Troubling events at Georgetown and Notre Dame
Catholic universities are called to be bulwarks of truth in a society that supports anything but objective truth
Every Catholic university must have the two following characteristics, among others, (1) “a continuing reflection in light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge to which it seeks to contribute by its own research” and (2) “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church” (Ex corde Ecclesiae #13, Pope St. John Paul II).
Despite this guidance from the Holy Father, many Catholic universities choose not to uphold the Church’s teachings, especially with regard to current popular issues such as marriage and contraception. Indeed, in the last few weeks, we have seen two large Catholic universities—Notre Dame and Georgetown—fail to defend the Church’s teachings and uphold their Catholic traditions in these two areas of Catholic moral thought.
First, it is important to note that both Notre Dame and Georgetown still subscribe to the “Land O’ Lakes Statement,” now 50 years old, despite Ex corde Ecclesiae. Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, even argues that these two documents complement each other. Land O’ Lakes, however, called for greater autonomy at Catholic universities. It further called for Catholic universities to be modern in the full sense of the word, and it declared independence from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
One can only take that to mean separation from the Magisterium of the Church. In the following scandals, therefore, we can see Land O’Lakes’ devastating influence on the Catholicity of these two universities.
While Notre Dame originally planned this fall to end birth control coverage for its employees and students, the university announced on Nov. 7, that its insurance provider would continue offering contraceptive coverage. The university, however, will not fund this coverage. While stating that it upholds Catholic teaching on the issue of contraception, Notre Dame also said that, given the plurality of religions on the campus, it will be necessary to provide such coverage.
This appeal to pluralism does not adequately justify contraception coverage because the fact remains that the school is implicitly showing support for contraception coverage. Rather than adhering to its foundations as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame is allowing insurance to cover contraception for the employees and students who want it, whether they are Catholic or otherwise. Notre Dame has chosen to conform to secular values, rather than acting as a beacon of light for the Church in the midst of secular beliefs.
Earlier in December, Love Saxa, a Georgetown student group that supports traditional marriage, was accused of being a “hate group” simply because it did not support homosexual unions as “marriages.” The accusation eventually led to a hearing with the Student Activities Commission, which considered stripping Love Saxa of official recognition.
Georgetown’s student newspaper published an editorial calling for the student government to defund the group, arguing that “Love Saxa is ‘antithetical to what a university club should be,’ that it fosters ‘intolerance,’ and that it ‘advocates dismantling rights for other students based on their sexual orientation.’”
While in the end the student government decided Love Saxa would not face sanctions or penalties, the fact remains that Georgetown students openly attacked a group that supports the truth about marriage. The situation is steeped in irony: How is it possible that a group supporting Catholic teaching can be persecuted for those beliefs at a Catholic university?
Catholic universities should be bulwarks of truth in a society that supports anything but objective truth. For this reason, Catholic universities such as Notre Dame and Georgetown should uphold the Church’s teachings because, as John Paul teaches, the university plays a special role in promoting and upholding the objective truth about reality—and passing that truth on to students who will soon enter society as active members. Thus, it is of vital importance that Catholic universities form and shape their students in Catholic truth so they can be effective witnesses to the Gospel.