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Why Jim Obergefell is welcome at Notre Dame

| Thursday, March 28, 2019

It is impossible to adequately express our embarrassment and dismay after reading Deion Kathawa’s letter, “Why is Notre Dame rolling out the red carpet for Jim Obergefell?” As fellow students at Notre Dame Law School (NDLS) and Catholics, we were surprised to see such bombastic vitriol directed at us by our peer, simply because we believe Jim Obergefell should be welcome at our Law School.

We say “directed at us” not as members of the LGBTQ community, but as Catholic members of the University who care about others. We say “directed at us” because Mr. Kathawa implies that anyone who does not adhere to his anachronistic, purist understanding of Catholicism “despise[s] the church’s teachings” and is here “trying mightily to subvert them.”

We did not know we came to NDLS to tear down the Catholic Church. You learn something new every day.

The University’s “About” webpage emphatically dissociates it from Mr. Kathawa’s views: “This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.” — Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder of the University of Notre Dame du Lac.

It also states that “Notre Dame … is traditional, yet open to change. It is dedicated to religious belief no less than to scientific knowledge. It has always stood for values in a world of facts. It has kept faith with Father Sorin’s vision.”

As her proud, Catholic students, we reject Mr. Kathawa’s lecture on Notre Dame’s virtues and the metaphysical capabilities of our Church, which misconstrues the underlying message of Catholicism: virtue lies in inclusion, tolerance and love of all people. Increasingly, people stray from the Church because of its perceived intolerance and seemingly patronizing moralistic judgment of society. Mr. Kathawa’s letter perpetuates this notion, flatly rejecting the validity and importance of acceptance, contra the Church’s teachings.

Further, Mr. Kathawa’s arguments do not withstand logical, religious or legal scrutiny. He claims Mr. Obergefell should be unwelcome at NDLS because his presence is a “celebration of a Supreme Court ruling … directly contrary to the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage.”  Obergefell is undoubtedly contrary to the Church’s teaching that “[t]he matrimonial covenant, [is one] by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life.” This teaching, however, is limited to marriage within the Catholic Church.  

Obergefell does not require Catholic priests to perform same-sex marriages, or Mr. Kathawa to marry another man. It did not infringe upon Mr. Kathawa’s rights, or those of other Catholics or the Catholic Church. The Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution remains alive. But the Church does not have a monopoly on marriage — even a Catholic marriage requires a state license. At most, the Obergefell opinion says that “[t]he Constitution … does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”

Why, therefore, should Mr. Obergefell’s presence at NDLS threaten the Church’s teachings on marriage? Indeed, many Church teachings — e.g., treat others as you would be treated — lead to the opposite conclusion: We should welcome Mr. Obergefell, or anyone else our clubs invite, with open arms. Mr. Kathawa’s acrimony toward the LGBT Law Forum’s invitation to Jim Obergefell instead of Jack Phillips is thus disingenuous. Notre Dame is a place of disparate viewpoints — and is richer for it. Diversity should be celebrated, not suppressed. But no club is required to sponsor specific speakers.

Finally, Mr. Kathawa’s “my way or the highway” argument against a viewpoint contrary to his extreme, hateful perception of Catholicism does not have any place at our University. We call on Fr. Jenkins to denounce such incendiary rhetoric against members of our student body in full — now and in the future.

Mr. Kathawa urges us to accept Notre Dame “for what she is.” True, she is “a Catholic university, dedicated to a Church perfectly anchored in fidelity to the truth of God.” But this phrase cannot exist in a vacuum, removed from the vibrant, communal context that is the reality of our campus. A University is a community, a family, that grows despite its squabbles, because we agree that we are a family first.

University President Emeritus Fr. Ted Hesburgh reminds us: “Notre Dame … must be a crossroads … where the great issues of the Church and the world today are plumbed to their depths, where every sincere inquirer is welcomed and listened to and respected by a serious consideration of what he has to say … a place where the endless conversation is harbored and not foreclosed.”

We did not know acceptance of disparate viewpoints made us heretics, unwelcome at Notre Dame. It would behoove Mr. Kathawa to know that people like us are not going anywhere.

Bill Green

J.D. 2019


Erin McMannon

Notre Dame class of 2014

J.D. 2019


March 26

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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