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Why these pages exist

Gary J. Caruso | Thursday, April 12, 2012

Most readers believe that editorial pages like this one exist merely to express opinions and encourage dialogue. But pages such as “Viewpoint,” rooted not solely in the commercial domain but nestled in academic settings – and especially those of religious-affiliated institutions like Notre Dame – serve a more important life-setting role for young adults. Unlike the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, The Observer more directly enlightens students on how to mold their adult lives through stimulating debate, personal experience and simple entertainment. On this published grid lies a daily spark with the potential to ignite each young mind to think on its own and make independent judgments that may or may not agree with older generational teachings.

The most prized submission each day on this page is one that speaks on behalf of the few while enraging the many. Criticism of the Catholic hierarchy’s obstinate stale thinking is not a crusade against Catholicism, but a progressive voice moving to modernize and better the Church from within. Public protection of a woman’s personally guaranteed Constitutional rights by any elected Catholic representative is not necessarily support of abortion. Including anti-discrimination language that individually protects gay Catholics – regardless of Catholic dogma – is not an endorsement of any agenda by Notre Dame, but support of a human at Notre Dame. Broad concepts and their countering criticisms that affect future generations can, and should, be formulated on this printed swatch of space.

Sharing equal time with those who disagree is the core freedom of our American value system rooted in and guaranteed by our magnificent U. S. Constitution. Such a powerful privilege peacefully quells the mob-mentality rule reminiscent of sustaining such historical horrors as those propagated by the Klu Klux Klan or Nazi Germany. The melody of equal opportunity to be free becomes so infectious across the globe through our instantaneous electronic world that governments fall whenever their citizens demand to be as democratic as the United States. Thousands of slaughtered civilian Syrians lie as testament against a tyrannical government in their recent quest to be like us.

These editorial pages must feature today’s less popular forward-thinking leaders who, throughout the rich history of the Roman Catholic Church, have thoughtfully challenged the status quo. In his Holy Thursday homily, Pope Benedict XVI indirectly mentioned one such thinker, a man who had portrayed the Vatican as an “absolutist monarchy.” Rev. Helmut Schüller, an Austrian priest who leads the “Preacher’s Initiative,” a call to disobedience, is supported by 400 Austrian priests and others worldwide. He contends that liberalizing the rules regarding marriage and women in the priesthood is a vital step for the survival of the priesthood and the Church. The number of priests in the U.S. alone has declined by a third since 1975. After all, change is not necessarily a detriment – for example, not too long ago, Notre Dame changed its traditional all-male status to ensure its own survival. Ultimately, the Church must also change.

This column is often flooded with anonymously posted comments that cowardishly misstate the Catholicism of an issue while criticizing an unpopular position espoused on this page. This writer also routinely receives personal thank-you emails from readers who believe they have no voice until it is written on these pages. Consequently, these pages and this column are bound to repetitively admonish politicians who blatantly flip-flop on policy stances, such as opposing abortion but supporting capital punishment. Likewise, since these opinion pages reside within a Catholic institutional setting, it is imperative to question the religious inconsistencies entrenched by a male-dominated hierarchy in an effort not to crusade against Catholicism, but to save it.

This writer also prides himself in the role of confronting political or religious hypocrisy as the lone, “whining voice in the wilderness” through this column. What would Jesus do? He would accept with open arms while seeking repentance. However, his lone call from the wilderness was a call for repentance focused on the heavens, not on whether or not a priest could marry. What would Newt Gingrich do? Gingrich began his Capitol Hill career as a lone vocal backbencher lobbing legislative bombs at the majority. Eventually, his persistent cries – while seemingly repetitive and whiny – nonetheless gave birth to an American historical political movement.

These pages also serve best when some strong enough to bare their souls share a personal period of crisis or doubt, like this writer who felt disenfranchised from the Church during Lent. Notre Dame is a magical Catholic Disneyland, replete with a vast majority of like-minded persons living like-minded ideals, with considerably less diversity than the real-life world that lurks beyond graduation. Yet, according to a study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University on Catholicism on college campuses, a quarter of Catholic students and nearly 45 percent of all others do not attend church after graduation. Unpopular “whining” on these pages seeks to better church understanding without abandoning core values espoused by Christ.

How important are disagreeable thoughts? Ask those who seek democracy and are dying in the streets of Syria, or those freed from the tyranny of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They show why dissenting dialogue strengthens the faithful. That is why embracing those who challenge the majority is healthy. That is why these pages exist.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

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