ATLANTA (AP) -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops learned Thursday that their attempt to bring Catholic theology professors into line with official church teaching may have only a limited impact.
The bishops can't force colleges to make their professors take what some consider a loyalty oath, under which they promise ''to teach authentic Catholic doctrine,'' a key bishop said.
''We cannot force people to do this,'' said Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, the head of a special committee on the issue.
''If people don't do this they should be open to persuasion but there is no mechanism to make anyone do anything. We cannot make the college make that a requirement for hiring,'' he said.
The bishops are expected to approve the new policy Friday. It calls on Catholics teaching religion in America's 235 church-related colleges to apply for a special certification, or mandatum, from their local bishop.
The mandatum is a formal recognition from the bishop that the instructor has promised to teach church doctrine and ''refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to'' official policy. Non-Catholic theology professors would not have to get a mandatum.
The certification process is in line with Vatican directives, but some theologians have already said they won't apply for it. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver asked what a bishop can do in that situation.
Pilarczyk said a professor can't be forced to sign.
That perplexed Bishop Sean O'Malley of Fall River, Mass. ''I don't understand why a university, if it's a Catholic institution, doesn't have a responsibility to require this,'' he said. ''Otherwise it seems like an exercise in futility.''
Later, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said theologians without the mandatum will be affected, even if they don't lose their college posts. He said only scholars with the certification should train parish educators, speak at Catholic events or represent the church in ecumenical projects. Bishops have control over all those situations.
Besides the mandatum issue, the bishops are scheduled to vote Friday on a revised policy for Catholic hospitals and a statement on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Pilarczyk is also leading the revision of the bishops' hospital policy, which responds to Vatican insistence that Catholic facilities merging with non-Catholic ones shun all involvement with direct sterilizations as a birth-control measure.
The archbishop told the meeting ''the Catholic health care community felt very threatened and uneasy about the whole thing.''
But he said the version up for decision Friday is ''acceptable'' to both the Vatican and representatives of the 1,140 U.S. Catholic health agencies.
On the Mideast, the bishops endorsed the ''establishment of an internationally recognized Palestinian state'' for the first time last November. They also recognized Israel's right to exist ''within secure borders.''
The follow-up statement the bishops will vote on Friday casts blame on both sides for the current crisis. It says Palestinians ''rightly insist'' on an end to Israel's ''occupation'' by force of the West Bank. It says Palestinians see a regime ''marked by daily indignities, abuse and violence.''
On the other hand, the proposal states, Palestinian leaders ''need to clearly renounce violence and terrorist acts'' and ''take effective steps to stop them.''
On the Net:
U.S. Catholic bishops' conference: http://www.nccbuscc.org
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