A substantial weakening of Catholic identity

Another squalid rant from the people behind “The Sycamore Project,” whose one and only concern in life appears to be making everything more and more and more Catholic.

The Vagina Monologues controversy was an unmistakable signal that something fundamental had changed within the University.

In a series of open letters several distinguished faculty members have cited the faculty’s determined support of the play, together with Father Jenkins’ consequent change of mind, as evidence of a substantial weakening of Catholic identity.

It is not only the radical clash of the play with Catholic teaching and culture that is implicated, but also the absence of any evident engagement by the University with the Church’s central document on academic freedom in a Catholic institution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, or with the forceful objections of Bishop John M. D’Arcy. As Dr. John C. Cavadini, the Chair of the Theology Department, put it, “It is as though the mere mention of a relationship with the Church has become so alien to our way of thinking and so offensive to our quest for a disembodied ‘excellence’ that it has become impolite to mention it at all.”

We describe elsewhere how this disjuncture between University and Church was conspicuously underscored last year when fifty bishops moved their conference off the campus after they learned hat the play might be performed later in the year. The breach has now been greatly widened by the Obama episode, with 83 Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops seconding Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s condemnation of Notre Dame’s action in honoring, to the applause of most of the faculty, the Church’s principle adversary on abortion and embryonic stem cell research issues.

They’re upset that the university won’t bow to their demands that it hire lots more Catholic faculty.

As in the case of The Vagina Monologues where faculty protest prevailed, it seems reasonable to infer that the reason for setting the goal too low was faculty resistance to anything more demanding. But if the purpose in setting the goal this low was to accommodate the faculty, it evidently did not succeed. Even this was too much for the Faculty Senate, whose statement of April 9, 2008, discloses the full measure of faculty resistance. The statement is animated principally by a driving ambition for recognition of Notre Dame as a top-tier research university.

Purporting to “speak for the entire faculty” on the basis of a canvass, the Senate advanced the following jarring recommendation: “The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.” Although the Mission Statement declares that the University’s Catholic identity “depends upon” the presence of a “predominant number” of Catholic faculty, the Senate asserts that the “number of Catholic faculty” is “not the primary determinant” and that all that is needed is a “significant presence” of Catholics. Accordingly, the Senate asserts, the Administration “should not impose numerical targets.”

This single-minded focus on secular criteria in hiring comes as no surprise. In a 2003 survey by Baylor scholars of faculty members at four universities with religious ties, 57% of Notre Dame faculty members affirmed that the University should hire faculty on the basis of “academic promise or prominence regardless of religious beliefs or commitments.”

They say that as if it’s a bad thing – because they think it is.


  1. PatrickG says

    academic freedom in a Catholic institution

    Please don’t link things that cause explosions in my storage room of backup irony meters.

  2. Omar Puhleez says

    …academic freedom in a Catholic institution.
    That’s when a scholar holds a hoop out at arm’s length and then jumps through it. Must be tricky, and though I have never seen it done, I am told that it has been.

  3. carlie says

    Is this a recent story? The Vagina Monologues? Do they not realize everyone else in the world got tired of that about ten years ago? It’s just amazing to see outrage over something that is, for all purposes, a wave of feminism that is a full generation ago. It’s like seeing someone rant today about how portable cd players will destroy social interaction.

  4. karmacat says

    I can see how increased secularism is a threat to these people. But what is interesting is how they see feminism as a threat also. Both issues seem to indicate that they are really afraid of losing their authority and power. I suspect this need to prove they are powerful is behind the policies of taking power away from women by rejecting birth control and abortion.

  5. themann1086 says

    Oh goodie, the Vagina Monologues. I attended ND off and on from fall 2005 through fall 2008 (medical issues prevented my full attendance, it’s not relevant), and every damn year there was a fight on whether or not the Vagina Monologues would be:

    a. sponsored by a student group
    b. sponsored by the university
    c. allowed on campus
    d. allowed on campus but not utilizing university resources
    e. allowed off campus

    and this fight would play out, over months, in the student paper. It was, by the 3rd fall, completely and utterly boring. So yes, this is a Big Serious Issue for the self-appointed Defenders of Catholic Identity.

  6. smrnda says

    Controversy over the Vagina Monologues… I thought the shock value of that piece had gone away and it was just a performance now?

    On academic institutions and “Catholic” identity. Catholic institutions seem to have been pretty serious about academic credibility, far more than evangelical institutions (which have a much shorter history) and the consequence of this is that people you pay $$$ to think will not bow to dogma and arguments from authority.

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