While the American bishops have not enforced the mandatum, it is basically a licensing to teach theology. Only Roman Catholic theologians who teach at a Roman Catholic university are required to receive one from the local ordinary.
The purpose of this was to reign in United States Catholic universities that were seen as too liberal and too revisionist. Many theologians construe the mandatum as a violation of their academic freedom and as a means to insure doctrinal orthodoxy within the classroom and derviatively in scholarship.
A former university president said to me once that he supported the Mandatum and said that Roman Catholic theology was “copyrighted” and those who teach it are obligated to teach it in a manner that is consistent with the church’s requirements. He stated that he would “talk” to any faculty member required to have a mandatum who chose not to seek one from the local bishop. While the president said he supported “academic freedom,” I was concerned about the implications of these remarks.
I don’t believe any discipline is “copyrighted.” I don’t believe that external publics should replace peer review and institutional autonomy in determining fitness. A Roman Catholic theologian has the right to be an atheist and opposed to the major teachings of the church. She or he has the obligation to teach accurately the position of the church but not to agree with it. Otherwise, these theologians will be subject to a standard of assessment that is at variance with traditional standards of academic freedom.
It is evident with the declining numbers of clergy, that theologians today are mostly laypersons; they are not seminarians and, therefore, are more independent by nature and training. When theologians were seminarians, then the issue of doctrinal orthodoxy was less of a challenge or concern.
I think any church is strengthened with debate and the testing of ideas. I think without hesitation, that Roman Catholic theologians teaching at a Roman Catholic college or university should not be required to have a mandatum and they should be afforded all the rights that other academicians have.
The American Association of University Professors censured the administration of Catholic University in 1990 for removing Father Charles E. Curran from the classroom. He differentiated between fallible and infallible teachings of the Church in the areas of choice and sexuality and was deemed unacceptable as a teacher of Roman Catholic theology.
Universities can live with freedom; I think a democracy is better served when professors are not silenced, suspended, fired, or intimidated for their utterances either outside or inside the classroom.