Is Award a Window Into Loyola Chicago's Soul?

The eyes of the pro-life world will be on the Loyola University Chicago School of Law come Oct. 30, when it is scheduled to confer its prestigious St. Robert Bellarmine Award upon an aggressively pro-abortion, pro-“gay rights” alumnus — Lisa Madigan, attorney general of Illinois.

That evening, the Jesuit school will honor Madigan for her “outstanding achievements” since her 1994 graduation. Madigan, who once threatened to crack down on “phony” crisis-pregnancy centers for not performing abortions, is to receive the award during a reunion ceremony at the posh Westin Chicago River-North hotel.

Loyola announced the award on Aug. 3, to little notice. That changed Sept. 17, when Chicago's Relevant Radio host Drew Mariani took to the air with an in-depth discussion of the announcement. “Here was a university as prestigious as Loyola, giving an award to this woman whose voting record is so pro-death, and there was no public attention on it,” Mariani said. “I said, ‘Enough is enough.’” (Based in Green Bay, Wis., Relevant Radio operates 14 Catholic radio stations, including two in Chicago.)

Mariani turned his three-hour show over to the Loyola award. “We got flooded with phone calls,” he says. “People were outraged. Alumni said they felt shocked and betrayed.”

Some called the office of Chicago Cardinal Francis George. He, in turn, sent a personal letter to Loyola's president, Jesuit Father Michael Garanzini. The cardinal cited the alumni complaints and asked that the award not be given. To date, the school has not changed its plans.

Chicago Bishop Thomas Paprocki, an adjunct professor at Loyola's law school, sent his own letter to the acting dean of the law school, forwarding a copy to Father Garanzini. “I expressed my disappointment as a graduate, a bishop and a faculty member that they are giving this award to someone whose actions are contrary to our beliefs and moral principles,” Bishop Paprocki told the Register. “It puts Loyola in an awkward position. It gives the school a black eye.”

In their statement “Catholics in Political Life,” issued in July, the U.S. bishops’ conference wrote: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

That was clear enough, but “sanctions for those who do not respond haven't been addressed,” Bishop Paprocki points out. “So what are the consequences? How would we enforce it? We may have to address this down the road. But I think the court of public opinion, of moral persuasion, is more important.”

Undaunted Defiance

Some students on Loyola's campus are counting on it, if efforts of the school's administration fail. “We were shocked when we learned of this award,” says sophomore Alicia Torres, president of PLUS, Loyola's Pro-Life University Students organization. “We knew we had to get a petition out there as a response from the students who embrace the passion for life.” PLUS sent volunteers to collect signatures on a letter to Father Garanzini and contacted other student organizations to extend their reach across Loyola's two Chicago campuses.

“If they carry out this award,” says Torres, “we plan to be there the night of the event and quietly protest outside.”

The Oct. 30 ceremony is scheduled to begin with a Mass, which Bishop Paprocki calls “incongruous, at best.”

Some think it unlikely that Loyola will reconsider this honor for Madigan, as she has proven a powerful ally and benefactor for the institution. As state senator, Madigan led a coalition of legislators and lobbyists in Springfield to help secure an $11 million grant for Loyola University from the Illinois General Assembly in the 2002 state budget.

The Register attempted to reach several members of Loyola's faculty and administration, but none responded. The school issued a one-paragraph statement, written on Sept. 17, distancing itself from the award by noting that it was the decision of the board of governors of the Law Alumni Association of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Accountability Gap

“Loyola is being held accountable for this award, but that's only a perception,” Nick Mariano, Loyola's manager of media relations, told the Register. “We have no control over the law-alumni association. These are alums; that's as far as it goes. No one at the university had any power over that decision.”

The Cardinal Newman Society tracks and publicizes activities on Catholic university campuses that compromise Catholic identity, and president Patrick Reilly is displeased with Loyola's disclaimer. “The university needs to take a firm stand in opposition to this,” says Reilly. “To be Catholic and not actively pro-life is to be hypocritical. If the university law school does not separate itself from this, at minimum, the school is complicit in this award.”

And that leaves people confused, says Reilly, making the matter a pastoral concern for the bishops. “A lot of faithful Catholics are asking what message is being sent by these activities,” he adds. “The bishops need to alleviate the harm done by telling anyone who will listen that this is not Catholic.”

Bishop Paprocki is doing that. “It's a ‘truth in advertising’ thing,” he says. “People paying attention want to know: ‘How Catholic is this school?’ Institutions like this have to ask themselves, ‘Who's your market?’ because, when parents out there want their students to get access to good Catholic theology, they do research and see what the individual schools stand for, what they profess and what they offer.”

Sheila Gribben Liaugminas writes from Chicago.

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