Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The turmoil set into motion at the University of Notre Dame recently by inviting President Barack Obama to give its May Commencement Address and to receive an honorary doctorate of laws, is saddening for many reasons.

The University of Notre Dame has many redeeming academic virtues. And despite some stumbles along the way to excellence in academics, it has for years, by and large, been perceived as a university of note by many who are observant of Catholic Tradition. Optimally, this perception should match reality, meaning that the University should serve as an avenue toward faith in search of understanding. Catholic Tradition postulates that faith and reason go together; and theology is often defined as faith in search of understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). This definition is commonly attributed to St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), a Doctor of the Church.

If, with few exceptions, the University is not always recognized either for faith formation or for intellectual pursuits, despite its superior academic ranking, it does encompass certain prestigious departments, such as the one especially dedicated to philosophy, whose Chair is highly regarded throughout the world.

One could hardly affirm that Notre Dame, however, meets all the standards of a Catholic University as set forth by the Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman in his classic, The Idea of a University.

When one thinks seriously about the current turmoil at Notre Dame, its ultimate cause is not that difficult to discern. Essentially at issue is whether an academic institution widely described as Catholic, can continue its mission while simultaneously approving of, or tolerating, or even pretending not to notice, the utter evil of abortion, by honoring anyone whose publicly stated views or actions embrace abortion in any way.

Abortion entails the deliberate termination of innocent human life. It is thoroughly incompatible with Catholic faith. This doctrine is Biblically founded in a Tradition that reaches back to the beginning; it has never changed, nor will it ever change.

(That the Church’s doctrine in this regard did not emerge until recent times, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives reportedly opined during a television program not too long ago, is sheer nonsense, not worth taking the time even to dismiss summarily.)

Repeatedly in columns or editorials here, as well as in classroom lectures and homilies, I have cited the wisdom of great non-Roman Catholic Christians such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn; as well as non-Christians, such as Mohandas Gandhi, in the cause of holding fast to what is morally correct.

In My Non-violence, Gandhi said: "The business of every God-fearing man is to dissociate himself from evil in total disregard of the consequences. He must have faith in a good deed producing only a good result…"

Abortion, if nothing else, is an act of sheer violence directed upon a totally helpless innocent. (Of the few possessions in Gandhi’s cell when he died was a small picture of Christ.)

Solzhenitsyn’s indictment of embracing evil in any form was dramatically enunciated in a 1976 BBC interview, which reportedly shook Great Britain to its core; no one had been allowed to say as much publicly in recent times:

"Those people who have lived in the most terrible conditions, on the frontier between life and death, …they all understand that between good and evil there is an irreconcilable contradiction, that it is not one and the same thing – good or evil – that one cannot build one’s life without regard to this distinction…" (See the BBC Script.)

Solzhenitsyn’s credentials to prophesy were not acquired by his honorary academic degrees, nor even by his Nobel Prize in Literature (1970); his right to speak to the world in such terms was forged while imprisoned in the nightmarish Gulag Archipelago.

Why is it that apparently intelligent human beings cannot comprehend the utter evil of abortion? What is there about it so attractive that it can confuse or mislead an otherwise moral-minded person? Why is it that an academic institution can so easily fall prey to its insidious signals, vibrating through the universe with almost mesmerizing effects – like the signals of the legendary nymphs of the Rhein in a Wagnerian opera? Why is it that a center of learning whose roots, at least, were planted in Catholic Tradition, can even allow itself to enter, however remotely, into its very penumbra, and not expect to be gravely wounded by the experience?

For a committed, thinking Catholic, these are all serious questions.

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.