I’m Not Embarassed — Notre Dame University Should Be

I’ve already written on the disgrace of the University of Notre Dame giving an honorary “doctor of laws” degree to the President, who believes that unborn children do not deserve any protection of the laws and can be killed with impunity. I’m not going to go over that ground again.

What interestes me now is the strong reaction by the actually Catholic Church to this act by a dubiously “Catholic” university.

As of today, over 245,000 persons have signed an online petition protesting the award. A peaceful, prayerful demonstration was held at NDU on Palm Sunday, and over 400 people were present. Many leading Catholic thinkers and writers have expressed their disamy and outrage. And at least 16 bishops have spoken out — including the Bishop of South Bend, and two cardinals, one of whom is the incoming Chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the USCCB, and the other is the President of the USCCB. Our own incoming Archbishop has said that the university “made a big mistake”.

The most prominent response was from Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago and the President of the USCCB. His statement is significant, not just because he does, in some respects, represent all of the Catholic bishops of the United States, but also because of the strong historical connections between NDU and Chicago. Cardinal George’s statement was clear and precise, particularly in this comment: “Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation.” Just so.

With all respect to the Cardinal, however, I have to take issue with another thing he said. He stated that NDU is an “extreme embarrassment” to Catholics.

Sorry, but that’s just not so. I’m not embarassed, but NDU should be.

I must have missed the memo in which we were all informed that this “Midwestern university” (to quote Fr. George Rutler) is the shining exemplar of Catholicism in the United States. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers, and not Indiana, but NDU has nothing to do with my identity as a Catholic, and thus cannot embarrass me.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I did not attend a rival school to NDU, I couldn’t care less about college football, and I did not receive a rejection letter from them. I received my “higher” education from the pagans at Columbia and Harvard, and, to be honest, I have no regard for either place. Don’t get me started on what they’re up to.)

This whole affair, including NDU’s sad and pathetic attempts to justify it, should be — but apparently is not — an extreme embarassment to the NDU’s lay-controlled board, administration, faculty, alumni and students. After all, it’s their school. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have embarassed them at all. But it does not and cannot “embarrass” ordinary Catholics — it scandalizes, outrages, upsets, disappoints, and betrays us.

This scandal should also serve as a clear lesson in what happens when an ostensibly “Catholic” entity fails to place a vigorous and clear Catholic identity at the core of its “mission statement”, and then devote its energies to ensuring that it is so. Without that, these formerly Catholic institutions will drift into some kind of “in the Catholic tradition” limbo, where they like the historic sound of their name but are ashamed to have the Crucifix of Our Lord on their walls, or are indifferent to the teachings of His Church.

In this time of economic stress, there is a strong temptation to “privatize” Catholic entities like hospitals, charities agencies, and schools, to make them financially independent under the control of lay boards. But we’d better be very careful about who is selected for those boards, because unless they are deeply committed to living out and expressing their Catholic faith, then we’ll have a whole host of new NDU’s on our hands.

Cardinal George was absolutely right. This scandal shows that NDU has lost sight of what it means to be Catholic. It should serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to be clear about what it means to be an authentic disciple of Christ in all of our activities. All of them.

Comments are closed.