Dear Father Jenkins,
There is an old Jewish joke: two men are arguing and, unable to compromise, they ask the rabbi for a judgment. He listens carefully as the first man makes his case, and then pronounces, “You’re right.” “Wait,” the second man objects, “You haven’t heard my case.” The second man then goes on to explain his contrary side of the story, after which the rabbi tells him: “You’re right also.” The second man’s wife, listening to the debate, scratches her head and asks, “Rabbi, how can they both be right?” The rabbi nods wisely and says, “And you’re right too.”
Sycophancy requires only one point of view. True dialogue requires two. Thus far in the issue of the new HHS mandate forcing Catholic institutions to fund contraception, Notre Dame has refused serious dialogue, opting instead for parroting the lines of others – echoing the episcopacy’s concern when the bishops first raised objections, and echoing the administration when it offered its “compromise.” Merely trotting out the opinions of others, Notre Dame’s voice as a Catholic university, a center of Catholic thought and worldly engagement, has been silent. Notre Dame has not yet spoken. Notre Dame has only quietly mumbled half-hearted agreement with whomever happens to be the nearest listener. In the event, Notre Dame’s leadership has been markedly absent, replaced only by what seems to be a craven attempt to not make anybody mad.
In her history as the premier Catholic university in America, Notre Dame was not known for Catholic parochialism or isolation. Rather, Notre Dame believed that the Catholic Church has something true to offer to the world, something good to propose, and something noble to be announced. Notre Dame has been in the past a beacon of principle and truth. That light has been dimmed. Under the guise of dialogue, Notre Dame has lost its voice altogether. Engagement requires standing on principle. The message from the University has not been one of graciousness and principle, but rather one of obfuscation. The Church has warned that the government’s position is unacceptable; Notre Dame said, “You’re right.” The government offered a glib compromise that did not address the problem, and Notre Dame said, “You’re right.” The students and alumni now say to the University: they can’t both be right. Please don’t reply that we’re right too. Please reply by engaging the world with integrity and with Catholic truth, and with the privileged leadership a great Catholic university is able to provide.
Christ said that his teaching would comfort the weary and rouse the hopeless to life. Christ warned too that his teaching would be a stumbling block that would rouse the opposition of princes. This tension has been present in the Church since the beginning, and is always a part of Catholic identity. It’s time for Notre Dame to again embrace that identity, and that tension too, and stand for the challenge of truth. It’s time to reclaim the principle that Catholic identity and practice is not determined by the dictates of governmental power, but by eternal moral truths entrusted to the Church and given to her greatest teachers to impart and uphold.
Michael Baruzzini ‘05
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