Minnesota's St. Thomas University has voted to remove the bylaw that maintained the sitting archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis as the Vicar General and Priest President of the University. The board of directors voted unanimously to change the university's bylaw and install soon-to-retire Archbishop Harry Flynn as chairman for a five year term. The move is feared to be an effort by the university to override the authority of and possible reforms by Archbishop John Nienstedt, Flynn's more orthodox Catholic coadjutor bishop who will fully succeed him as head of the archdiocese next year.
The surprise move has alarmed some Catholics who attend St. Thomas, the only Catholic university in the US founded directly by a bishop, who fear that the break with its historic ties to the archdiocese presages the "complete secularization" of the university, widely known as one of the US' more doctrinally liberal Catholic schools.
A memo from the board of directors said, "Implementing a process the Board Affairs Committee began last February, the board also elected Archbishop Flynn to a five-year term as chairman of the board after making appropriate changes to the university's bylaws which heretofore had stipulated that the ordinary (head) of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve ex officio as chairman."
Archbishop Flynn is due to offer his retirement to the Vatican next year when he turns 75, and his coadjutor bishop, John Nienstedt, is known to be a strong supporter of Catholic moral teaching and an opponent of the homosexual political movement and dissenting trends in the Church.
The university describes itself in its recently revised mission statement as "inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition," and was founded in 1885 as a Catholic seminary by Archbishop John Ireland. St. Thomas currently enrols more than 11,000 students, making it Minnesota's largest independent university.
At a meeting following the decision, about a hundred concerned students vowed to petition the university to reverse the decision. A student organiser wrote in a circular email to supporters, "By removing the ex officio position of the Archbishop, the University largely purges itself of a continual, institutionalized connection with the Church."
"With the ecclesial connection lost, we lose the presence of a continual conscience of the Board, and we can be confident of rapid secularization over a number of years," he added.
Archbishop Flynn retires after years of complaints by faithful Catholics over his handling of a host of scandals involving homosexual activists both within and without the archdiocesan administration.
Under his rule, a notoriously pro-homosexual parish, St. Joan of Arc, was allowed to continue in open support of the Gay Pride parades and homosexual lifestyle. The parish's opposition to Catholic teaching was so brazen that it resulted in 2004 in a rare direct intervention by the Vatican.
Flynn was named by homosexual political activists as one of the US's four most "gay friendly" bishops. When he publicly supported the orthodox Catholic teaching on marriage, gay activists in the Rainbow Sash Movement were furious at what they saw as a betrayal by a friend of their cause.
Nienstedt, who came to St. Paul-Minneapolis this year from the diocese of New Ulm, is well established as a defender of orthodox Catholic teachings in his diocese, especially on homosexuality. He supported the Minnesota constitutional amendment banning same-sex "marriage" and in 2004, joined the eight other Catholic bishops in spearheading a campaign for a constitutional amendment defining marriage strictly as between a man and a woman.
Father Dennis Dease
2115 Summit Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105
See list of Board of Trustees