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Joseph Nawrocki | Thursday, April 22, 2010

In her April 21 letter “Not so friendly,” Emily Stetler criticizes the organizers of the “Family-Friendly Petition” for relying “on inadequate theological paradigms” in their effort to encourage the University to provide better health care coverage for spouses and children of graduate students. What these “inadequate theological paradigms” may be is unclear, since the three examples that Emily Stetler offers do not reflect the actual opinions of the organizers, but positions that she attributes to the organizers by taking their statements out of context and making unfair inferences. As a consequence, in arguing against the supposed “inadequate theological paradigms” of the organizers, Ms. Stetler criticizes positions that no one, in fact, advocates.

In her first example of the inadequate theological paradigms, Ms. Stetler quotes Peter Campbell who says that graduate students who work long hours and also strive to be good parents are “a perfect symbol of the kind of values that the University wants to instill in its undergrads.” From this, Ms. Stetler infers, based on what I do not know, that Mr. Campbell believes that the University should encourage students to “live compassionate and moral lives” only within the confines of marriage. If Peter Campbell had expressed this opinion, Ms. Stetler would have every reason to be upset, but, alas, Mr. Campbell said nothing of the sort. Ms. Stetler here is arguing less against a straw man than a chimera.

Ms. Stetler then quotes Jamie O’Hare who states that at Notre Dame many married graduate students “will be bearing children, or they’re not following Church teaching. I think it fits with Notre Dame’s Catholic mission to not make following Church teaching a burden.” In other words, Jamie O’Hare reasons from the premise that Catholic married couples should be open to children, which is a requisite for being married in the Catholic Church, to the conclusion that a Catholic university should make being open to children less of a burden for its own students who are married. Yet in this reasonable (although, perhaps, unfortunately-worded) argument, Ms. Stetler senses far more nefarious undertones: Namely, that Jamie O’Hare believes that the University should have, as one of the “criteria” for whom they “take care” of, the requirement that employees and students live according to Catholic teachings concerning marriage. She also infers that Ms. O’Hare believes that “married students, by virtue of their marital and parental status, are superior Catholics.” As was the case with Mr. Campbell’s quote, Jamie O’Hare makes neither of these arguments. Ms. O’Hare does not even obliquely suggest that the University should not take care of students and employees who are not married and she does not state that married students are morally superior Catholics. She does, admittedly, argue that the Catholic Church teaches that those who are married should be open to children, but this is a far cry from claiming that those graduate students who are not married, whether because they are single or have celibate vocations, are inferior to married students. And while Ms. O’Hare does not say one way or another, I hope that she would agree that the University should not discriminate against those married couples who do not have children, whether because of deliberate choice or biological limitations.

In her final argument, Ms. Stetler accuses Mr. Campbell of denying that Catholic moral teaching includes “ministering to the lonely, working for economic justice and respecting natural resources,” because Mr. Campbell claims that part of the Catholic teaching is that married couples should, if able, procreate. Yet Mr. Campbell, by stating part of the Catholic moral teaching, does not attempt to deny other parts of Catholic doctrine as Ms. Stetler supposes, anymore than Ms. Stetler herself intends to deny Catholic traditions concerning peace, charity and equality when she invokes the teachings on ministering to the lonely and economic justice. Rather, he is doing nothing more than highlighting one single thread of a rich garment. In fact, not only does Mr. Campbell not reduce the Catholic moral tradition to a single precept, he seems to be implicitly invoking the Catholic teachings about economic justice when he argues that the University should help all of the members of her large family obtain adequate health care.

Joseph Nawrocki
graduate student
off campus
April 21