NOTE: I am republishing this post, originally published on April 19, 2006, due to recent updates.ORIGINAL POST (19 April 2006):
(Hat tip: Southern Appeal
On the basis of his excellent open letter to the University of Notre Dame community
(published in The Observer
- the independent newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary's), it looks like I may have to reconsider my initial assessment of Notre Dame Theolology Deparment Chairman, John C. Cavadini
. Here is an excerpt from his open letter:
... The President's statement [the recent "closing statement" of Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins regarding The Vagina Monologues and "academic freedom" at a Catholic university] repeatedly refers to "the Catholic intellectual tradition," a phrase that in itself is unobjectionable but which has now become almost a circumlocution used to avoid mentioning what seems unfashionable and almost unthinkable to mention, namely, the Church.My Comments:
But Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which the President's statement cites, speaks of a relationship not in the first place between the Catholic university and the Catholic intellectual tradition, but between the Catholic university and the Church. And, whether we recognize it or not, this relationship to the Church - to the real, incarnate Body of Christ, the Church as it is with all its blemishes and not the abstract, idealized Church in our minds - is the lifeblood and only guarantee of our identity as a Catholic university. There is no Catholic identity apart from affiliation with the Church. Appeal to "the Catholic intellectual tradition" apart from some explicit relationship to the Church risks reducing the tradition itself to an abstraction.
The local bishop's statements [Bishop John D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese said he was "deeply saddened" by Jenkins' decision] in the present case are not even mentioned, and bringing them up almost seems like an offense in polite intellectual company. I am not saying that there must be a direct connection between the statements of the bishop and particular policies of the University, but neither has the bishop ever said that, not even in this case, and in any event the main point, again, is that his views and those of the magisterium in general have come to seem unworthy even of mention as possibly and in some small way determinative of our identity.
The President's statement, as a way of going forward, seems to ratify our unspoken declaration of independence from the Church, to permit it as the "default" mode of operation, and to invite the reduction of any model of the university which entails any explicit relationship to the magisterium of the Church as a "seminary" model (pace all intellectually rigorous seminary programs, including our own). This is to invite and to cultivate an intellectual tradition that is not moored to any ecclesial community or authority that could have a claim on defining that intellectual tradition. It is to invite and to cultivate an intellectual tradition in which "Catholic" is not normed by accountability to any incarnate, historical body but only to the disincarnate, a-historical church of the mind.
The ancient Gnostic heresy developed an elitist intellectual tradition which eschewed connection to the "fleshly" church of the bishop and devalued or spiritualized the sacraments. Are we in danger of developing a gnosticized version of the "Catholic intellectual tradition," one which floats free of any norming connection and so free of any concrete claim to Catholic identity?
But everyone who is honestly invested in Catholic identity, in a genuine Catholic intellectual tradition, in the special intellectual witness that is demanded of a Catholic university, should feel some caution, and even some regret, at the absence of any explicit commitment to accountability to the Church reflected in the President's statement, and in the early positive responses it received. Without a sense of the University's close relationship with, and accountability to, the Church, the unique and precious intellectual fabric that we have woven here and which many, including many who are not Catholic, have come to value precisely because of its special character and witness, can never in the long run be sustained.
(emphasis and editorial commentary added)
After reading this letter, I feel a little like Elizabeth Bennett, with Father Jenkins in the role of Mr. Wickham and Professor Cavadini in the role of Mr. Darcy. It seems that my first impression
resulted in my prejudicial misreading of which is the hero and which is the villain.
Now, let's see, who can play the role of the bufoonish man-of-the-cloth, Mr. Collins? Since we're talking about Notre Dame, I'd say Father Richard McBrien, MSM, is perfect for the part!UPDATE (20 April 2006):Amy Welborn links to yet another letter from a faculty member critical of Father Jenkins
, this time from Rev. John J. Coughlin, O.F.M. a Notre Dame professor of law:
Given the less than ideal state of Catholic intellectual life at Notre Dame, how might the president of the University respond? To be sure, he should not retreat from the dialogue as it was intended by Vatican II. Whoever the President of the University is at this perilous yet promising time, he would be well advised to come to terms with reality, drink deeply from the living fountain of faith and act with all in his power to strengthen Catholic intellectual life. Unfortunately, nowhere in his Closing Statement does Jenkins affirm that Catholic belief is necessarily normative within the Catholic intellectual community. The statement creates the impression that Catholicism is just another "good idea" sometimes at issue and to be batted around in the on-going intellectual debate at the University. Without the recognition of the primacy of Catholic truth claims at Notre Dame, the University's own internal dialogue will fail to ensure integration of faith and reason; and in its dialogue with wider culture, Notre Dame will be a weak partner with little of its own to offer. Truth claims based upon faith and safeguarded by proper authorities remain integral aspects of the Catholic approach to reason. Catholic thinkers as diverse as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas have recognized the need for intellectual humility in light of sacred scripture, tradition and the magisterium of the Church.UPDATE # 2 (28 April 2006):
Not sure how I missed this letter to The Observer from Notre Dame Associate Professor of History (and Jenkins' fellow member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross), Father Bill Miscamble, C.S.C.
I write to object to your decision to permit the continued regular production of "The Vagina Monologues" on our campus. I write in this public manner to alert our faculty, colleagues and our treasured students that not all members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, to which we belong, endorse your decision. Speaking for myself, I find the decision deeply damaging to Notre Dame and its mission as a Catholic university. It is a decision that I beg you to reconsider and to reverse.
When you were appointed president of Notre Dame there was hope that you might address and reverse the attenuation and drift in our Catholic mission that characterized our recent past. My own hope was that you would address urgently such crucial issues as faculty hiring, the development of a curriculum that truly conveys the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition to our students and the insidious effects on teaching and learning of the increasing corporate ethos at Notre Dame. For whatever reasons, you chose to place your initial emphasis on the regular production and sponsorship by elements of the university of "The Vagina Monologues" and "The Queer Film Festival." You put forth the position that "an event which has the implicit or explicit sponsorship of the university as a whole, or one of its units, or a university-recognized organization, and which either is or appears to be in name or content clearly and egregiously contrary to or inconsistent with the fundamental values of a Catholic university, should not be allowed at Notre Dame." This was a position of such obvious good sense that I never considered that you would retreat from it. Sadly, you have done precisely that.
In asking why you would reverse a sound position, which you obviously had reached after much thought and prayer, one must conclude that you were influenced by those contributors to the debate who favored the continued production of "The Vagina Monologues." Presumably, you were influenced by the young women who produce this play and somehow see it as a contribution to the prevention of violence against women. Undoubtedly, you were influenced by the convictions of certain senior Arts and Letters faculty that any restriction on this play would damage our academic "reputation" - and especially among those "preferred peer schools" whose regard we crave. Whatever the reasons, I must tell you that your decision is being portrayed as involving your "backing down." Indeed, it is hard to understand it in any other terms.
You must know that in taking this decision you have brought most joy to those who care least about Notre Dame's Catholic mission. You have won for yourself a certain short-term popularity with some students and certain faculty but have done real damage to our beloved school and its distinct place in American higher education. By your decision you move us further along the dangerous path where we ape our secular peers and take all our signals from them. Knowing you and having conversed with you on matters relating to Notre Dame's Catholic mission in the past, I suspect that you recognize this in your own heart. Yet, you seemingly have let the possibility of some protest cause you to back off your own stated position. You were called to be courageous and you settled for being popular. This is not your best self. This is not genuine leadership.
In your recent "Closing Statement" you reveal a level of naiveté about the process of a Catholic university engaging the broad culture that is striking and deeply harmful to our purpose as a Catholic university. We live at a time, as Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter pointed out some years ago, when the elite culture is programmed to trivialize religion. Furthermore, much of popular culture is deeply antithetical to religious conviction and practice. It offers a worldview completely at odds with any Catholic vision. It is a worldview from which none of us can be sequestered and, indeed, many of our students arrive here far more deeply influenced by the reigning culture than by faith convictions.
Amidst this larger context you are ready to permit the continued production and promotion of a play which, as our colleague Paolo Carroza rightly put it, "seems to reduce the meaning and value of women's lives to their sexual experiences and organs, reinforcing a perspective on the human person that is itself fundamentally a form of violence." Dialogue with this point of view is ridiculous. It should be contested and resisted at Notre Dame but never promoted. Notre Dame must hold to a higher view of the dignity of women and men. Might I ask that if this play does not meet your criteria of an "expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this University," then what would?
Just damn. What more can you say? Here's how one Notre Dame law student recently put it at her blog
As one of my friends stated before, if the whole world was for me, but the people who dissented were Fr. Bill Miscamble, Fr. John Coughlin, Prof. Cavadini and a woman who was raped while she was a Notre Dame student, [ED.: and now Bishop D'Arcy] I would seriously question my decision.
(links and editorial comment added)Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Bishop D'Arcy Issues "Pastoral Response" to Father Jenkins' "Closing Statement"
Rape Survivor (ND Graduate) "Shocked" and "Depressed" by Father Jenkins' "Closing Statement" Bishop D'Arcy Denounces Notre Dame Policy Some GOOD Things Happening at Notre Dame, Too
The "Scooby Doo" Ending to the Academic Freedom Debate at Notre Dame
An Open Letter to the Notre Dame Community Regarding Catholic Identity [UPDATED]
Father John Jenkins, Moral Coward
More of the Same at Our Lady's University?
Fr. Richard McBrien, MSM, Cleared of Plagiarism