Michael Bradley

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Marriage and witness: What’s going on at Notre Dame?

Michael Bradley
By Michael Bradley
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May 28, 2014 (Public Discourse) - In October of last year, I wrote here at Public Discourse about the University of Notre Dame’s unfortunate decision to participate in National Coming Out Day. I noted that, by encouraging celebration of identities rooted in proclivities toward acts that violate the truth of marriage, Notre Dame was failing in its pastoral duties to guide its students in love and in truth. These duties are rooted in its institutional vocation as a Catholic university, as articulated by the school’s Mission Statement.

Several events on campus this spring have confirmed and deepened my belief that Notre Dame is failing to fulfill its pastoral duty to bear witness to the truth.

Students for Child-Oriented Policy

In January, a small group of students gathered to form an organization that aims to assess how public policy affects children’s well-being. I am one of the founding members of this group, which calls itself “Students for Child-Oriented Policy,” or SCOP.

SCOP came together as Notre Dame’s home state of Indiana was engrossed in a debate on the definition of marriage. In anticipation of its first annual conference, and in conjunction with a St. Patrick’s Day panel on marriage and Catholicism, SCOP published an open petition addressed to university president Fr. John Jenkins, calling on him and other administrators to take up a vocal defense of marriage at this pivotal moment.

Swiftly, a cohort of irritated students penned and began circulating their own counterpetition, which, in addition to demanding that the university refuse to recognize SCOP as a student club, makes claims such as these:

SCOP [incorrectly implies] that same-sex parenting is damaging to children – this blatantly ignores all empirical data in this field of the social sciences (summarized below) that actually indicates the opposite is true . . .

The counterpetition mischaracterizes SCOP’s petition, which centrally affirmed that every child has a right to the care of his or her mother and father. Further, the counterpetition’s empirical claims will confuse anyone familiar with social science findings on family structures and children’s well-being. The studies on which the American Psychological Association based its 2005 brief declaring “no difference” in well-being outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples are inconclusive, and the burden of available data suggests that children fare best when raised by their married biological parents. The anti-SCOP petition betrays either bad faith or an astonishing failure to look into even the most readily available research on this topic.

And those signatories have been gratified. On April 30, the university rejected SCOP’s request to become an officially recognized student club, citing a “recommendation” by a group of student government officials who judged that “there was not a need” for SCOP’s presence on campus. The official reason given for rejecting SCOP’s application is “redundancy,” a transparent reason for rejection that even a momentary glance through the names of some of the more than 500 recognized student clubs punctures. Additionally, when pressed to identify the groups the missions of which allegedly make SCOP’s acceptance redundant, the president of the aforementioned student government group listed several groups that don’t at all claim to advocate for child-oriented public policies.

Notre Dame’s decision to deny SCOP’s application is rooted in either culpable ignorance of SCOP’s mission and purpose or barely veiled hostility toward SCOP’s true mission and purpose.

Furthermore, the rejection letter came from the same Student Activities official who told SCOP leaders in early April that the SCOP petition was “inaccurate” and suggested that its language would make some members of the Notre Dame community feel “unwelcome.” She further intimated concerns that the petition’s authors were misquoting their sources, and took twice as long as official Student Activities Office policy standards dictate to return a request (which was filed on behalf of a recognized student group) to publicize the petition in Notre Dame’s student center.

But most indicative of Notre Dame’s pedagogical missteps is the endorsement of the counterpetition by several members of PrismND and the Fire Starters. These two campus entities were created with the explicit purpose of advancing campus conversation on sexuality in harmony with the teachings of the Church and the natural law.

Prism’s Outing

Notre Dame’s gay-straight alliance has not taken long to go astray. In December of 2012, Fr. Jenkins announced the creation of a new pastoral plan to provide support services to the LGBTQ community. The plan, entitled “Beloved Friends and Allies,” offers a holistic summary and explanation of the Catholic Church’s sexual and marital ethics.

“Beloved Friends and Allies” outlined the creation of an official student organization “designed to provide peer‐to‐peer support, direct service opportunities, and friendship for GLBTQ students and their heterosexual allies.” The pastoral plan also states that “the organization’s purpose arises directly from the University’s Catholic mission,” and one of the organization’s missions is to engender a campus environment in “which we aspire to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholic teaching.”

This organization, called PrismND, was inaugurated this fall. As a student organization (not a club), it enjoys more permanence and structural continuity than most student groups. It is also overseen by an appointed advisor. Maureen Doyle, Notre Dame’s Assistant Director for LGBTQ Student Concerns, who serves as the official liaison between Prism and the administration, emphasized in an August interview that the students are functionally autonomous; her job is simply to help them achieve whatever goals they choose. Christine Caron-Gebhardt, director of the Gender Relations Center (GRC), said in that same interview, “It’s not like, ‘let’s discard [our Catholic identity],’ but let’s really put it in the place where it belongs. It doesn’t need to become our driving factor. The people need to become the driving factor.”

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While some of Prism’s programs and actions may arise from a sincere effort to facilitate a deeper student engagement with the moral principles that Notre Dame institutionally affirms, others constitute a serious departure from Catholic teaching. Forty percent of Prism’s elected student officers have signed the anti-SCOP petition, including the officer that Prism’s organizational bylaws task with handling media and press relations. The organization’s very constitution employs the pronouns “ze” and “zer”—meant to indicate persons who reject identification as either male or female. Contrast this with Catholicism’s emphasis on the beauty and harmony of man and woman’s identities as essentially different, deeply complementary, and inextricably intertwined with each person’s unique identity.

The Gender Relations Center

In addition to the elected Prism officials who have signed the anti-SCOP petition, more than one third of the GRC’s student representatives, called “Fire Starters,” affixed their names. The mission of the Fire Starters, according to the GRC website, is to “promote open and inclusive discussion” and serve as “peer educators who assist in developing and implementing programs for the campus community that foster dialogue on issues of identity, gender and healthy relationships.” The 2013 student chair of Notre Dame’s gender issues committee also signed the petition.

How is it that so many of the university’s official (and officially trained) gender relations peer educators can endorse a petition as riddled with empirical and moral error, and misrepresentations, as the anti-SCOP petition?

Unfortunately, the GRC’s own programming and language obscure, rather than clarify, the proper understanding of the human person. Without this understanding, the orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality is unintelligible.

For example, earlier this semester, the GRC hung up a batch of rainbow-colored posters reading: “Gender What? A glimpse into the wonderful world of Gender Identity, and what it all means.” The posters seek to normalize and familiarize various terms that assume and perpetuate a sexual anthropology antithetical to the Church’s teachings. One line on the posters counsels, “It is best simply to ask someone how they prefer to be identified in regards to gender.”

In October, Assistant Director Doyle spoke of her desire to “celebrate the multitude of identities that make each of us unique and beautiful individuals,” referring precisely to acts of auto-identification as gay, lesbian, or transgender. The students who signed the anti-SCOP petition may well have adopted a rhetoric and ideology that they learned from adult pastoral figures.

Accountability, Transparency, and Pastoral Duties

In March 2014, when Fr. Jenkins announced a new strategic plan for the university, he boldly claimed that the plan’s top priority was to “ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors,” in part by increasing administrative “accountability” and “transparency” over the next ten years.

When I contacted Ms. Doyle in late March and requested a twenty-minute meeting with her to discuss my concerns with Prism’s programming and language, she informed me that her schedule for the next six weeks did not admit of such an opening. When I contacted the university Vice President for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs with similar questions and concerns, he declined a meeting as well. My inquiries to Prism’s president regarding the aforementioned events were also deflected, and my request for a personal meeting was unreturned.

When essential truths are at stake, administrators and GRC officials stand silently by as the student “peer educators” tasked with facilitating informed, civil discussion of tough issues routinely oppose student efforts to affirm orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. Attempts to tackle these issues head-on are met with calls for disbandment, and such calls are heeded by university officials. Notre Dame administrators then wield politically correct rhetoric as a weapon against students who are concerned that all the emphasis on campus “inclusion” has caused important, loving truths about the human person to be lost. These truths compose the good of those students perhaps least inclined to feel “welcomed” by them.

Notre Dame’s pastoral ministry must be rooted in the truths of human nature and human goods, and man’s supernatural end. Pope Saint John Paul II once said that “pastoral concern means the search for the true good of man, a promotion of the values engraved in his person by God.” Unfortunately, it seems that Notre Dame has firmly, if quietly, commenced its slow surrender to a sexual ideology that, once internalized, will ensure that students at Notre Dame wander as sheep without their shepherds.

Reprinted with permission from Public Discourse

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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