Springfield, who headed the committee that wrote the bishops' overall college policy in 1999, said "we don't know exactly what will happen" now that the certification process is in place.

Some professors will be quick to apply, he said, but "some will not ask for it and will reject the mandatum if it is offered to them," Leibrecht said. "We're just going to have to take some time to persuade people."

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, who led a panel on implementing the mandatum, told the bishops they can do nothing if scholars refuse to comply. However, academic observers think the system could gradually limit dissent from church policies.