Controversial pamphlet mailed to faculty, students’ families

The cover of Ed Burns' phamplet depicts Jesus carrying a cross near St. Thomas' arches. (Shane Kitzman/TommieMedia)
The cover of Ed Burns' phamplet depicts Jesus carrying a cross near St. Thomas' arches. (TommieMedia screen shot of pamphlet)

Some parents of St. Thomas students have received a pamphlet in the mail addressing the university’s Catholic identity. But the pamphlet is not from university administrators or anyone affiliated with St. Thomas.

Watertown, Minn., resident Ed Burns spent one year looking through university archives, reading Aquin articles and interviewing people. He compiled his research into a 24-page pamphlet that mentions the theology and English departments, St. Thomas administrators and previous archbishops of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The pamphlet claims these departments and individuals have undermined students’ Catholic faiths.

“We’re trying to create an understanding among people who appreciate the faith that some changes should be made [at St. Thomas] because the administration doesn’t seem disposed,” Burns said.

The Rev. John Malone, vice president for mission, disagreed with Burns’ views about Catholicism at St. Thomas.

“Today, St. Thomas is more intentionally Catholic than it ever was,” Malone said. “In the past, St. Thomas was Catholic on different levels. It was Catholic because almost everybody was Catholic who was a student. Almost all of the faculty and staff were Catholic.”

Malone said in that environment, Catholics didn’t have to work very hard at their faith because everyone shared that common identity.

“Today, it’s a very different picture,” he said. “We have to do things in a more intentional way of Catholicism.”

Investigating the mailing list

Burns first mailed the pamphlets to priests and St. Thomas faculty members, concentrating on faculty members in the history, philosophy, theology and Catholic studies departments.

He then mailed pamphlets to students’ parents. Burns refused to tell TommieMedia how he got students’ home addresses, except to say that somebody gave him a copy of the addresses. He would not say whether this person was affiliated with St. Thomas.

Linda Halverson, associate vice president for administration, has researched how Burns could have sent the pamphlets. She said the mailings are hand-addressed, which means he got the information from a public source instead of a mailing house. She also said all pamphlets have gone to students, faculty staff and board members whose address information is public and can be accessed through reverse lookup tools, such as

“Since our investigation last year, we have eliminated printing of the Student Purple and Gray pages, a copy of which we thought might have been used for his mailings using a reverse lookup feature,” Halverson said. “Some of this information may still be in our online directories, accessible from the UST home page, which, like most other universities, is public.”

Halverson added that the naming conventions Burns uses are different from the conventions St. Thomas uses, so she determined that Banner is not the data source for his mailings. She also said St. Thomas does not sell data or mailing lists of any kind.

“We are confident that our data are secure and that the data that need to be private (either by law or by request) are kept private in our systems,” Halverson said.

In addition to mailing his pamphlets, Burns has also stood on the sidewalk in front of the arches multiple times, handing out pamphlets to anyone who walks by. He said he has been told he cannot go on campus but can stand on the public sidewalk along Summit Avenue to pass out his pamphlets.

Theology department is a “theological zoo”

The pamphlet cover shows Jesus carrying a cross through the arches, telling two students he is “going to St. Thomas U. to be crucified anew, particularly in the Theology and English departments.”

The cover claims the pamphlet contains the “truth about St. Thomas.”

Inside the pamphlet, Burns gives his opinion on a number of issues related to the university’s Catholic identity and outlines the steps St. Thomas should take to “restore St. Thomas to the ownership and control of the Archdiocese.”

  • He suggests key administrators be replaced, including the Rev. Dennis Dease, university president.
  • He believes the vast majority of new teachers should be Catholic. Non-Catholic professors possibly could be hired for math and science.
  • He mentions a time when inter-dorm visits from the opposite sex were forbidden and crucifixes were in every classroom and classes began with a prayer. He believes “these were the happiest years of our life and we were aware of this at the time” and implies that St. Thomas should return to these practices.

He wrote that two main problems are that “Catholic Doctrine is undermined in many UST theology courses” and “Catholic morality is eroded in this school’s secular moral atmosphere.” He also wrote, “Satan knew what he was doing when he inspired the Modernist takeover of the UST Theology Department decades ago.”

Theology Department Chair Bernard Brady said he was very concerned the first time he saw the pamphlet.

“The title is pretty scary, saying that the theology and English departments are crucifying Jesus Christ,” Brady said. “History is full of terrible things done to people who are accused of crucifying Christ. What greater insult can you give? You’re saying not only are you not Christian, but you’re killing Christ.”

Brady said theology courses at St. Thomas do not undermine Catholic teachings, but enhance students’ Catholic faith.

“From the student reviews I get, every semester someone says that they gained more insight and strengthened their Catholic or Christian belief from learning about other religions,” he said.

Burns said he isn’t planning to hand out more pamphlets this semester, but added “next year we’ll play it by ear.” He said his focus is on alumni because, “they are the ones that have the political pull or the influence, and the donations.”

“Only if enough Catholic laypeople use their moral influence on the school will it become Catholic once again,” Burns said.

Mary Kenkel contributed to this report.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at

35 Replies to “Controversial pamphlet mailed to faculty, students’ families”

  1. I have read this pamphlet, and, while I, too, am concerned about the Catholic identity of UST, I think that this pamphlet is an incomplete picture of what goes on at UST. There are many Catholic organizations active on campus, an excellent Campus Ministry center, and rapidly growing, faithfully Catholic programs in philosophy and Catholic Studies, not to mention two seminaries undergoing a rapid growth spurt. St. Thomas also has a faithfully Catholic law school and requires all students in business to take business ethics. If you’re looking for a solidly Catholic education, you can find it at St. Thomas. Also, I was shocked to see that Mr. Burns references me by way of an Aquin article that talks about a crucifix initiative I spearheaded as a sophomore back in 2007. This was done without my knowledge and without my consent. Defaming St. Thomas will not strengthen its Catholic identity, and I feel that this pamphlet paints a picture of St. Thomas that is incomplete and inaccurate. Yes, there are some things happening at UST that warrant concern. However, there is a lot of Catholic renewal happening at UST, it’s not the bleak picture painted by this libelous pamphlet. I neither support this pamphlet nor its author. Renewal at UST will come through love, not through anger or hate.

  2. Also, as St. Francis of Assisi once said “Preach the Gospel at all times, and, if necessary, use words”. The best way to bring about a Catholic renaissance at St. Thomas is through the faithful witness of students, faculty, and staff. If alumni, or those not affiliated with St. Thomas would like to help bring about this Catholic renaissance, the best, and most effective way, is not sending out pamphlets blasting St. Thomas, but by supporting those faculty, staff, students, and programs at UST that are working to bring about this Catholic renewal. Vengeful words, like Mr. Burns’, only make the problem worse.
    St. Thomas students, faculty, and staff should pray and should seek to be saints, to be vessels of Christ’s Love that radiate His Love and make that Love manifest in the world. Speaking from experience, this is the most powerful and effective way to bring about the renewal of the Catholic faith on campus.

  3. Wow. These pamphlets are a little bit of crazy. Citing incidents back in 1979 and 1988 and 1991 [all under Apb. Roach] does not tell us a darned thing about the campus climate or the theology department. And, as a fervently Papist Catholic student, I can say with confidence that The Handmaid’s Tale — while a dumb, shallow book and a very poor choice by the English department — is not evidence that the English dept. is crucifying Christ.

    I do hope that these rather crazy pamphlets do not poison the UST campus against some very good ideas, like crucifixes in the science buildings (it’s frankly unbelievable that we DON’T have this yet) or saying the school prayer before classes.

    I know Mr. Burns is just trying to do a good thing here by bringing out some legitimate concerns with the campus climate. And I have my fair share of bones to pick with Fr. Malone and the THEO department (how about that mandatum, guys? The one from Ex Corde? You know what I’m talking about. ;-) ) but I think Mike Blissenbach is right: the picture Mr. Burns paints of UST is strained, lopsided, and false. This is still a pretty good Catholic school, and there are at least as many reasons for hope as for concern.

  4. James, I can say very happily that the UST Knights of Columbus Council is currently working on a project with the administration to get crucifixes in ALL the classrooms in ALL the buildings. It’s slow-goings with all the the hoops, but Fr. Dease wants it to happen just as much as we do.

  5. I thought we couldn’t put crucifixes in certain buildings because of issues related to federal funding?

  6. Before I say thais, I want you all to know that I am catholic. However, I am for teaching SCIENCE in SCIENCE classes. People need to understand that the majority of people in math and science are not out on a strange mission to disprove the existence of God. Would it be alright if a periodic table of the elements or a galileo thermometer were displayed in classrooms where theology is taught? Why or why not?

  7. Mr. Gerten, for my first two years at St. Thomas I was a biology major, and I ended up graduating with a biology minor. I agree that science should be taught in science classes. However, St. Thomas is a Catholic university, and I feel that crucifixes should be placed in all instructional spaces at St. Thomas. It’s not about indoctrination, it’s about placing a small reminder in all instructional spaces about who St. Thomas is and what her mission is as a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame has crucifixes in all instructional spaces on its campus (I’ve visited Notre Dame and seen those crucifixes myself), and that hasn’t interfered with the institution’s academic prestige. If a prestigious Catholic institution like Notre Dame has crucifixes in all instructional spaces, and that hasn’t damaged its prestige as a university, then I wouldn’t be concerned that placing crucifixes in all instructional spaces would amount to indoctrination of the student body.

  8. “People need to understand that the majority of people in math and science are not out on a strange mission to disprove the existence of God.”

    I understand that. However, there are some science professors at UST that are hostile to the Catholic mission of UST.

  9. “Would it be alright if a periodic table of the elements or a galileo thermometer were displayed in classrooms where theology is taught? Why or why not?”

    Not only would it be perfectly okay; it is not uncommonly the actual case right now — not just here at UST, but back in the high schools (like STA). So I’m afraid I don’t see your objection. I also don’t really know what you mean by “teaching SCIENCE in SCIENCE class.” Even if anyone *were* advocating that every science class feature some theology (which no one is; all they seek is a quiet reminder of our institutional mission), natural science (or, as it used to be called, natural philosophy), is only a subset of that which can be known by reason (namely, it deals with material causes and effects). Other things which can be known by reason are philosophical and theological truths — and our university brings to the table certain conclusions in those subjects. So your idea of dropping an iron wall between theology and science strikes me as rather odd. They’re linked, not opposed to one another.

    That being said, no one is proposing that science classes turn into indoctrination seminars.

    I’m overjoyed that Fr. Dease is supportive. I never guessed.

  10. Ms. Pogin, that was an original concern when the KofC started the project; however, the federal funded buildings do allow for “fine art” to be displayed in the buildings–this is why the statue of the Child Jesus can be displayed in the new McNeely building. In short, what this means is that the crucifixes (“art”) have to be of a much higher quality than a plastic, mass produced crucifix.

  11. James – you may want to re-read the mandatum yourself. It’s an agreement (and a private one at that) between the bishop and a Catholic professor teaching a theological discipline. It essentially serves as a reminder that they need to represent the Catholic intellectual tradition accurately, but it does not say they cannot present other views–other views just need to be labeled accurately, as do the Catholic ones. Asking a professor to label their teachings accurately, despite their own private views, is nothing more than we’d ask anyone instructing students at any level.
    As an aside, I’ve also heard a rumor that Mr. Burns is a Johnnie. I can’t verify that, but it does put a comical spin to the whole thing. Anyone try to reverse lookup him? I wonder if he has a public sidewalk…

  12. So they will spend our money on “Fine Art” crucifixes in science labs instead of lab equipment and course materials that are actually relevant for an education? You do not need a crucifix in every classroom to maintain a Catholic identity, what would be the benefit of investing in them at this point?

  13. I, for one, am extremely surprised that there are *any* restrictions on religious symbols inside buildings constructed with federal funding. That is an *extraordinarily* broad interpretation of Engel v. Vitale (1962), which was itself already an extraordinarily broad interpretation of the First Amendment.

    Are there actual federal guidelines on this? Are there some links to material I can read? Maybe some court rulings on the subject? Or is this opinion the product of sheer legal paranoia, not based in the Constituion or existing case law? Either way, I’m disturbed by it. As long as the feds are paying for the building, the building *itself* can’t have an explicitly religious purpose or symbol (that is, the state should not build churches or buildings shaped like crucifixes), but, once built, the institution involved would, be all fair logic, be allowed to pay for any modifications or installations they chose.

    I mean, a policy like *that* would make it unconstitutional for a THEO class to go into the science buildings. And wouldn’t it logically make it unconstitutional for a THEO *major* to *take* core science classes, since the federal government would then be subsidizing a religious degree? The implications would be immense.

  14. Mr. Gharrity, no, UST won’t be spending any of our money on buying these crucifixes. This is a project that will be lead by the K.C. and will be funded by private donors (and there are plenty of these) and fund raising.

  15. Mr. Weber, neither I nor anyone I’m aware of (excepting Mr. Burns) objects to instruction about other religious traditions through our theology department. Far from it; my own faith has been enriched by the cross-tradition instruction I’ve received at UST, and those who’ve taken courses like Islam have learned even more. The idea, however, that the mandatum is in any sense private is neither tolerable nor supported by the USCCB documents nor the statements of Pope JPII nor the clear intent of Ex Corde. What use is a mandatum when it is not only unenforceable, but the Catholic students and parents whom it is designed to protect aren’t even able to find out who’s refused it? It bothers me that our theology department does not list mandatum-compliance publicly, and Dr. Brady is THEO department chair, so the ball’s in his court That’s my bone with him.

    I know a lot of people — even bishops — disagree about this issue in good conscience, but is it fair to say that my position is at least not unreasonable?

    As for Mr. Burns’s alumnus status… I poked around the St. John’s website but couldn’t find a readily available alumni directory. It would be very amusing if true, though, so I hope someone with a Johnnie connection can find out for sure! :P

  16. James, I’m quoting the bishops here:

    “It is anticipated that this recently approved Application of Ex corde Ecclesiae for the United States will further that conversation and build a community of trust and dialogue between Bishops and theologians.”


    “In accord with canon 812, the mandatum is an obligation of the professor, not of the university.”

    I’m not clear on why you think the mandatum is public or on why it should have anything to do with the department, which is an extension of the university.

  17. The very nature of theology is that it holds elements of belief and disbelief. Intellectual pursuits require open discussion, not repression of opinions. However, even this posting medium has its limits (two of my comments—which I suspect would be allowed in contextual discourse—have been removed by the censor-in-charge), so I wonder exactly how secular UST is. Part of diversity is accepting other opinions. Forcing everyone to toe the narrowest line of Catholicism is not the answer. Holding faith & practice up to the light of reason is the essential mission of a Catholic university. I wouldn’t want to see UST like, say, Calvin College, where membership in the Christian Reformed Church is required for tenure. UST cannot let one person’s opinions be a whip to toe an unforgiving attitude.

  18. Don, I just want to point out St. Thomas is not a secular university nor should it strive to be–it is Catholic. Diversity is welcome but clear articulation of what Catholicism teaches as truth should not be contradicted in a Catholic universities theology department.  

  19. Nicholas- what do you mean by “contradicted”? Because if you mean that a professor shouldn’t inaccurately represent “the” Catholic view, then I agree, but I think the same is true of any professor, in any department, and any view being represented. If you mean that they should not put forward academic opinions that are contrary to church teaching, then I think that would be a violation of academic freedom.

  20. My simple question is if professor’s are putting out “academic opinions that are contrary to church teaching” then how is that truly being faithful to Catholic theology? What the Church teaches as definitive doctrine is unchangeable, is the motivation to say the church is wrong, the church should change (which She wont)? Academic freedom should certainly be safeguarded but not at the expense of truth. I know this is a touchy issue but more discussion is needed on this issue and maybe in the future the university will be able to open this up to more discussion. 

  21. Depends on what you mean by “faithful,” “definitive doctrine,” and “unchangable.” Also, I think it is wrong to assume that a professor cannot put forward academic opinions that contradict Church teaching without endorsing or condemning them. But, again, according to the bishops:

    “. . . thus the mandatum recognizes both the professor’s “lawful freedom of inquiry” (Application: Article 2, 2) and the professor’s commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium (cf. Application: Article 4, 4, e, iii).”

    Note that it doesn’t say what a professor can put forth in a classroom, only what they can put forth as “Catholic teaching.”

  22. “The identity of a Catholic University is essentially linked to the quality of its teachers and to respect for Catholic doctrine.” (Article 4, Section 1, Ex Corde Ecclesiae) If teachers are questioning Catholic doctrine in a theology in a Catholic university the seem to be violating this essential norm promulgated by Pope John Paul II.  Ironically one article latter the Holy Father states,  In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.” 

  23. First, I absolutely think you can respect a Catholic teaching (or any school of thought for that matter) and be willing to sincerely examine ideas that run contrary to it. Second, my point actually didn’t have anything to do with professors questioning one teaching or another- it had to do with putting information on the table that students can then examine themselves. And third, since it is a Theology department, and not a Catechism department, examining other ideas is fundamental to a quality, and complete, educational experience for students. And lastly, I guess I’m sort of confused about why the theology department is being targeted here. Has anyone even had a personal experience where they thought a professor was disrespectful to the Church? (I don’t mean to conflate anyone commenting with the pamphlet in the article, that’s not what I’m referring to.)

  24. Do we truly believe Catholic doctrine to be true? That is my biggest question. Sure we can look at different schools of theological thought but as a university does the theology department have the convictions that theologians of the past did? If

  25. This pamphlet does not go far enough in maintaining St. Thomas’ catholic identity! In fact, to fully preserve this Catholic institution only Catholic students should be admitted! And this only means Catholic students who fully embrace all teachings of the Church! This is the only way!

  26. Dylan, this is St. Thomas, not the Catholic version of Northwestern.  In order to maintain a healthy academic environment, it is vital to have people of many different faiths, convictions, and backgrounds.  Without diversity, we cannot learn.  It’s real tough to think academically and critically when everyone around you thinks the same way.

  27. I don’t mind when my classrooms have crucifixes in them and quite frankly at a catholic university, I guess I expected something like this. However, theologically, I find it interesting that very faithful people at this university put their time, energy, and money into getting inanimate objects placed in classrooms when the money, time, and energy could be placed towards theological education and spiritual growth. A crucifix isn’t going to be the thing that converts someone or makes someone chose right from wrong. Where are our priorities: in inanimate objects or God’s people?

    I think Ed Burn’s pamphlet is ridiculous and if he is interested in creating a catholic indoctrination school, he should take his message elsewhere. I’ve grown in my faith at St. Thomas, as I think many have, and I find the pamphlet demeaning and petty.

  28. Nicholas- I’m going to go ahead and say folks in the theology department don’t hold all the same positions theologians of the past have, since we have female professors, and Aquinas thought women ought not teach in public.

    But, I think the more important question is, are the theology professors quality teachers, who engage their students well, and accurately represent various theological schools of thought (and in my experience, they do). There’s no necessary relationship between holding a particular religious belief system and being a good professor, so unless people have had personal experiences where a professor has disrespected or misrepresented Catholic teaching, then I just don’t see why anyone would think we have a right to know their religious convictions.

  29. I think that what Nick Larkin was getting at (and please correct me if I’m wrong, Nick), that the Catholic theology taught at St. Thomas should be orthodox, i.e. it should remain faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and not contradict or differ from it. I think it also makes sense that anyone teaching theology at a Catholic university should be required to promise the Archbishop that any and all Catholic theology they teach will be orthodox. Also, Ex Corde Ecclesiae also states that non-Catholic professors should not be allowed to constitute a majority of the faculty of a Catholic university. Having non-Catholic professors at UST is a good thing, but they should, at most, make up 49.9% of the faculty, whereas the proportion of Catholic faculty should not fall under 50.1%
    This would be to help ensure that the university will remain faithfully Catholic.

  30. If that’s the case- what I’m not understanding is why, in the academic setting of a theology course, someone would think that a professor couldn’t bring up unorthodox theology, so long as they don’t represent it as bring in line with the Catholic church. Particularly when to prohibit them from doing so seems outside the scope of the mandatum.

  31. Ms. Pogin, I have no problem with classes that discuss non-Catholic theological viewpoints (Catholic theology is theology that is in line with what the Catholic Church teaches to be true, whereas any other theology is non-Catholic), so long as any Catholic theology that is taught is in line with what the Catholic Church teaches, and the professor makes in very clear that the non-Catholic theological viewpoints are contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches to be true, and the Catholic theological viewpoint is clearly articulated and explained..

  32. I think M.B puts it best in that last post. I sometimes hear students complain that their theology teacher is saying some “anti-catholic” things that make them a heretic. But as long as the “catholic theology” is being taught correctly (which I would hope is) then it is not a problem. An conflicting viewpoint can be presented as long as both views are explained correctly. Does anybody see a problem with a teacher supporting one view over another?

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