By Bishop John R. Gaydos
For those in our diocese who are alumni of the University of Notre Dame and/or have children attending Notre Dame and for those who have over the years appreciated the iconic status of Notre Dame for us Catholics in the United States, I offer the following reflections to give some perspective to the current controversy swirling around that institution.
“The view taken of a university in these discourses is the following: That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a university should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science.
“Such is a university in its essence, and independently of its relation to the Church. But, practically speaking, it cannot fulfill its object duly, such as I have described it, without the Church’s assistance; or, to use the theological term, the Church is necessary for its integrity. Not that its main characters are changed by this incorporation: it still has the office of intellectual education; but the Church steadies it in the performance of that office.”
These are the opening words that Cardinal John Henry Newman penned to his published lectures entitled “The Idea of a University.” He gave the lectures to set out publicly what he hoped to achieve in establishing a Catholic university in Ireland. Cardinal Newman lived in 19th-century Victorian England.
He had been an Anglican priest and professor at Oriel College, one of the colleges of Oxford University. He played a leading role in theological research and discussion that has come to be known as the Oxford Movement. That movement’s investigation of the earliest history of Christianity led him and several of his Anglican colleagues in the Oxford Movement to enter the Catholic Church.
John Henry Newman was ordained a Catholic priest, and toward the end of his life, Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal. His cause for sainthood has been a project near and dear to many who are inspired by his life and work, and it is expected that Pope Benedict XVI will soon declare him to be beatified.
My mind harkened back to Cardinal Newman as I was thinking about the current impasse between Notre Dame University and the Most Reverend John M. D’Arcy, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is the diocese in which Notre Dame is located.
The invitation on the part of the university asking President Obama to address the graduates at this year’s commencement has raised serious questions about Notre Dame in particular and Catholic colleges and universities in general and their relationship to the wider Roman Catholic Church.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a document written in 2004 and titled, “Catholics in Political Life,” states:
“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.”
This directive seems to me to be in harmony with the vision set out by Cardinal Newman those many years ago.
Bishop D’Arcy has pointed out that by inviting the President to speak and giving him an honorary degree, Notre Dame is violating this directive, since the president has shown ample evidence of his opposition to the obligation of protecting defenseless human life.
Cardinal New-man reminds us that the university needs the Church and the Church needs the collaboration of the university. When, as in this case, the university forgets its sacred trust in proclaiming the truth, then it is up to the Church to hold the university accountable.
I am personally grateful for Bishop D’Arcy’s pastoral vigor in handling this situation.
The situation has now progressed to the point that Dr. Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, has turned down the Laetare Award that Notre Dame was planning to give her at the commencement.
Notre Dame bestows the Laetare Award on Catholics who have distinguished themselves in public life.
Bishop D’Arcy had decided not to attend the Notre Dame commencement if the President was there but had hoped Dr. Glendon would be present to accept her award and in her remarks make the situation a teachable moment.
In her public letter to the president of Notre Dame, Dr. Glendon notes the difficulty of taking on such an important task in this particular type of situation:
“A commencement is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and for their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision in regard to the settled position of the U.S. bishops to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
“Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.”
In lieu of bestowing the Laetare Award this year, Notre Dame has invited the 1984 Laetare recipient, Judge John T. Noonan, to give a speech “in the spirit of the award” as the announcement from the university terms the effort.
Judge Noonan, a scholar in civil law and Church law, has published many important works on morality and public policy and has had considerable experience in academic life and public service.
He certainly has his work cut out for him at the Notre Dame commencement.
Happy Mother’s Day
This Sunday, we join with our fellow Americans in observing Mother’s Day.
Please accept my prayer for a blessed and happy Mother’s Day for all of our mothers, and a special prayer of gratitude to God for all of our mothers who are deceased.