Does the university still consider itself Catholic? It remains unclear

According to both the Vatican and the Dutch bishops, Radboud University is still Catholic. This was said by Cardinal Wim Eijk and Bishop of Den Bosch Gerard de Korte at a press conference in Rome on Friday. What exactly does that mean? What does Radboud University think about this? An overview.

Does Radboud University also consider itself to be a Catholic university again?

It is not clear at the moment. University spokesperson Martijn Gerritsen does not want to give a direct answer to this question. He maintains that Radboud University is an independent university. ‘Since 1 January 2021, the Dutch bishops’ conference has no longer had an influence on the university’s management,’ he says. The rapporteur also points out that the statutes of the Radboud University Foundation are unchanged.

The latter means that the bishops may no longer interfere in the appointment of members of the supervisory board. They were allowed to do that until two years ago, which is why they came into conflict with the board of Radboud University. The bishops withheld appointments because prospective members would not be Catholic enough – much to the frustration of the Catholic University Foundation (SKU), the supervisor that then also included the Radboudmc. The conflict escalated to such an extent that the bishops stripped Radboud University of the predicate ‘Catholic’.

Principal Han van Krieken has confirmed this earlier Vox that the formal, statutory role that the bishops had towards the foundation board has been definitively abolished and will continue to be.

The press conference, where Cardinal Wim Eijk and Bishop of Den Bosch Gerard de Korte announced that Radboud University is still Catholic, followed Friday evening’s so-called ad limina visit to Rome by the thirteen Dutch bishops. This is a working visit where they report to the Pope and Vatican staff on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands.

Is Cardinal Wim Eijk, as one played an important role in the Catholic decay of the predicatethen rebuked by Rome?

Anna Kruse, rapporteur for the Bishops’ Conference, does not want to answer that question. Belgian church lawyer and former rector of KU Leuven Rik Torfs is willing to give it a go. “You could interpret it that way,” he says. “But you can also say that an administrative procedure was followed in the Vatican.”

Torfs explains that in the Catholic Church it often happens that an administrative decision from a lower government is rejected by a higher government. “It usually happens when decisions are made to close a church or remove a pastor,” says Torfs. ‘But it is extremely rare that the Catholic predicate is taken away from a university and then given back.’

Bishops in St. Peter’s Square. Photo: Dick van Aalst

It had been clear for some time that Rome was not satisfied with the Episcopal Conference’s decision to remove the term ‘Catholic’ from Radboud University. For example, Radboud University was still listed as Catholic universities in the Annuario Pontificio 2022, the latest papal yearbook.

Why is Radboud University now suddenly Catholic again according to Rome and according to the Dutch bishops’ conference?

It is a technical problem. “In the summer of 2021, Rome responded to the break between the Catholic University Foundation and the Bishops’ Conference,” says Bishop Gerard de Korte when asked. Vox. “Rome made it clear that the bishops could terminate the relationship with SKU. But the university was founded by the Holy See (the papal government, ed.) and therefore falls under the responsibility of Rome. So Radboud University has always been Catholic.’

According to Anna Kruse, spokesperson for the Episcopal Conference – and therefore also for the chairman, Cardinal Wim Eijk – the Holy See has made it clear that a distinction is seen between SKU’s international legal position and the ecclesiastical position of SKU. the university itself. ‘The verdict on whether a university is Catholic is for the Pope,’ says Kruse. ‘As Cardinal Eijk noted during the press conference, the Holy See naturally has the last word.’

With this, the bishops therefore return to their decision in autumn 2020 to remove the predicate ‘Catholic’ from the SKU.

Was Pope Francis involved in the decision to make Radboud University Catholic again?

Not directly, says Torfs. Nevertheless, according to him, the Pope is certainly aware of what has happened in Nijmegen in the past two years. “The first man after the Pope, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, has played a big role in this case,” he says.

Pope Francis. Photo: Dick van Aalst

The church’s lawyer believes that the dossier from Radboud University for the Vatican is about more than education. “In Rome, they don’t like you blowing up bridges with big Catholic institutions,” he says. “They are linked to Radboud University because it is one of the largest, broad Catholic universities in the world. There aren’t many like that internationally, with the exception of Georgetown University, the University of Notre Dame and KU Leuven.’

But the bishops now have no formal power in Nijmegen. Can you still be a Catholic university?

It is certainly possible, says Torfs. “Whether you wear the designation does not depend on the role bishops play in an oversight council,” he says. According to the Belgian church jurist, it is up to Radboud University to find out for itself what this means. ‘It is clear that we are no longer in the same situation as a hundred years ago,’ he says. ‘Many professors and students are no longer Catholics, not even in the broad sense of the word.’

This picture is confirmed by several studies Vox the past year held among staff and students. In 2018, for example, it was found that professors more often see themselves as atheists or agnostics than as religious. In a 2021 survey, students indicated that they did not mind Radboud University no longer being Catholic – apart from a small, strong religious minority.

‘The new bond will primarily be a relationship between dialogue and advice’

The question of how contacts between bishops, institutes and other relevant university organizational units can be consolidated is in any case being discussed, says university spokesman Martijn Gerritsen. Rector Magnificus Han van Krieken is present at these talks, as is the bishop of Den Bosch and a representative of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. Four such sessions have already taken place in the past year, including in the margins of a visit to Rome on the occasion of the canonization of former Rector Titus Brandsma.

Bishop Gerard de Korte says that these talks take place in a constructive atmosphere. “The goal is to strengthen the Catholic fabric and update the relationship between the university and the church,” he says. ‘We hope for a positive end to the process at the celebration of 100 years of Radboud University in 2023. The new bond will primarily be a relationship between dialogue and advice.’

Wasn’t there also a dialogue process about the university’s identity on campus?

It is true. Currently, the university is still conducting a comprehensive internal investigation into its identity with staff, students and relations, including representatives of various religious organizations. The immediate reason for this research was the split between the bishops and the SKU.

Should this process be redone since the bishops have reversed their decision?

Not according to Annemarie Hinten-Nooijen, who leads the process. ‘We started the process with our mission and vision, our core values ​​as a framework, and everything aimed at the university’s 100th anniversary,’ she says. ‘As stated in the mission statement, we are a special university that emerged from the Catholic Liberation Movement of the early twentieth century; we are connected with this origin and tradition.’

‘We are a special university that emerged from the Catholic liberation movement’

According to Hinten-Nooijen, the goal of the dialogue process is to visualize Radboud University’s colorful history. ‘We do this by talking about how students, employees, alumni and other stakeholders give personal meaning to our mission and our core values.’ According to Hinten-Nooijen, such dialogue is characteristic of Radboud University. “It’s been done several times in recent decades,” she says.

Is last weekend’s verdict really irrelevant to Radboud University?

Anyway. This could be good news, especially for the Vatican’s recognition of the Faculty of Theology. After all, in 2017 the Apostolic Constitution – a legal document from the Vatican – Veritatis Gaudium was published, which stipulated that all theological faculties had to draw up statutes within two years and submit them to the Congregation for Catholic Education (now: Dicastery for Culture and Education).

As happened elsewhere in the world, the management in Nijmegen presented these statutes to the Faculty of Theology. It happened in March 2020, there is still no response from Rome.

An approval of these statutes could mean that the Faculty of Theology, which is the only faculty at Nijmegen University directly established by the Church, can once again award canonical degrees. In 2006, Rome suspended the faculty’s authority to award canonical degrees. At the time, the motive for the suspension was that the statutes of the Faculty of Theology had not been adapted to the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, which had been in force since 1979. Although it is also theoretically possible that the approval of the statutes is separate from the renewed power to confer canonical degrees.

Sint-Pietersplein at the canonization of Titus Brandsma. Photo: Dick van Aalst

Dean of the theological faculty Carl Sterkens told earlier Vox that he did not expect a decision on the statutes of his faculty presented by the Vatican before Rome had decided on the status of Radboud University.

‘I still have that attitude,’ says Sterkens now. Nevertheless, according to the dean, who also happened to be in Rome last week, the university’s identity process must first be completed. “Until the university has determined how it sees itself in a vision document, I do not expect a decision in the theology faculty’s case,” he says.

The speaker of the Bishops’ Conference does not want to look too far into the future. In a comment to Vox she states only that the ad limina visit did not alter the faculty of theology’s authority to confer canonical degrees.

Is Radboudumc Catholic again according to Rome and according to the bishops?

No, Cardinal Eijk and Bishop De Korte did not make any statements about that at the much talked about press conference. It may not be a coincidence: Medical-ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia have often been a source of conflict between the bishops and SKU in the past. When SKU informed Radboud University Medical Center that it planned to open a transgender center, the bishops told it that ‘something like this should not be done at all’.

According to a spokesman for Radboudumc, nothing has changed at all since the break with the bishops at the end of 2020. “Our statutes remain unchanged and the Dutch bishops’ conference no longer has influence on the board,” he says.

‘Radboudumc will primarily look forward’

However, the spokesman emphasizes that core values ​​rooted in the Catholic faith tradition, such as humanity, compassion and an eye for the vulnerable other, are important to Radboudumc and will continue to be so. ‘For the rest, we will primarily look to the future.’

Thanks for reading Vox! Do you want to stay informed about all university news?

Thanks for adding the vox app!

Leave a Comment