Special Report

A Man for Ball Seasons

In Rick Majerus, the Jesuits at St. Louis University have found just the right coach for their tax-subsidized arena.

By 1.27.08

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In 2003, Jesuit St. Louis University (SLU) received an $8 million tax abatement to start building a sports arena. This annoyed the Masonic Temple Association, whose property abuts SLU. Arguing that a religious school should not receive government monies, the Association filed a federal lawsuit to block the abatement.

The case was ultimately dismissed, but not before exposing the utter shamelessness of Jesuit officials at the schools. To fend off the suit, they told a Missouri appellate court that SLU is "independent of the Catholic Church." Rich in depressing ironies, the case in essence pitted Masons arguing, if only opportunistically, that the school is (and should be) Catholic against Jesuits who argued that it is not.

The Masonic Temple noted that the school's bylaws state that it will be "publicly identified as a Catholic university and a Jesuit university." So what? responded officials at SLU, who provided evidence that the school hasn't taken Catholicism seriously for years.

"Whatever its status in the past, Saint Louis University is not now controlled by any creed," read SLU's brief, first reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. SLU cited as an example of its "autonomy" from the Church that it pays no attention to the local bishop, such as the time it ignored former St. Louis Cardinal Justin Rigali's objections to its 1998 sale of the school's hospital.

TO PARAPHRASE Robert Bolt's Thomas More, it profits the Jesuits nothing to give their soul for the whole world, much less Chaifetz Arena and Rick Majerus. This latest controversy at SLU is the inevitable collision of a habitually bombastic coach, his secularized Jesuit patrons, and a principled archbishop tired of the school's fraud.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has said that the Jesuit school should take "appropriate action" against Majerus for his pro-abortion popping off at a recent rally for Hillary Clinton. Burke also said that he will withhold Holy Communion from the coach who is Catholic unless he accepts the teachings of the Church.

Naturally, this simple canonical matter (in which Burke is right; it is his duty to oversee the Catholic identity of schools within his jurisdiction and protect the sacraments against misuse by dissenters) has been trumped up into a boring, beside-the-point discussion about free speech.

The Jesuits at SLU haven't said much so far, but Majerus isn't apologetic, wheeling out the familiar cart of feeble bromides. "I think religion should be inclusive. I would hope that all people would feel welcome inside a church, and that the church would serve to bring people together, even if they happen to disagree on certain things," he said.

Where did Majerus pick up his progressive patter? At another Jesuit university, Marquette. Finding himself in a pickle, he is invoking this fine educational pedigree: "I'm very respectful to the archbishop, but I rely on my value judgments, thanks to my education at Marquette, which is a Jesuit institution, just like St. Louis. That Jesuit education led me to believe that I can make a value judgment. And my value judgment happens to differ from the archbishop's. I do not speak for the university or the Catholic Church. These are my personal views. And I'm not letting him change my mind."

IN THESE TIRESOME controversies, freedom is always a one-way street: freedom for the dissenter, no freedom for the Church to control her own institutions. Call it the PC Brezhnev Doctrine: liberals at once demand their own autonomy while reserving the right to compromise the autonomy of Catholic institutions.

Majerus is free to abuse the sacraments; Archbishop Burke isn't free to protect them. Heretics are free to spread rot at Catholic schools; these schools are not free to fire them.

It is good to see that at least one American bishop isn't putting up with this nonsense. In the media's telling, Burke is the villain here. (Majerus has told a sympathetic media that his "elderly mother" has been rattled by the controversy, to which we are apparently supposed to respond: Well, that settles it; you, Majerus, are in the right and Burke is in the wrong.)

Yes, Burke is "controversial," which is just a euphemism for a bishop who turns out to be a believing Catholic who has enough sense of duty to reclaim the Church's freedom against ceaseless secularist encroachments.

If Majerus had shown up at a David Duke rally to retail value judgments in favor of racism, Burke's response would be applauded. As it is, Majerus can expect his Jesuit bosses to protect him. After all, they went to considerable legal trouble to build an arena for him, a perfect fit for a school with no "controlling" creed.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.