"What Happened to Notre Dame?" - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
“What Happened to Notre Dame?”

Notre Dame Law School professor Charles Rice is still on the case of America’s largest religious university’s sell-out. The Obama commencement speech episode is not over, as Rice explains in an open letter to the school’s president begging him to have the charges against the “Notre Dame 88” dropped. Rice also delves into the school’s still unaddressed, deeper problems in a comprehensive account in his new book What Happened to Notre Dame?

In an effort to undo some of the PR damage wrought by his invitation to the president to speak at commencement, president Fr. John Jenkins has announced that he will participate in the 2010 March for life in DC. But as Rice argues in an open letter to Jenkins, such an action would be tinged with irony in light of Fr. Jenkins’s own indifference to the fate of the Notre Dame 88, a group of protesters facing jail time for pro-life demonstration.

The Notre Dame 88 are the people who were arrested during the May Notre Dame commencement for trespassing. They were all pro-life protestors, and among them were Norma McCovey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, and 79-year-old Fr. Norman Weslin, a veteran soldier and anti-abortion protester. The 88 are scheduled to face trial for their protests, which the school could easily prevent by asking the prosecutors to drop charges. But the school refuses to do so, although the protests were peaceful and took place across the campus from the commencement activities. In his letter to Fr. John Jenkins, ND president, Rice explains why the schools should help these protesters avoid jail and writes that Fr. Jenkins’s refusal to drop the charges against Fr. Weslin “may be the lowest point in the entire history of Notre Dame.” The entire text of the letter is here; it lays out how unconscionable Fr. Jenkins’s actions are.

In What Happened to Notre Dame, Rice explains the devolution of Notre Dame from a refuge for Catholics to a secularized school with some religious trappings with clear logic and in laborious detail.

The crux of Rice’s explanation for Notre Dame’s loss of religious authenticity is that the school’s experience conforms to Neuhaus’s Law: wherever orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed. In this case Notre Dame made Catholic orthodoxy optional in the 1967 “Land O’Lakes” statement, when it asserted its academic autonomy from the Church and made orthodoxy contingent on the faculty’s goals. And sure enough, Rice demonstrates, within decades orthodoxy’s proscription was so advanced that not only did the school’s academics often run out-of-bounds, but even in specifically ecclesiastical matters the school flouted Church teaching, as most clearly seen in the university’s rogue interpretation of the USCCB’s statement on politics in Church life without reference to the local bishop

The historical detail Rice provides for this narrative is extensive — the reader will become acquainted with not only the history of the topic going back to the ’50s, but also with all the players in the recent commencement incident, right down to students who helped organize the alternative commencement exercises. But Rice is at his best when illustrating what Notre Dame has lost in its doomed quest for autonomy.

Rice provides introductions to Church teachings on the topics of life issues and education, from Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Humanae Vitae, and Deus Caritas Est through the most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritatae. He hints at the profound insight of these documents, which reflect the wisdom not only of thinkers like Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most respected theologians in the world, but also that of centuries of Christian scholars who wrestled with these problems. Then Rice contrasts those masterpieces of serious thought, which even if rejected must be at least addressed, with the rock-bottom abdication of intellectual responsibility of the current administration, displayed in Fr. Jenkins’s justification for the showing of the obscene and anti-intellectual Vagina Monologues in 2006: that they were a “creative contextualization.”

The reader of What Happened to Notre Dame will feel sorry for Rice, who joined the Notre Dame faculty four decades ago, for realizing what Notre Dame could be.

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