BILL MISCAMBLE, C.S.C.
Presented at the PROJECT SYCAMORE BREAKFAST, JUNE 4, 2011
(A shorter version of this talk was also presented as part of a panel on “The Catholic Identity, Character, and Mission of Notre Dame,” as part of Notre Dame Alumni Association’s Reunion Weekend Program, with John Cavadini, Gary Anderson and Sr. Ann Astell, June 4, 2011.)
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today.
I want to thank each one of you for coming to this breakfast, and more especially for your love and interest in Notre Dame and its future.
I want to give special thanks to Bill Dempsey and Project Sycamore for hosting us this morning.
I’m not sure how many of you are regular subscribers to the Project Sycamore bulletins, but I’m sure that those of you who are would readily agree with me as to the important role which Bill Dempsey and his colleagues are playing in forcing serious discussion about the present circumstance and future direction of the University we love.
Indeed Project Sycamore plays an enormously important role in promoting the Catholic character and mission of Notre Dame. It provides a sustained and deeply thoughtful monitoring of developments. It works to influence Notre Dame for the good and it is greatly needed at this time.
Let me encourage any of you who may not have done so to take up the chance to subscribe to Project Sycamore and to receive its regular bulletins.
Friends, I want to offer a quick overview of some recent developments at Notre Dame and to give some evaluation of where we are as a Catholic university.
My colleague and friend, Prof. David Solomon, will speak as well and plans to address primarily matters associated with the Center for Ethics and Culture, which he heads, and also matters concerning the curriculum.
After we are both done I hope there will be plenty of time for questions and observations from you.
Let me at the outset make clear that there are many wonderful developments taking place at Notre Dame. Some good teaching occurs and good scholarship is undertaken. Some good hires are made. We benefit from such fine initiatives as the Alliance for Catholic Education. We are fortunate and privileged to have fine students attend and most benefit from their time here. The place looks great and even some of our sports teams are pretty successful -- let’s hear it for that fencing team and for women’s soccer and basketball. (Thank God for the women!)
I first arrived here to begin graduate studies in 1976 and have been teaching here as a priest in Holy Cross for a quarter century. It is hard for me to imagine teaching anywhere else.
Now, you know well that the Notre Dame public relations machine is excellent at producing expensive visual presentations, all kinds of engaging website material and glossy brochures to propagate the most positive spin on things around the place.
--Some folk here seem to think it inappropriate if one does not simply join the P.R. cheerleading squad and read from the “frequently asked questions” sheet [known as the UND NIGHT FAQs] prepared for speakers who hit the road for Universal Notre Dame Night presentations.
-- But I see my responsibility differently. I actually believe in the intelligence of Notre Dame alums and their spouses––and don’t think you should have to settle for canned answers. I have taught some great students over the years and I feel confident they can handle the reality of our circumstance. I feel the same about each of you.
I draw some inspiration for my remarks today from a story told about my favorite American president––Harry S. Truman. The story is told by Bill Moyers who served as an aide to LBJ. It took place in Truman’s home on Delaware Avenue in Independence, Missouri in 1965.
LBJ brought a passel of his young aides, because he was insistent that we would meet Harry Truman. We were in a circle in what was the dining room of his house. And LBJ brought Harry Truman around and had every one of the aides shake his hands and introduced us each by name.
As we were leaving, Harry Truman said: “Boys, you take care of the president.”
And somebody said, “he can take care of himself.”
Truman said, “Boys let me tell you what I mean. Since the president won the largest plurality in American political history last fall he’s going to say, “2+2 is five isn’t it?” And everyone in the room is going to say: “yes, Mr. President 2+2 is five.”
And he’s going to say, ‘the sun comes up in the West, right?’ And everyone’s going to say, “yes, Mr. President, the sun comes up in the West.”
And he’s going to say: “I don’t have to put my pants on one leg at a time do I?” And everyone in the room’s going to say, “No, Mr. President, you don’t have to put your pants on one leg at a time.”
And your job, boys is to tell the president, “2+2 is still four, the sun still comes up in the East, and we don’t care how you put your pants on, but your fly is unzipped.”
Let me try to talk to you plainly and directly about recent developments here.
Forgive the brevity with which I pass over events – but our time is relatively short.
It is just over two years ago since the May 2009 commencement at which Notre Dame honored Pres. Barack Obama, a politician deeply committed to the abortion regime that prevails in the United States today. This was in many ways a sad event. As you may recall the visit brought forth criticism of the country’s leading Catholic University from over 80 bishops, from literally thousands of Notre Dame alums and from hundreds of thousands of committed Catholic folk who love Notre Dame and expected more from her.
My purpose here is not to rehash the Obama visit in any detail but to use it as my point of departure and to review what has happened subsequently at Notre Dame.
The Obama visit was explained and defended by Fr. John Jenkins, the president, and by Richard Notebaert, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, as an exercise in “dialogue.” This was misleading, of course. There was no two-way exchange of views at any time. It is a sad exercise in obfuscation to suggest so -- rather like saying that “2+2 equals five.” But it is not the only occasion they have engaged in such behavior, as we shall see.
On one level the visit of Pres. Obama was a “success” for Notre Dame––great visuals, cheering crowds on the actual day etc., but the picture is a more complicated one as we know.
The visit put Notre Dame at odds in a very direct way with the local bishop––then Bishop John D’Arcy. It strained the University’s relationship with the institutional Church. I think it fair to say that it was a source of scandal for some.
The Notre Dame administration was surprised by the extent of the negative reaction––however much they might deny that. They had given out a very mixed moral message on the life issue. Indeed, they had chosen “prestige over truth” to use the words of Bishop D’Arcy. Far from being able to celebrate the Obama visit, the administration was pushed into the work of damage limitation, at least to some degree.
Perhaps we should take some heart from the fact that the Notre Dame administration was pushed into damage limitation mode. Sadly the pressure to do so did not really come from within the university––
––certainly not from the faculty;
––not it would appear from the trustees;
––and not, I regret to say, from the Holy Cross community.
No, it was ND alumni and friends as well as the sense that Notre Dame’s reputation and credibility as a Catholic university had been hurt and was in need of repair.
Of course, there was no indication of regret. There was no apology to Bishop D’Arcy––who is now retired and been replaced by Bishop Kevin Rhoades. Yet, there is surprisingly little mention of the event in administration publicity. In fact there is a certain downplaying of it. What received more attention were worthy initiatives to strengthen Notre Dame’s pro-life credentials.
Curiously, there was enormous room for the Notre Dame administration to act in this area, for there was little of substance to demonstrate the reality of Fr. Jenkins oft-given assurance that Notre Dame was “unambiguously prolife.”
Indeed, we might see it as a measure of the secularization of Catholic universities generally that they have clearly distanced themselves from pro-life endeavors. Instead of being institutional bastions of support and sustenance for the pro-life movement they often seem to be embarrassed to be associated with the most important moral cause of our time. (Such a pro-life course, my friends, is just not the way you impress the New York Times and your preferred peer institutions out there on the East Coast.)
Nonetheless, Fr. Jenkins took some actions:
1. He set up the Notre Dame task force on supporting the choice for life––which was chaired by John Cavadini (theology) and Peg Brinig (law). This group worked hard and produced two valuable statements:–
A. An institutional statement supporting the choice for life––which indicated the University’s commitment to the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death;
B. and the University of Notre Dame’s statement of principles for institutional charitable activity.
There were other positive developments:
––Fr. Jenkins and a considerably larger faculty group participated in the March for life in both 2010 and 2011;
––Fr. Jenkins quietly resigned from the Millennium Promise Board (One should note that Fr. Hesburgh had never resigned from the board of the Rockefeller Foundation despite its extensive support of population control measures throughout the Third World.)
––the Office of Life Initiatives was established and Mary Daly was appointed to staff it;
--and I am very glad to report that the Alumni Association has appointed a Life Initiatives Coordinator to liaise with Clubs and assist and support their endeavors. I hope Alums will benefit greatly from the efforts of Beth Bubik.)
––a firm commitment was made not to engage in embryonic stem cell research.
Let us be grateful for these measures. They were at least something but we should not overstate them.
The main pro-life efforts on campus continued to be those pushed by the students in Notre Dame Right to Life and by those faculty most closely associated with the Center for Ethics and Culture, certain terrific folk in the Law School, and the Faculty for Life group.
Speaking for myself, I would say the central administration did what they felt was required but little more. Certainly there was no generosity of spirit towards the ND 88––indeed quite the opposite.
There could be and there must be a much stronger effort to support and sustain the pro-life cause at Notre Dame. We should proudly see ourselves as the institution that will train a new generation of pro-life leaders.
--There must be strong institutional support for PROJECT GUADALUPE -- the effort led by Prof. David Solomon and the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life to equip young folk well to engage effectively in the pro-life struggle.
There are many other ways in which Notre Dame could further demonstrate its deep commitment to the pro-life cause. At a minimum we should assure that our students leave Notre Dame more likely to be pro-life than when they enter, which is not the case now. (Perhaps the institution could gift them with a copy of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae and encourage them to read it and discuss it.)
Most certainly the institution should do something more to support pregnant students in need – and not just ND students but young women from other Colleges just as is being done through the “Room at the Inn” organization associated with Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Friends, we all know that there is much more that Notre Dame can do if there is the desire and commitment to do so.
But is there that desire and commitment? Is there a real and deeply felt need to demonstrate that Notre Dame is unambiguously pro-life?
Recent events would suggest otherwise.
The Roxanne Martino Case
Some of you would be very familiar with the case from reading the informative Project Sycamore bulletins and forceful pieces written by the Wall Street Journal columnist, Bill McGurn.
The basic details are these. The Fellows of Notre Dame have elected to the Board of Trustees, Roxanne Martino, a Chicago businesswoman and ND alumna, who has given over $25,000 to the pro-abortion Political Action Committee, Emily’s List. Her most recent donation was $5,000 made last December. [This is apparently the maximum amount permitted.]
Mr. Notebaert and Fr. Jenkins have sought to defend Mrs. Martino. They assert that Mrs. Martino (who, by the way, handles other people’s investments) was simply unaware of the purposes of Emily’s List to which she donated over a ten-year period. They are seeking to mount an “ignorance defense “ on behalf of Mrs. Martino claiming that she did not know that Emily’s list took a pro-choice position.
I suspect they must think that Notre Dame graduates are idiots and morons who will simply accept this and move on to worrying about next football season. Perhaps they think that saying “2 + 2 equals five” will really make it so. Their dissembling is an embarrassment to our university. That the leaders of Notre Dame are seeking to defend such an appointment is simply a disgrace and it must be named as such.
Clearly a mistake was made in vetting Mrs Martino. Certainly I know from a CSC member of the Fellows that they had no knowledge of Mrs. Martino’s history of giving to Emily’s list when they voted in her favor.
But I ask you––would an “unambiguously pro-life” institution seek to defend this appointment.?
And that “defense” is becoming increasingly more difficult. Today (June 4), a report reveals that “Ms. Martino gave to another group solely dedicated to advancing abortion rights: the Illinois state Personal Pac. Like Emily’s List, this group makes no secret of its agenda, stating up front across the top of its home page: ‘Vital to Electing a Pro-choice Illinois.’” As Bill McGurn has noted: “This new information makes the official spin that Emily’s List was an accident much harder to swallow.”
Surely, there should have been a quick and honest admission of a mistake and a request for Mrs. Martino to stand down. Surely she herself should be genuinely troubled at having given substantial money to Emily’s List? (Hopefully, she might take some actions in subsequent years to demonstrate the depths of her acceptance of Catholic teaching on respect for every human life and compensate for her sad track record of generosity to an organization that promotes and defends one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world.) Mrs Martino, however, should not set policies and the broad direction of Notre Dame!!
In many ways this matter is more important than the Obama fiasco for what it means about the future direction of Notre Dame and for what it tells us about those who lead our university.
Already the case has raised for me substantial questions about the suitability of Mr. Notebaert to lead our Board.
--He has emerged as the main defender of Mrs. Martino and seems to have supplanted Fr. Jenkins in determining university policy on the matter. If he can’t understand the damage that an appointment like this does to Notre Dame’s credibility and reputation as a Catholic University then his credentials and capabilities to lead the Board must surely be questioned.
Regrettably, the six Holy Cross fellows seem ready to acquiesce in Mr. Notebaert’s decisions. This has not been in episode in which Holy Cross has sought to lead. I know this disappoints many of you who expect more of the Order.
(I can only say as someone who served as Rector of Moreau Seminary some years ago that there are some among the younger Holy Cross priests who see the matter differently. They wish to be explicit in their loyalty to the Church and they understand that loyalty to Christ is integrally related to commitment in his Church. I hope and pray they will have the chance to exercise some influence in this place.)
A Catholic University at its Heart
In the end, for Notre Dame to be unambiguously pro-life it will have to be very clear that it wants to be a Catholic university at its heart and not just at the periphery.
Notre Dame must clarify well what is the foundational document that guides its present course and its future direction.
Mr. Notebaert seems to think that the Land O’Lakes Statement with its strictures for complete institutional autonomy from the Church should serve this role. This is a disastrous course and one that pushes us further down the road to the marginalization of religion and ultimately to secularization. It is a course that asks us to ape and mirror the secular schools that lie ahead of us in the U.S. New and World Report rankings. (So, we must strive hard to match Northwestern at what it does and so forth.)
The alternate course is the one offered by John Paul II’ s Ex Corde Ecclesiae and which is already incorporated into Notre Dame’s Mission Statement. Thus, our mission statement reads:
“a Catholic university draws it’s a basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame wishes to contribute to this educational mission.”
The debate between these two versions is occurring right now. How this contest gets worked out in practice will determine the long-term direction of Notre Dame.
Will we merely settle for a Catholic “gloss” on or around Notre Dame.––this is what my colleague Fred Freddoso from Philosophy was getting at when he suggested that Notre Dame might be willing to be “a public school in a Catholic neighborhood.”
There would still be the beautiful Basilica, perhaps even chapels in the dorms, touchdown Jesus, the Lady on the Dome, and a couple of old priests drooling in their rocking chairs on the Corby Hall porch. But the central academic project would not be guided by Catholic principles or by the call of Christ.
Dear alumni friends—please don’t allow the university to settle for this. There are enormous issues at stake and I ask you to keep track of two essential areas and they are related.
The first is what is taught and how. This is the whole area of curriculum. Will Notre Dame provide a distinct Catholic education which offers not only intellectual but moral and spiritual formation? Can Notre Dame provide an education that aides folk to be not only smart but good? Can it be a place where young men and women of our day can come and ask: “Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” and not be laughed at and dismissed? (JP II Veritatis Splendor)
The second is of course, who teaches here––will we have faculty (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) who are supportive of the broad and distinct mission of Notre Dame?
I will be glad to address these issues in our question and answer session. They are essential matters -- faculty hiring and the content of the curriculum.
But, let me beseech you again to stay involved with Notre Dame. Some folk occasionally get so disappointed with the school that they want to break ties with it. This is a foolish course and a recipe for defeat for all that is best at Notre Dame.
Yet, you must recognize well that the pressures to simply conform to the reigning secular education model are strong. Many here want to be recognized by the American Association of Universities and so forth. They want the esteem and regard of the leaders in American higher education.
But friend, there are already plenty of schools where intellect has managed to detach itself from morality -- places like Princeton where Professor Peter Singer holds an endowed chair and yet thinks it is okay to kill babies. Is this the model we want to conform to and imitate?
Rather, would you not have Notre Dame be the place that unabashedly pursues the truth in these challenging times for both the church and society – and we know how challenging they are and have been.
Shouldn’t it strive to be “different” – to be a place where Faith and reason “are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth.” (JP II -- Fides et Ratio)
Would you not rather that Notre Dame be the place that resisted the vain temptation to gain the whole world at the expense of its soul?