Jesuit parachuted in to end turmoil at Prague

February 28, 2003

Years of internal conflict at Prague's Charles University have been brought to an end with the appointment of a new dean of the university's Catholic theological faculty and plans to concentrate on academic attainments rather than spiritual instruction.

Jesuit priest and philosopher Ludvik Armbruster, who for many years taught at Tokyo's Catholic University, took over last week from Jaroslav Polc, who stepped down in December after a period of strife between staff and university rector Ivan Wilhelm.

The faculty, which until last year admitted only young men intent on the priesthood, had been criticised for much of the past decade for poor academic standards and theological dogma.

In December 2001, the Czech education ministry threatened to remove its accreditation unless key curricular and teaching issues were addressed.

In January 2002, Professor Wilhelm put the faculty's management under direct university control and drafted in Czech-born Mikulas Lobkowicz, the former vice-chancellor of the German Catholic University of Eichstaett, to help modernise the faculty. Key reforms included the admission of female students and the introduction of new, higher-quality course materials.

The appointment of Professor Armbruster, which was confirmed last month by the Catholic Congregation in Rome after a vote by the university senate council, marked the start of a new era, Professor Wilhelm said.

"Thanks to its complete restoration, the faculty now ranks as an equal partner to the university's other 16 departments," he said.

Professor Armbruster said he intended to concentrate on what he considered the faculty's exclusive role of educating students and stressed that seminaries, not academic departments, were the proper places for training priests.

"We want to produce well-educated citizens, not only candidates for the priesthood," Professor Armbruster said.

Formal self-government at the faculty, which had been run directly by the university for the past year, was due to be re-established last Monday.

The new era at the faculty was welcomed by Prague's archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who is also the faculty's chancellor. "This finally settles for once and for all the problems that had accompanied the faculty for almost ten years," said Cardinal Vlk, who had championed modernisation of the faculty.

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