Beeler said that while her professors in the undergraduate program had proven dedicated to Church teaching, her current experience with the School of Ministry teachers has raised questions in her mind that the school is “not in keeping with what is going on at the rest of the university.”
Alumni and parents joined students in voicing their concerns. An online petition generated more than 200 signatures overnight and grew to over 300 the next day. In addition, the university’s president, Thomas Keefe, received more than 100 e-mails on Wednesday evening. In response, he called a forum on Thursday to discuss the matter with the students.
At the forum, Keefe described the incident as a “miscommunication.” He told students that their concerns were “unfounded” and that Fagan’s article was a misrepresentation of the facts.
“It was intended to scare you. It was intended to raise fear within the constituent group to stop the pastoral ministry degree,” he said.
Keefe said that the instances cited had been taken out of context or were from the past. “It was at one time, a decade ago, appropriate in this Church to talk about women’s ordination,” he said.
The president said that everything in Fagan’s article would be investigated, but he declined to answer students’ questions regarding the incidents and faculty members mentioned in the article.
“This has nothing to do with individuals,” he said, explaining that students could arrange a private meeting with him if they still had concerns.
Keefe said that the people referenced in the article had been deeply hurt. “They don’t deserve it,” he remarked. “They have devoted their life to the Church. Now maybe not the way you all think they should, and maybe your theology is different, but their sacrifice is every, every bit as compelling as anyone else’s.”
“There are some very talented people in the School of Ministry who are undervalued and underknown here,” said Keefe, adding that he would like to see the undergraduate college work more closely with the School of Ministry in the future.
“One of the problems that we’ve had, I believe, before I came here, is we allowed the School of Ministry to exist, but we kept our distance from it,” he said. “Now we’re actually going to invite them to the table, and we’re actually going to break bread with them, and we’re going to find out that they are people of good faith, working hard.”
Keefe explained that decisions have not yet been made on who will teach the pastoral ministry classes next fall. Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas will be responsible for approving teachers in the new major, although he will not oversee the program.
(Story continues below)
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“I guarantee you, no heretical teachings will take part in the pastoral studies degree program,” Keefe stated.
In a video message, Bishop Farrell also responded to the Dallas community. He began by explaining that he had asked the university to develop a pastoral ministry major because of the need for additional help in the parishes of the diocese.
The bishop then acknowledged that concerns about fidelity to Church teaching in the new program had been raised. He assured the people of the diocese that he will always be “deeply concerned” about the “Catholic identity and the Catholic structure that is given in this degree program.”
“That is my responsibility. I do not take it lightly,” he said.