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The Thomist 63 (1999): 629-42 NOTES IN DEFENSE OF EX CORDE ECCLESIAE: THREE REPLIES TO THREE TYPICAL OBJECTIONS MICHAEL J. BAXTER, C.S.C. University ofNotre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana DURING THE TEN YEARS since the promulgation of Ex corde Ecclesiae and for several years of discussion leading up to it, administrators, faculty members, and other concerned parties have warned that an implementation of its vision and norms could damage Catholic higher education in the United States.1 Such warnings can be summarized under three headings: academic freedom, pluralism, and institutional autonomy. The controversy surrounding Ex corde Ecclesiae has raised examination of these concerns to a new level of sophistication and produced some excellent discussion and debate. Unfortunately, the overall conversation seems to proceed dismally, with many commentators , including the most visible leaders in Catholic higher education, articulating these concerns in terribly simplistic terms, as if academic freedom, pluralism, and institutional autonomy were clearly defined notions upon which everyone in the modern academy agrees. This is particularly unfortunate given the divided state of Catholicism in the United States, for it encourages a pejorative, indeed polarizing, approach to many of the initiatives that come from the Holy See. The purpose of the following discussion is to discourage caricatures of Ex corde Ecclesiae. It is structured according to the 1 The following article originated as a panel presentation at a conference on Ex corde &clesiae and Veritatis splendor sponsored by the Institute for the Study of the Magisterial Teaching of the Church and held at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts on March 21, 1998. 629 630 MICHAEL J. BAXTER, C.S.C. three headings mentioned above, which are addressed by sketching three typical objections to the letter-that it opposes academic freedom, pluralism, and institutional autonomy-and then offering three replies. The title suggests that this discussion is designed as a "defense" of Ex corde, which it is: not a full-blown defense, but a limited defense intended to show that the issues raised byEx corde are more complex than its critics usually imply. It further suggests that Ex corde acknowledges these complexities in a way that the critics do not. In other words, this discussion is not a positive account of the vision of Ex corde, which would require more argumentation than is presented here, but a loosely organized negative account, indicating not so much how to think about the vision ofEx corde as how not to think about it. Thus it is best to regard this discussion as a set of "notes." By way of disclaimer, nowhere below is there a statement as to whether or not Catholic theologians should possess a canonical mandate in order to teach, and if so how such a requirement should be implemented. But the discussion will bear on this vexed matter by showing that a cogent argument against implementing the mandate will have to offer more than simplistic appeals to academic freedom, pluralism, and institutional autonomy. The notes that follow will serve their purpose if they free readers to move beyond the oppositional thinking that has dominated discussion ofEx corde and to engage the more complex, difficult, and interesting task of restructuring Catholic colleges and universities to embody once again a dedication "to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God" (Ex corde Ecclesiae, 4). I A frequently raised objection to Ex corde Ecclesiae is that it opposes academic freedom. The response to this objection should be that it does not oppose academic freedom, so much as define it according to truth and the common good as understood in Catholic tradition. So defined, academic freedom is placed under certain constraints. But every intellectual tradition places aca- OBJECilONS TO FX CORDE ECCLESIAE 631 demic freedom under some constraints, including that liberal intellectual tradition which disavows all such constraints. This disavowal, in fact, excludes the understanding of freedom embodied in Catholic tradition and articulated by the pope in Ex conie Ecclesiae. This objection finds support from Stanley Fish, literary critic and author of an article entitled "There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing Too."2 Fish argues that...


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