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Jenkins’ decision in line with Catholic teaching

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 13, 2006

As an alumnus of Our Lady’s University, former Sports Editor of The Observer, and a Roman Catholic husband and father of three daughters, I am writing in response to Father John Jenkins’ invitation for comments on his addresses concerning Academic Freedom and Catholic Character.

I am pleased by and grateful for the position that Jenkins has taken regarding the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues.” Neither of these events have any place at the University of Notre Dame or at any other Catholic educational institution. Indeed, I corresponded with the previous administration to express this same view.

The reason that such events do not belong at Notre Dame is simple: these events are contrary to the fundamental reality that is the basis of our Catholic faith, namely, the truth about human sexuality.

As ably explained in 2004 by Bishop D’Arcy, “The Vagina Monologues” is “offensive to women; it is antithetical to Catholic teaching on the beautiful gift of human sexuality and also to the teachings of the church on the human body relative to its purpose and to its status as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The human body and the human person, in the tradition of the church, must never be seen as an object.”

Concerning the Queer Film Festival, it cannot be ignored that the past presenters have included dissident Catholics such as Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, who were personally ordered by Pope John Paul II to have no pastoral contact with homosexual persons because such dissidents were promulgating “errors and ambiguities” concerning human sexuality.

In that regard, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 2357): “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complimentarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Indeed, the Catechism refers to homosexual acts as “sins that cry to heaven,” together with murder, the oppression of the poor, widows or orphans and injustice to the wage earner (Catechism, para. 1867).

In considering such statements, it must be remembered that the Church teaches infallibly on matters of faith and morals. Beyond any dispute, the Church‚s teaching on homosexual activity is a teaching about moral behavior, and hence infallible.

It is precisely the fundamental moral truths about homosexuality, which are, at best, obscured by the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues.” At worst, allowing such events to be held at the University is to cooperate in the commission of sin. It is to “give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness,” and to create the “structures of sin.” At worse, it is a “social sin,” which may lead persons to do evil (Catechism, para. 1868-1869).

Indeed, the Church teaches that one cooperates in sins committed by others when we praise or approve their acts, or when we do not hinder them when we have an obligation to do so (Catechism, para. 1868). The presence of these events on the campus of Notre Dame obliges us as people of faith to oppose them.

I am aware of the counterargument to this position, namely that the suspension of university support for these events violates the principles of academic freedom, and I find it completely without merit.

Institutions of higher learning must indeed foster intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge, actions that flourish in a collaborative environment that supports the open exchange of ideas. In that regard, I must add that following my graduation from Notre Dame, I have earned both a Master’s in Philosophy (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1994) and a law degree (Case Western, 2000) and have completed my coursework toward a Doctorate in Philosophy (Catholic University of America). I have taught numerous philosophy courses as an adjunct professor, and I have a robust appreciation for academic freedom, properly understood.

In the contexts of classroom study and personal research, no scholar or student should be restricted, save by the boundaries of his or her respective mind and inclination and academic discipline. However, the ultimate object of study is the understanding of the truth. A path of study that has been shown to be false does not merit further pursuit. In this vein, neither the Queer Film Festival nor “The Vagina Monologues” meet these criteria. These events do not take place in the context of classroom study or even in an open exchange, as they present a one-sided view of human beings. Furthermore, as demonstrated above, the view that they present is fundamentally flawed; it stands in opposition to the truth.

This issue is not a matter of censorship. Persons are free to meet and to discuss the issues raised in the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues.” They are free to use their own private property to show such films or dramatic performances. However, as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame is obligated to uphold the truths of the Church and the faith. It cannot condone the performance of these events in its facilities or on its property.

Likewise, it is absurd to suggest that such events might be condoned because they raise money for charity. As the Church unambiguously teaches, an evil means cannot be pursued to achieve a good end.

In closing, the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues” have no place at the University of Notre Dame or at any other Catholic educational institution. They do not merit the sponsorship of Our Lady’s University.

And I am very, very glad to see that Jenkins is dealing with these issues in an entirely proper pastoral and administrative way in the light of faith and sound philosophy.

David DietemanalumnusClass of 1992Feb. 9