Seven monks of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Ill. have filed suit against the leadership of Illinois’ Benedictine University, saying that the leadership has denied them their rights to help govern the university their abbey founded. Abbot Austin Murphy, who is also the university’s chancellor and a member of the board of trustees, said the dispute “goes to the very heart of maintaining the Catholic identity” of the university because of the monks’ oversight role in ensuring “that the university remains Catholic and Benedictine.” “They are surely not the only ones who contribute to the Catholic identity of Benedictine University, but they make an important contribution,” the abbot told CNA June 24. “So, if you take the monks of St. Procopius Abbey out of the picture, you are taking away an important contributing factor to the Catholic nature of Benedictine University.” The university said the charges in the monks’ lawsuit are misleading and do not represent the facts. University spokesman Elliot Peppers rejected as “simply untrue” any claim that the monks are out of the picture. “The university has had a positive, respectful and unified partnership with the Abbey for decades and through its commitment to the mission, vision and values of its founders, has brought a high-quality Catholic and Benedictine education to a growing number of students around the world,” he told CNA. He added that the university “proudly and consistently represents a Catholic university in the Benedictine traditions.” The lawsuit, filed in the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in DuPage County, alleges that the university’s board of trustees and outgoing president William J. Carroll have denied the monks their rights under the university bylaws. The monks say they are seeking to secure their right to approve trustee elections, to amend and approve parts of the bylaws, the right to approve the president, and the right to have trustees disclose conflicts of interest. On June 10 the trustees announced the selection of Michael A. Brophy, president of Marymount California University, as their next president. The monks’ lawsuit alleges that they were prevented from interviewing candidates in the selection of a president. “Although for more than three years, we have tried in good faith to resolve these issues, the present impasse leaves no viable option other than to resolve these ongoing disputes with this legal action,” the Abbot Murphy said in a June 22 statement. He said he did not object to Dr. Brophy’s selection as a next president, “but we do strongly object to the process by which he was chosen.” “The Board of Trustees is trying to portray the problems as originating with new leadership at the abbey,” he told CNA. “The trustees are operating contrary to the By-Laws.” He said that when Carroll, the outgoing president, was elected 20 years ago, the monks who were members of the board interviewed the candidates and voted to approve the selections. Peppers countered that the abbot and another monk had been part of the presidential search process and said that the abbot had voted to approve Brophy. “Why the abbot has chosen to make this a public matter involving statements that are both misleading and not included in the court filing is not clear to the university at this time,” Peppers said. “Nor does the University understand why the Abbey has decided to open a private, ecclesiastical debate to the civil courts.” The university said that the bylaws were approved by the abbey’s then-acting abbot in 2002. The monastic community has 25 men. The monastic community founded the university in Chicago in 1887 with the name St. Procopius College. It later moved to the suburb of Lisle and changed its name. The university said the bylaws have been “non-controversial” with prior abbots. “The only change in recent years has been that of leadership within St. Procopius Abbey and a different interpretation of the by-laws by that leadership,” Peppers said. He told CNA the university is facing a common problem of maintaining a Catholic institution’s identity when the number of clergy is in decline. He said the university has worked to “affirm and strengthen” its Catholic identity through its Center for Mission and Identity, its theology department, and its collaboration with trustees. He said the university also works for this purpose with organizations such as the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities. The university also partners with groups such as Interfaith Youth Core to help welcome and give voice to other religions and believes in its community. “Our founding monks and their successors knew this day would come when there would be few religious and many lay people,” Peppers said. “To prepare for that day, they trained and taught the lay people well.” Abbot Murphy said that if the monks lack the power to approve trustees, “we wouldn’t be able to ensure that the Trustees understand and are willing to promote the Catholic, Benedictine mission.” The power to approve the president also ensures that the president will promote the university’s mission. “Clearly, the monks have a special interest in this, given that we founded the school,” the abbot said. “Also, we are men who have dedicated our lives to Christ, the Church, and the Benedictine way of life. So, this makes us very interested in the school being Catholic and Benedictine.”
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.