Revision of "Affirmation of Mercyhurst Mission"

Mercyhurst revised an old policy and student organizations have been informed of updates to guidelines based on recommendations from a task forced assembled by President Tom Gamble.

The directives were originally developed in 2004, and were annually sent to student organizations through the vice-president for student life. The scope of the directives has been widened from just registered student clubs and organizations to apply to the whole university community. The directives aim to be mutually respectful of the university’s “Catholic identity and its Mercy heritage”, as well as its obligation as an institution of higher education.

The guidelines seek to help ensure a healthy relationship between the university and the bishop of Erie. In the ongoing process of revising and strengthening the directives, Sister Lisa Mary McCartney, RSM, said, “What we tried to do is try to find way to respect the fact that the Bishop needs to know in situations where conflict could arise, and where Mercyhurst has a responsibility to let him know.”

McCartney discussed the bestowment of the Archbishop Oscar Romero award upon Sister Simone Campbell, an event which resulted in Erie People for Life staging a protest outside the university gates in response to her support for Obamacare. “No one knew that [the award] was going to be a problem, or that People for Life was coming,” she said. The goal of the document is to avoid surprises and keep open the path for dialogue between Mercyhurst and the bishop of Erie.

Bishop Lawrence J. Persico has been in discussion with Gamble since last spring. According to Persico, “under Ex Corde Ecclesia, the document on higher Catholic education, there’s a role of the diocesan bishop to have some vigilance on what occurs within any university or college that uses the name ‘Catholic.’”

The “vigilance” of the bishop takes multiple forms. As the bishop of the Diocese of Erie, he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees at Gannon University, which is organized under the diocesan structure, he has “direct communication with Dr. Taylor [the president of Gannon University].”

The nature of Mercyhurst, originally organized under a religious order, the Sisters of Mercy, as opposed to under the diocesan structure, results in “a different relationship.” However, Persico says that he “still wants to have conversation with the university, and make sure they don’t do anything contrary to the Church’s teaching.”

The issue of outside speakers coming to Mercyhurst and discussing ideas which may run contrary to the Church’s teaching remains “one of the things we have to have discussion on,” according to Bishop Persico.

The mission statement references Church documents which call for a Catholic university to examine “the secular sciences such as psychology and sociology,” the Bishop said that while “dialogue is important,” there also “has to be a balance” between the promotion of ideas which run contrary to the Church’s teaching and the Church’s actual teaching.

“You could have someone who comes in who probably has an opposite view of what the Church teaches, but in fairness to the students and the community, they need know what exactly the teaching is.”

The guidelines are laying the groundwork to determine how to facilitate the balance between promoting the teachings of the Church and promoting academic dialogue, while the path of dialogue with the Bishop open.

The policy does have teeth.

It also states that “in the event that any university academic department or student organization bypasses the Review Board and bestows an honor/award or produces a publication in conflict with Affirmation and Guidelines, that organization will be subject to an inquiry by members of the Review Board, who may recommend that the university president take formal disciplinary action.”