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Interrogating the Jenkins litmus test

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, February 3, 2006

Last week, University President Father John Jenkins did something we rarely see in these days of increasing secularization: he took a stand for Catholic identity. Yet, while many of us applaud this move and his openness, I have to wonder why he chose the “Vagina Monologues” and Queer Film Festival on which to focus his bold evaluative lens. Why kick off this Catholic campaign by scrutinizing two contentious student performances that provide space for groups too often marginalized at our university: women and homosexuals? Rather than focusing strictly on the “pelvic” issues, Jenkins could have chosen any number of less contentious campus issues that provide unambiguous test cases for his framework.

One such issue of immediacy would have been the Winter Career and Internship Fair, which included a number of (im)moral giants, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, two companies well known for their weapons systems around the world. Is the presence of these companies annually at career fairs on campus an affront to our Catholic identity? The U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote in “The Challenge of Peace” in 1983, “The whole world must summon the moral courage and technical means to say ‘no’ to nuclear conflict; ‘no’ to weapons of mass destruction; ‘no’ to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable; and ‘no’ to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender.” Yet, even with this clear teaching, Notre Dame has lacked the courage to say no.

Another issue that Jenkins could have applied is the lack of a living wage for workers on campus, forcing many to work two or three jobs to support their families. To date, Jenkins has refused to commit to the principle of a living wage or meet with workers. Yet, the Catholic Church’s teaching is quite clear as put by Pope John XXIII in “Pacem in Terris.” The pope writes, “Furthermore, the worker has a right to a wage determined according to criterions of justice, and sufficient, therefore, in proportion to the available resources, to give workers and their families a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person.” Why does Jenkins remain silent on this issue where Notre Dame’s current position is so obviously at odds with certain fundamental Catholic values?

A third and final example of an issue that Jenkins could have tackled in his speech is that of diversity. When he took office in 1987, Father Edward Malloy said the promotion of diversity was a priority. This commitment is affirmed through Catholic teaching on the common good. The pastoral document, “Gaudium et Spes,” proclaims, “Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.” Jenkins has not only avoided this topic, but some of his actions seem to have undercut diversity on campus. His initiative and vote in the firing of then-coach Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame’s first ever black football coach, brought the suspicious termination of a coach before his first contract expired. Further, sponsorship of the infamous “Higher Education” commercial broadcast during televised football games last year did little to promote a spirit of welcome and diversity.

However, instead of speaking to these moral issues that get more to the heart of our weaknesses, Father Jenkins chose last week to investigate two student performances that claim to provide space for marginalized groups on campus. This is certainly his prerogative, but I question his litmus test for Catholic character and whether it will be applied to all relevant issues. I certainly hope he will be more consistent, for if not, Notre Dame will stand not as a prophet in our times, but as a portrait of modern hypocrisy.

Peter Quaranto is a senior international peace studies and politics major. Contact Peter at pquarant@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.