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The Shame of Notre Dame

The bold casting off of authority runs utterly contrary to the precepts and spirit of a Catholic university.

The,Golden,Dome,Atop,The,Main,Building,At,The,University
(RebeccaDLev/Shutterstock)

A laurel to the brave and brilliant young reporters at the Irish Rover—the independent student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana—for bringing to light something shameful. As Rover editor-in-chief W. Joseph DeReuil reported last week, Notre Dame sociology professor Tamara Kay has sought to provide abortion access to students at our Lady’s own university in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

A sign posted until recently on Kay’s office door read: “This is a SAFE SPACE to get help and information on ALL health-care issues and access — confidentially with care and compassion.” The sign also included her personal e-mail address, as well as a capital “J” inside a red circle, which apparently has emerged as some sort of code among pro-abortion professors willing to help students terminate their pregnancies.

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The “J” professors help students access “morning-after” abortifacients—not illegal under Indiana law, but also not offered by campus health services—as well as "Plan C" abortion pills that work up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Confronted by the Rover following a university panel titled “Post-Roe America: Making Intersectional Feminist Sense of Abortion Bans,” Kay claimed, “For me, abortion is a policy issue. And yes, my view runs afoul of Church teaching, but in other areas, my positions are perfectly aligned [with the Church’s].”

Since then, Kay has removed the sign on her door, and her Notre Dame inbox auto-generates the following lunatic response:

Dear Friends and Colleagues, Notre Dame police are monitoring and curating this email account, so it may take a bit longer than normal for me to get back to you. Apparently, white-nationalist Catholic hate groups are not happy with my academic work on reproductive health, rights, and justice. But ND supports my academic freedom, so if you are interested, check out my website below. Have a wonderful day!

University public-relations and legal teams have so far failed to reply to the Rover’s repeated inquiries.

Meanwhile, a Notre Dame Law School alumnus who goes by “Eudaimonia” on Twitter reported on an upcoming panel at his alma mater. Held under the auspices of the LGBT Law Forum, the panel is titled “Decriminalizing Sex Work,” and one of the featured speakers is described as a “law-student sex worker.”

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What the hell is going on at Notre Dame? The short answer is that large swaths of the faculty and administration have traded in the university’s Catholic identity and mission for the pottage of liberal acceptance and prestige. Father John Jenkins, the university’s president, exemplifies the pusillanimity and self-abasement of Notre Dame leaders. In 2009, Jenkins honored the newly elected President Barack Obama, a champion of the culture of death. In 2016, he bestowed American Catholicism’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal, on then-Vice President Joe Biden, another abortion supporter. Hope the liberal head-pats are worth it, Father!

The deeper answer has to do with the generational crisis in Catholic education. In 1967, leading Catholic educators—including then-Notre Dame President Theodore M. Hesburgh—declared themselves free of “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself,” in what became known as the Land O’Lakes Statement (the position paper was adopted at a gathering in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin).

This bold casting off of authority ran utterly contrary to the ancient precepts of the Catholic university. Formerly, Catholic education drew on the classical tradition, which held that the educator’s role is to help students learn to love what is lovable and contemn what is hateful or wrong. And it recognized the special role of the Church as humankind’s divinely ordained guide in this regard. Free inquiry and free speech, in this telling, weren’t absolute masters, but servants that had to be carefully restrained to yield good work.

The Land O’Lakes signatories sought to unshackle themselves from these precepts, and behold what they wrought. At many Catholic universities, including increasingly at Notre Dame, the “liberal arts” mirror the narrow specialization, technocratic blandness, and haphazard quality of their secular counterparts. Not to mention the moral degradation. In response to all this, an older generation of Catholic academics, including not a few hopelessly timid conservatives at Notre Dame, insist that more free speech and more free inquiry are the answer, as if that weren’t what brought us to the current nadir.

But young, orthodox Catholics are increasingly seeing through the academic-freedom ruse, and demanding something more. As DeReuil, the Rover editor-in-chief, wrote in an editorial last week:

The same line [academic freedom] has repeatedly been invoked against supporting the Catholic mission of the university and bolstering the religious ethos on campus.

As the Rover reported this fall, academic freedom is the reason Notre Dame sells…sexualized children’s book in her bookstore and why she must allow professors to help students obtain abortions….

The hypocritical, unequal application of academic freedom seen through this curation fosters justifiable anger: “Let me say what I think, too!” “Let me have a voice in the conversation!” But would the happy and free society, which some seem to idealize, truly be realized where anyone is free to spread pornography, sexualize children, promote the occult, and advocate for killing the unborn?

Clearly, allowing all viewpoints is not a final answer: some restrictions on speech — even at the highly protected university — are necessary for a flourishing community.

The present at Notre Dame is utterly bleak. But the next generation bears hope.

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