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Not Catholic, need not apply

and | Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fellow columnist Brennan Buhr’s piece published Monday, “The twilight zone,” is a sorry misunderstanding of what it means to be a Catholic university.

While Mr. Buhr is relatively accurate in describing the position of the Catholic Church with respect to abortion, he goes 10 steps too far in declaring that all students running for student body president must pledge unwavering support to the pro-life cause, or risk allowing the infiltration of “church’s enemies” to our University.

Apparently, according to Mr. Buhr, our identity as a Catholic university excludes from its mission those who may not themselves be Catholic or agree with every aspect of the Church. This is not the way the Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope, views the mission of a Catholic educational institution.

In a speech to members of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, Pope Francis outlined those goals of a Catholic university, including the mission of these universities to become places where solutions for common humanity are cultivated. Pope Francis concluded with a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman: The Church “fears no knowledge, but she purifies it all; she represses no element of nature, but cultivates the whole.” And it seems to us that Mr. Buhr is very afraid of the knowledge we have on campus.

We can’t imagine what it must be like in Mr. Buhr’s position: to believe in and be such a fervent follower of a Church that you view as vulnerable to even the most basic of counterpositions. The Catholic Church is a centuries-old institution based on the loyalty of the faithful; it should be able to handle those with differing perspectives and stand up to debate on those values.

If Notre Dame is really a Catholic University, in the truest sense, it should be able to handle the admission and acceptance of those students who don’t follow the Catholic Catechism line-by-line. It should even be able to handle those who take stances which are antithetical to the teachings of the Church. And we have succeeded in remaining both a Catholic institution while welcoming students of diverse perspectives for decades. What’s so different now?

Additionally, there are several sources to refute Mr. Buhr’s claim that Pope Francis acknowledges abortion as the sole issue to be prioritized above all others.

In fact, in Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis explains, “The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of human life. … Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged.”

Of course, it is well-acknowledged the Pope asserts that every right starts with life, which he believes to begin at conception. However, there is undoubtedly room for advocates of other important and fundamental rights within the context of Catholic higher education, which are acknowledged by the Catholic clergy as well. To claim that abortion takes precedent over all other issues in the Church is quite simply a false and incomplete narrative, one Mr. Buhr indulges to silence the voices of others on campus.

There is no clear reason for Mr. Buhr’s claim our University must demand regimented anti-choice beliefs from current students. The Catholic Church disagrees with him too.

This all culminates in Mr. Buhr’s unfounded assertion that all candidates for student body president and vice president ought to affirm their pro-life position in order to be eligible. Unfortunately for Mr. Buhr, we are a university, and one of the most important aspects of a university is embracing those with opposing viewpoints.

According to Notre Dame’s mission statement, “The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students. … Therefore, the University insists upon academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible.” We can’t imagine a university which insists its students all believe the same thing and requires them to explicitly affirm it when they run for public positions within the student body. That seems more like a Twilight Zone episode than anything else.

In response to our columns, we have both been told dozens of times that if we don’t like it here we ought to just leave. It is with pleasure that we offer the same piece of advice to Mr. Buhr. Perhaps he would be more comfortable at an academic institution that stifles freedom of thought and regiments the expression of students based on the guidelines of the Catholic Church. That certainly isn’t the mission of Notre Dame, and thank God for that.

Jackie O’Brien is a Notre Dame senior studying political science and peace studies, originally from the Chicago suburbs. When she’s not writing for Viewpoint, you can find her attempting to complete the NYT crossword, fretting over law school applications or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. She can be reached at [email protected] or @im_jackie_o on Twitter.

Mary Szromba is a senior majoring in philosophy and political science, and she’s never been wrong about anything in her entire life. Questions, comments, and anonymous love letters can be directed to [email protected] or @_murrrrrr on Twitter.

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

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