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Notre Dame must truly be a Catholic university

Matt Bramanti | Saturday, May 1, 2004

In his 1989 address to Catholic universities, Pope John Paul II made a strong declaration on the “crisis” facing the world’s institutions of higher learning:”It is a crisis not so much of means as of identity, of purpose and of values.”Nowhere is this more true than at Notre Dame, often known as “the place where the Church does its thinking.”Its administrators have a solemn responsibility to make sure that thinking is done in the context of a well-formed institutional conscience.Friday’s developments mark a key milestone in Notre Dame’s history. Beginning in July, a majority of the top three officers will be laymen and only two will be Catholics. Compounding the significance, these decisions come at a time when critical moral issues are on Notre Dame’s horizon.The Supreme Court case examining affirmative action at the University of Michigan has brought a new sense of urgency to the issue of creating race- and nationality-based diversity among students. In recent years, administrators have judged the success of their tenure by Notre Dame’s position in highly-publicized rankings, usually determined by the leaders of secular “peer institutions.” These rankings are strongly influenced by the academic reputations of faculty members and the trappings of high-dollar facilities. Members of an unofficial gay-straight alliance have unsuccessfully petitioned the University for official recognition in recent years, and will likely continue to do so in the coming years. These are not negotiable issues of academic freedom. As the newly-tapped leader of a truly Catholic institution, Father John Jenkins has an obligation to bring the Church’s teaching – and the love that underlies that teaching – to bear on Notre Dame policy.Christ’s love for his people is the foundation that supports all of Catholicism. Notre Dame’s top policymakers must reflect that love.Jenkins must decide how to apply that love to the policies he will touch. He will examine if love for members of under-represented minorities means taking race into account in admissions, or if it means instituting high, but color-blind standards.He will determine if love for Our Lady’s University requires the rapid construction of buildings and the hiring of big-name academics, or if a Catholic university is more than a high-priced physical plant and a stack of research grants. The Notre Dame family will rightly expect the new president to explore whether a true, deep love for Notre Dame means administrators should build on the University’s heritage of teaching at the expense of steel and stone.He will decide what it means to love and include the gay and lesbian members of our Notre Dame community. He will examine if love for an individual requires the acceptance of that individual’s lifestyle. He will determine the best way to call members of the Notre Dame family to use their sexuality like they should use all their faculties – for the benefit of others and the glory of God.Father Theodore Hesburgh and Father Edward Malloy bore the enormous responsibility of shepherding Notre Dame through the highs and lows that more than 50 years bring.With Friday’s momentous announcements, that responsibility will pass to a new president. The Notre Dame family will look to Jenkins and executive vice president John Affleck-Graves to maintain the University’s Catholic character.With this is mind, I remind Father Jenkins of the pope’s words 15 years ago this week:”Do not be afraid, then, beloved brothers and distinguished teachers, to profess the Catholicity of your institutions.”

The views of this column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Matt Bramanti at [email protected]