It’s hard to know what is more absurd about the recent letter of Notre Dame University professors: the evident incapacity of it signers (all of them no doubt Very Distinguished Professors) to read carefully what someone else has said, the sloppiness of their own expression, the impertinence of the act, or the adolescent stridency of its tone.
But, first of all, please spare me cries about “how could this happen at a Catholic university?!” and so on. Study your history: in the mid-sixties, Notre Dame went off on the path sketched by the Land O’Lakes agreement, and essentially rejected the notion of a Catholic university. If Ex Corde Ecclesiae states the correct (a.k.a. orthodox) understanding of a Catholic university, then Land O’Lakes, the charter of the current Notre Dame, evinces a divisive (a.k.a. heretical) understanding. (Btw, thank God for Ross Douthat’s book for this reason at least, that it has made it possible to use the word “heresy” again.) As the two understandings are different, and the one is Catholic and the other is not, Notre Dame is not a Catholic university and has not been so for decades. Notre Dame is, rather, a secular university with a few hundred practicing Catholics resident there, a “public university in a Catholic neighborhood,” as Fred Freddoso puts it.
I am told that when Fr. Hesburgh was invited to speak at the installation of the current president of Georgetown the title of his talk was “On the Impossibility of a Catholic University.” Whether the story is true or not, that title could serve as a good summary of the philosophy of Land O’Lakes.
So, no cries of astonishment and shock, okay? I grant that it is reasonable to wonder why a secular university might seem so concerned to attack a Catholic bishop, when obviously a Harvard or Clark would regard any bishop’s statement as irrelevant and beneath notice. To that one can only say: corruptio optimi pessima.
Also– a side note– if you are a Catholic parent who has tried to justify sending your child to Notre Dame on the grounds that, for all one knows, there may be a couple of hundred Catholics there, consider that if you send your child to, say, Clark University instead, you won’t find there a couple of hundred strident adolescents who really think it’s of the highest importance to attack bishops in order to defend Obama (and their “beloved university” of course!). I personally would prefer, say, plain water for drinking, over wine which contains poison, but that’s just me.
Let’s look more carefully at that screed of the Distinguished Notre Dame Professors.
But before we do, let me establish my credentials. My paternal grandfather emigrated from Ukraine to the United States. If he had not, I would likely never have been born to write this, since nearly all of his friends and relations there were killed by Stalin in the artificial famine of 1932-3, a genocidal act that destroyed probably over 10 million Ukrainians. So I have “standing” to talk about Stalin in connection with genocide, right?
So then, four points. First, the Distinguished Notre Dame Professors are manifestly incapable of construing what someone else says. Bishop Jenky in his homily offered what is called a generalization: “in past history other governments have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches like the first disciples locked up in the Upper Room.” He then illustrated his generalization with four instances of the general claim: Bismarck, Clemenceau, Hitler, and Stalin. So what he said, precisely, as regards Hitler and Stalin, is that they “tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches.” That is the precise respect, and the only respect, in which he said that Obama “seems” to be like them.
Uh …. can I point out that what the bishop said about Hitler and Stalin happens to be true, and also that his point of comparison with what “seems” to be Obama’s intent also “seems” (at least) to be true?
Yet those Distinguished Professors of Notre Dame, in their stridency, allege that the bishop was comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin with respect to “genocidal policies [which] murdered tens of millions of people.” Yes, read their letter: that’s what they say. Ah, so that’s accurate thought, right? Thanks for setting a good example of accuracy and civility, O Distinguished Professors of Notre Dame! (Today’s Notre Dame Observer has a story with this rich quotation from Theater professor Kevin Dreyer, in reference to the bishop’s homily: “This is not the image of Notre Dame .. .Notre Dame is a place of civility, of discourse, of engagement.” Heh heh. Only a slight irony there.)
The incendiary references to genocide come solely from Notre Dame.
My second point: the sloppiness of expression of the letter, which is so poorly written, that I would give it a B- for a composition exercise at AMU. You can see for yourself, especially the awkward and cowardly run-on sentence placed at the end. (Maybe if more scientists were involved in its writing, it would have turned out better than something which so many English professors supported?)
My third point, the unmeasured impertinence of the act: Look, the bishop was giving an Easter season homily, which was a terrific homily. He speaks out, courageously, in favor of religious freedom. For Pete’s sake, the man is a successor of the apostles and Trustee of your university! If you “feel” that you must correct him — when the correction of a superior almost never works out well (a sign, Newman says, that it is usually not our role to correct superiors)– then, for heaven’s sake, do so privately, in a friendly spirit, and with proper acknowledgement of all of the good in that homily. That’s just good manners, never mind “civility.”
Finally, the adolescent stridency of its tone –but that speaks for itself also. Observe that the bishop says nothing in his homily about Notre Dame University. President Jenkins shows welcome good sense in his e-mail in reply to the faculty letter: “When the person does not appear to be speaking on behalf of Notre Dame, as is the case here, it has been and remains our policy to refrain from comment.”
Ah.. but you see… the bishop is a Trustee, that is, a few times a year he may attend meetings of the Trustees of the University, and his statements have been quoted in the newspapers and on the internet, and he is known by people whose good opinion I value to be such a Trustee of my beloved university, and therefore I might somehow become associated with him and his remark … and so on.
–Since the connection is so indirect, and not anything objective, the thought cannot but arise: Perhaps what connects the bishop’s statement to Notre Dame, in the minds of the letter’s signers, is mainly their own persistent mauvais fois, so manifest when Notre Dame honored at its commencement “the most extreme pro-abortion politician ever to have run on a major party ticket”, but which even now keeps on gnawing away and subverting?
(Note: This post was previously posted under the title, “Bad Religion.”)