The Cloud Over The Dome
In 1974, I attended a meeting designed to probe the possibilities of rescuing Catholic education from the nebulous but ubiquitous “spirit of Vatican II.” At lunch, I joined Father Christopher O’Toole, C.S.C., and my own bishop, Leo Pursley, D.D., who had confirmed me years before. Why were these two luminaries interested in supporting efforts to preserve orthodox education for the next generation of college students? Their answer was blunt. “I’m doing penance,” said Father O’Toole, somberly. And Bishop Pursley nodded in agreement.
Penance for what? Well, Father O’Toole explained, as the Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Cross throughout the 1960s, he had not done enough to prevent the secularization of Notre Dame during that fateful decade. Bishop Pursley, who had presided over the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend for almost twenty years, also admitted that he had not been forceful enough with the university. That afternoon, both men agreed that, as far as Notre Dame was concerned, they had failed.
That conversation came to mind during the uproar that followed the recent announcement by Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame, that Barack Obama would address the Class of 2009 at commencement in May. This decision was shocking, yes -- but it was based on a fundamental error that goes back forty years.
In1967, a group of Catholic educators, led by Notre Dame President Theodore M. Hesburgh, met at Land’O Lakes, Wisconsin, and formally declared their independence from the Catholic Church. Alas, their motives were less than noble. Just two years before, LBJ’s Omnibus Education Act had opened the floodgates to federal funding of higher education, and Catholic colleges wanted a place at the trough. Notre Dame quickly adopted a lay board of trustees so it could receive federal money, and only a year later the other shoe fell when numerous Notre Dame faculty and religious roundly denounced Humanae Vitae.
In a 2007 Wanderer interview, Archbishop Raymond Burke zeroed in on Land’O Lakes as a central catalyst of decline in Catholic education. “So much was undone,” he said, “and there’s a mentality [that] entered into the universities by which those people who dedicated their lives to Catholic education believe that they could not be an excellent university and at the same time be faithful to the Church’s teaching and discipline. That is a fundamental error, and it takes a lot to undo it.”
Shaking Down The Thunder
Since announcing Obama’s acceptance, Father Jenkins has been deluged with phone calls, emails, and letters denouncing his decision and requesting that he rescind the invitation. Within days, 150,000 people signed an online petition at notredamescandal.com, and Notre Dame students began planning a series of events addressing Obamas’s policies that have already proven him to be the most pro-death president in U.S. history.
Not that any of this will bother Father Jenkins. Notre Dame’s administration these days is thoroughly intimidated by the increasingly left-wing and non-Catholic faculty, which apparently expects to be running the school within a generation. The reasons are simple. Consider the C.S.C.’s: the Catholic News Service incorrectly reports that Notre Dame is “run by the Congregation of Holy Cross.” Sorry, that ended forty years ago, when federal money required that the Congregation not run the school. Moreover, vocations to the C.S.C.’s are dwindling to the point that, in forty more years, priests on the faculty will be a rare anachronism. But won’t outraged alumni stop donating? No problem! NBC Sports has an exclusive multi-year contract to broadcast Notre Dame’s home football games. University spokesman Dennis Brown cannot reveal the amount the school receives from NBC, but a source in NBC’s New York headquarters says that Notre Dame receives more from NBC than it receives from all alumni giving. And what about that federal money? Mr. Brown tells the Wanderer that, in a typical year, Notre Dame receives about eighty million dollars in federal grants.
In brief, Notre Dame’s institutional priorities have moved since the 1960s from the principles of the faith to money and power. And what has been the engine of that change? Ralph McInerny, who retires this year after teaching philosophy at Notre Dame for fifty-four years, blames it on the university’s “truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society.”
In short, from the point of view of Notre Dame’s first priority since 1967 – money – the Obama invitation is a win-win situation. The uproar delights the faculty: their status rises in the eyes of their secular counterparts who sit on the “peer review” committees that approve federal grants. So does their prestige, since being a Catholic who actually embraces Church teaching is a ticket to nowhere among any university’s faculty nowadays.
The Silver Lining
Two opportunities emerge here. First, in brushing off the avalanche of criticism, Father Jenkins, at the end of some blather celebrating Obama’s appearance, said that “we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement.” Well, a number Notre Dame students have taken him seriously. Already, several organizations have banded together -- first, to repudiate the invitation, and second, to organize a series of events that will reveal whether Father Jenkins is as good as his word. Does Obama really want engagement? Does he really want to discuss embryonic stem-cell research beyond the blithe pleasantries he offered at his press conference on March 24th? How about the ten billion condoms that the U.S. has sent to poor countries around the world? Would Obama care to compare his views on African AIDS with those of Pope Benedict? And, if the president is “personally opposed” to abortion, will students have a chance to ask him why he is personally opposed? What is it about abortion that is so gruesome that he would personally oppose it, when so many of his ardent supporters are pro-abortion zealots?
The second opportunity lies with the real authority here -- diocesan Bishop John D’Arcy. Canon Law gives the Ordinary, not the university, the right and the duty to bestow and to remove the name “Catholic” from any institution or endeavor in his diocese (C216). There is recent precedent. Last fall, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde announced “that Notre Dame Academy can no longer identify itself as a Catholic school.” The academy, founded in Middleburg, Virginia by the Sisters of Notre Dame 45 years ago, is now governed by a lay board of trustees who no longer want to uphold the teachings of the Church. Bishop Loverde thus announced that “the school will no longer have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in its chapel and the diocese will not be able to guarantee the quality or authenticity of religious or other instruction.”
Bishop Loverde saves the best ‘til last: “I have strongly suggested to [the Chairman] that the Board of Trustees consider changing the name of the school. The title ‘Notre Dame’ (Our Lady) is so closely associated with our Catholic faith that continued use of the name would undoubtedly be a cause of confusion to potential students and their families.”
Bishop D’Arcy wrote that “President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred,” the bishop wrote, announcing that he would not attend the ceremony.
But he can do more. Let us pray that Bishop D’Arcy doesn’t someday lament that, when it came to Notre Dame, he was not forceful enough.
Contact Bishop John D’Arcy at P.O. Box 390, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46801.
Write Chris Manion and discuss (or criticize) his Wanderer articles at the Catholic Guys Internet blog (http://thecatholicguys.blogspot.com).
The Wanderer, April 9, 2009