WHAT HAPPENED TO NOTRE DAME?
By Charles E. Rice
St. Augustine’s Press, 2009
192 pages, $15
To order: (800) 621-2736; in Illinois (773) 568-1550
Anybody who imagines that the University of Notre Dame’s awarding a honorary degree to Barack Obama was a one-off aberration should read What Happened to Notre Dame?
Notre Dame law professor Charles Rice shows that last May’s events were the culmination of years of Notre Dame’s giving aid and comfort to pro-abortionists, from Father Theodore Hesburgh’s associations with the Rockefeller Foundation to the university’s showcasing of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s “personally opposed but” brand of Catholicism in public life.
The university’s institutional minimalization of the pro-life agenda, in turn, flows from the 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement, Notre Dame and a number of other Catholic universities unilaterally declared their independence from “authority of every kind … external to the academic community itself.”
The first five chapters deal with the Obama commencement, which was preceded by months of protest on the part of concerned Catholic laity and a good number of bishops.
Three-fourths of the book explores what brought Notre Dame to its current situation, with Land O’Lakes getting plenty of attention. Used as a justification for enhancing “university autonomy” so that Catholic institutions of higher education could supposedly become higher quality, more demanding “research” faculties, Rice, author of 50 Questions on the Natural Law, shows that Land O’Lakes’ practical effect has been to enable such schools to imagine themselves as an ersatz magisterium, ignoring what the Church teaches while still calling themselves “Catholic.”
The result is that the Notre Dame administration diligently observes the orthodoxies of contemporary political correctness (such as repeatedly offering campus venues for the pornographic play “The Vagina Monologues”), while marginalizing a robust institutional pro-life witness for more than two decades.
Rice rightly observes that Notre Dame’s failure to bear robust and uncompromising witness to the right to life harms both its graduates and the Church. Graduates are harmed through false formation of conscience. Consider this story of a 1999 graduate who discovered she was pregnant. “In my hour of need, on my knees, I asked Mary for courage and strength. And she did not disappoint. My boyfriend was another story. He was also a Notre Dame senior. When I told him he was to be a father, he tried to pressure me into having an abortion. ‘All that talk about abortion is just dining-room talk,’ he said. ‘When it’s really you in the situation, it’s different.’”
The Church is harmed when, in the name of “academic freedom” and “dialogue,” its university administrators act like Lenin’s useful idiots, undermining the Church by providing venues, aid and comfort for those all-too-ready-to-exploit ecclesiastical backdrops, while furthering policies inimical to the Church and, indeed, basic morality.
Rice believes Notre Dame bears particularly grave responsibility because of its image in larger American culture as the epitome of Catholicism: “Notre Dame has endured for many as an icon, a rock, of Catholic integrity. It was more than football and more than the TV ads during football games depicting Notre Dame as ‘Fighting Irish’ against global warming and other politically correct foes (but never against abortion). It was tied up with an image, however false, of Notre Dame as a sort of Marine Corps of the Catholic Church.”
Whether that iconic image is deserved is another question: Lots of other prestigious universities have been willing to “cover up” their Catholic identity for secular laurels. (Consider Georgetown University’s draping of the “IHS” for a presidential speech last April.)
The book would benefit from another chapter on just how pervasive among Catholic universities is the dry rot Rice details. It would also benefit from a chapter on the complicity of Notre Dame’s theology department (and especially two of its “stars,” Father Richard McBrien and the late Jesuit Father Richard McCormick) in underpinning this diluted “Catholic” identity.
Hopefully, Rice’s work will help lead “Our Lady’s University” and others like it back to the heart of the Church.
David Yves Braun is the pseudonym of a government employee who wishes to remain anonymous.