LOS ANGELES — Officials at Loyola Marymount University will soon select a new director of the university’s Bioethics Institute, but the search process has some alumni and donors concerned that officials could settle for a candidate whose views conflict with Catholic teaching on abortion.
The LMU search committee is seeking to fill the vacancy in the bioethics director position left by Jeffrey Wilson. According to information obtained by the Register, at least two out of three candidates under active consideration by the LMU search committee have views favorable to abortion that conflict with Church teaching. Loyola Marymount is one of 28 institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
Denise Dudzinski, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington, has written about ethical scenarios that presuppose the moral permissibility of abortion. In an article in the March-April 2006 edition of The American Journal of Bioethics, Dudzinski writes that "predominant ethical framework for addressing reproductive decisions in the maternal-fetal relationship is respect for the woman’s autonomy."
Ann Mongoven, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, has indicated that abortion and contraception are legitimate moral viewpoints in the Catholic tradition. In 2007, Mongoven wrote a book review of Sacred Rights: The Case for Abortion and Contraception in World Religions, describing the work in the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics as providing a "welcome and erudite corrective" to the "erroneous but prevalent assumption that world religions [including Roman Catholicism] oppose contraception and abortion."
Neither Mongoven nor Dudzinski provided information about their views in response to emails and telephone calls from the Register seeking their comments.
A third candidate, E. Christian Brugger, an associate professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, has writings delineating a pro-life position consistent with Church teaching. In an article for Public Discourse, Brugger wrote about the "intrinsic immorality of direct abortion — and euthanasia, embryo-destructive research, suicide and other offenses against the good of human life." He is a senior fellow and director of fellows at the Culture of Life Institute in Washington.
A fourth candidate with writings supporting abortion in cases of severe fetal abnormality was also under consideration by LMU. However, he told the Register that he did not believe the university was a fit and had dropped out of consideration to accept a position elsewhere.
At press time, the search was still ongoing.
"This is disconcerting. Why would even one candidate with pro-abortion views be considered for hiring?" said David Luke, one of the organizers of Renew LMU, a group of LMU alumni concerned with maintaining the institution’s Catholic identity.
Luke said the Bioethics Institute advises local Catholic hospitals on life issues, and the next director would have enormous influence on policy and practice in hospitals. He said LMU’s president, David Burcham, has given the alumni group no confidence that he will hire a candidate consistent with Catholic teaching.
"Our concern is that this president, the first non-Catholic president in LMU’s history, appointed a pro-abortion advocate to the board of directors of the [Bioethics] Institute," Luke said. "We obviously have some concerns about what sort of candidate they would hire as a director."
Burcham appointed Brietta Clark, a Loyola law professor, to the Bioethics Institute board, despite her pro-abortion-rights positions. Clark had argued against the conscience protections in the failed Stupak Amendment in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle during the national health-care debate and also had condemned as "unethical" a South Carolina law requiring abortionists to show women an ultrasound of their babies before going through with an abortion.
Two sources have independently confirmed to the Register that LMU donors to the Bioethics Institute are concerned with how LMU has conducted its search for a new bioethics director.
An open letter from Renew LMU asks Burcham to "ensure that whoever is appointed as director of bioethics at LMU will fully support the Jesuit statement [‘Standing for the Unborn’] and promote a culture of life."
The 2003 document "Standing for the Unborn: A Statement of the Society of Jesus in the United States on Abortion" declares: "Human life, a gift of God, has to be respected from its beginning to its natural end. The most fundamental building block of a just social order is respect for human life." The statement goes on to say, "It is our desire that Jesuits, along with their colleagues, will continue to offer a consistent message of respect for life, especially for unborn children."
"We’re hoping the president will involve himself to make sure that person hired adheres to the teaching of the Church on life issues," Luke said.
LMU officials gave the Register mixed signals about whether a successful applicant definitely would hold the Church’s view on the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.
"The university shares that concern," said Jesuit Father Robert Caro, vice president for mission and ministry at LMU. When asked by the Register if having pro-life views was part of the hiring criteria for the new bioethics director, Father Caro responded, "Of course."
A spokesman for President David Burcham said a final selection of a candidate would be made soon. However, he could not definitively say whether pro-life views would be a make-or-break factor in the final hiring decision.
"All we can say right now is that we have an open, active search ongoing right now," said Joseph LaBrie, special assistant to LMU’s president. "We really don’t comment on searches until they are finalized."
When pressed, LaBrie did say that pro-life views "would be an important consideration in this decision."
Luke said the alumni group had formed out of concerns over a "series of incidents" over the past few years. Renew LMU has objected to the university providing a platform for pro-abortion speakers, hosting The Vagina Monologues and sponsoring an anti-Proposition 8 play advocating for the redefinition of marriage.
Students at Loyola Law School also filed an amicus brief last year with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights arguing against Costa Rica’s laws protecting human life from the moment of conception. The brief argued that the Central-American country’s ban on in vitro fertilization constituted "a violation of the right to benefit from scientific advancements" and "restricts the reproductive autonomy of women."
And Renew LMU notes that while LMU has an Office of LGBT Services, no official university backing exists to support a permanent student pro-life organization on campus.
Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors Catholic identity at Catholic universities and colleges, agreed with Renew LMU that Loyola Marymount had weaknesses in its overall Catholic identity. However, he also said LMU has made hopeful improvements by bolstering Catholic identity in the hiring process.
"They’ve attempted to beef up the hiring of faculty consistent with their Catholic mission," Reilly said. "But there’s absolutely no situation in today’s climate where a Catholic institution could bring on someone in bioethics who is not pro-life and claim any concern for Catholic identity."
Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.