SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame is allegedly paying students to spend their summers advocating for homosexual and abortion rights.
The news, reported by the Cardinal Newman Society, suggests the university administration’s efforts to improve the school’s Catholicity are being undermined by particular departments.
“Catholic universities have a sacred obligation to students and families, but also to the Church to be faithful to its teachings,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.
Students in Notre Dame’s gender studies department not only served as summer interns at organizations such as the Minnesota Women’s Consortium (whose members include Planned Parenthood and assisted-suicide advocate Compassion & Choices) and the National Organization for Women in recent years — the department actually paid the students up to $2,500 to do so.
University spokesman Dennis Brown told the Register, “Generally, we don’t even comment on the Cardinal Newman Society and their reports, but I’ll make an exception and tell you we will be reviewing all internships as part of a comprehensive review.”
The department’s internship program draws money from the Boehnen Fund for Excellence in Gender Studies.
Department head Pamela Wojcik said, “Gender studies does not view any of its activities as counter to the mission.”
The department’s website announces: “To affirm the human dignity of all, the members of this program support and actively work to ensure the inclusion of our faculty, staff and students regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.”
The American Life League contends that Notre Dame relinquished its Catholic identity years ago. It provides a timeline chronicling what it sees as the school’s decline into error, starting with the award of its Laetare Medal in 1961 to President John F. Kennedy, who, the league states, “famously declared his Catholic beliefs would not affect his political decisions.”
The pro-life organization’s timeline also notes the university’s honoring of many pro-abortion or anti-Church politicians, such as former Vice President Walter Mondale, former New York State Gov. Mario Cuomo and former President of Ireland Mary McAleese.
But the most controversial of these honorees was President Barack Obama, who gave the 2009 commencement address despite condemnation of the university’s decision on the part of many bishops, alumni and Catholic laity.
Strikingly, Notre Dame hosted the 1967 Land O’ Lakes Conference, described by the American Life League as “a landmark conference rejecting Catholic authority in favor of academic autonomy.”
According to Charles Rice, emeritus professor of law at Notre Dame and author of What Happened to Notre Dame?, the school erred in its decision to host and endorse the groundbreaking initiative by Catholic university academics and administrators. The Catholic educators sought to “be accepted by the secular academic establishment by releasing themselves from any deference to the magisterium.”
As such, dissent became widespread in Catholic schools worldwide. Pope John Paul II wrote Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990 to clarify the role of Catholic universities. Said Rice, “John Paul said there has to be truth in labeling. If a school says it is Catholic, it is obliged to conform to the definition of a Catholic university by the only body with authority to make such a definition”: the Holy See. A Catholic university, said Rice, is obliged to teach the truth in conformity with the magisterium of the Catholic Church.
A decade after Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published norms for Catholic universities in the United States, such as requirements for at least 50% of the faculty to be Catholic and all faculty committed to promotion of Catholic ideals. Last year, the USCCB launched a study to check compliance.
Meanwhile, a 2011 doctoral dissertation by James Caridi, vice president of Ohio Dominican University, based on a survey of more than 100 Catholic university presidents, suggests their schools were more faithful to Land O’Lakes than Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Ninety-three percent, for example, thought their instructors had full intellectual freedom, while only 59% thought they “adequately incorporated the message of the Gospel” in their teaching.
Only half of the presidents said they were trying to fill at least half the teaching positions with Catholics, and about the same number didn’t even know what proportion actually was Catholic.
That said, Notre Dame’s mission statement affirms the goal that a “predominant number” of faculty be practicing Catholics. Six years ago, when Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, the university’s president, admitted the Catholic proportion had fallen to 53%, he announced the creation of two chairs to attract world-class scholars committed to preserving the school’s Catholic identity and an office to identify prospective Catholic faculty.
On the university website, its “Report on the Catholic Mission” notes institutional expressions of Catholic social teaching, including the Center for Social Concern and its annual Edith Stein Conference.
After the Obama controversy, Father Jenkins created a task force on life issues, and then backed its recommendation that the university fund a full-time pro-life post. Further, he led a contingent of staff and students on the 2010 March for Life in Washington, and he issued a formal pro-life statement that “the University of Notre Dame recognizes and upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.”
The same statement went on to promise something those reviewing the gender studies’ internship grants might find instructive: that the university will seek to “direct its contributions to both persons and organizations so that they are not used to support research or activities that conflict with Catholic teachings.”
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.