Fr. Norman Weslin, O.S., at the complaint of Notre Dame, was arrested in May 2009 and charged as a criminal for peacefully entering the Notre Dame campus to offer his prayer of reparation for Notre Dame’s conferral of its highest honor on President Obama, the most relentlessly pro-abortion public official in the world. The university refuses to ask the St. Joseph County prosecutor to drop the charges against Fr. Weslin and the others arrested, still known as the ND 88 although one, Linda Schmidt, died of cancer this past March. Judge Michael P. Scopelitis, of St. Joseph Superior Court, recently issued two important orders in this case.
The first order denied the state’s motion to consolidate the cases of multiple defendants. That motion would have denied each separate defendant his right to a separate jury trial. The order did permit consolidation of the trials of twice-charged defendants on the separate offenses with which that defendant was charged; a defendant charged, for example, with trespass and disorderly conduct would therefore not have to appear for two trials. Judge Scopelitis also denied the prosecution’s attempt to force each defendant to return to South Bend for each proceeding in the case, which would have coerced the defendants to abandon their defense. Instead, the judge permitted the defendants to participate by telephone in pre-trial conferences.
The second order upheld the subpoena issued by Thomas Dixon, ND ’84, ND Law School ’93, the able attorney for the ND88, to compel the pre-trial testimony by deposition of William W. Kirk, who was summarily fired by the university on June 14th from his position as Associate Vice-President for Residence Life. The details of Bill Kirk’s firing were analyzed by Prof. David Solomon in the Irish Rover of August 31st. Judge Scopelitis’ order is limited and permits defendants to “inquire as to why William Kirk no longer holds the position of Associate Vice-President, Resident Life, at the University of Notre Dame.” The university and the prosecution had strenuously resisted any attempt to have Mr. Kirk deposed although he is willing to testify under subpoena and at the eventual trials of the ND88. Nor is the university willing to have the president, Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC., and relevant senior officials, above the Notre Dame Security Police, deposed. Mr. Dixon wants such pre-trial testimony to explore the seriously discriminatory, illegal and unconstitutional character of the university’s actions against the ND88.
Judge Scopelitis’ orders move the case along. But they unavoidably leave a few questions unresolved. Why did the university try to prevent the deposition of Bill Kirk and why is it unwilling to agree to such testimony by senior university officials? What is the university trying to hide? Perhaps it is the unprecedented and discriminatory character of the university’s treatment of the ND88. In his statement of April 30, 2010, Fr. Jenkins reiterated Notre Dame’s position that, “the University cannot have one set of rules for causes we oppose, and another more lenient set of rules for causes we support. We have one consistent set of rules for demonstrations on campus—no matter what the cause.” That statement is untrue.
On March 8-9, 2007, the Soulforce Equality Ride conducted a “gay rights” demonstration on the Notre Dame campus. Six demonstrators were “arrested,” taken to the campus security building and photographed. They were then driven by campus police to their hotel. “We never heard another word,” said Delfin Bautista, one of the demonstrators. “It was just a setup to get us off campus.” Their trespass notices, incidentally, were stamped with the signature of William Kirk. On March 26, 2007, Catholic Worker protestors demonstrated on campus against ROTC. Nine trespass citations and three trespass notices were issued. One demonstrator, George F. Arteaga, was taken to the county jail. The next morning he was told by a guard, “We’re letting you go,” and was released. The trespassing and disorderly conduct charges against him were dismissed by the prosecutor’s office and no further proceedings occurred against any of the demonstrators.
Those 2007 events were recounted in the South Bend Tribune, May 1, 2010, and in several very extensive letters written in February and March, 2010, to Fr. Jenkins and Dennis Brown, university spokesman, by William H. Dempsey, president of the Sycamore Trust.
“I tracked down,” wrote Mr. Dempsey to Fr. Jenkins on March 11, 2010, “four persons who had been involved: two Catholic Workers (one a priest) and two Soulforce members. They confirmed that the demonstrators had in fact been arrested—one read the citation to me—and that this was the last they had heard of the matter.”
Mr. Dempsey’s conclusion is an undeniable indictment of Notre Dame’s position:
“The short of it, then, is that Notre Dame is not enforcing ‘one consistent set of rules for demonstrations on campus—no matter the cause.’ Heretofore, it evidently has exercised a discretion appropriate to the circumstances. The result of adopting an inflexible stance respecting the ND88 is truly bizarre. The University acts with tolerance toward pro-gay and anti-military supporters but severity toward pro-life supporters.”
Let us assume that Fr. Jenkins had been unaware of what happened in 2007 on his watch. But when he restated on April 30 the university’s claim of equal treatment for all, he was aware of Mr. Dempsey’s investigation and his demonstration of the falsity of that claim. Yet he restated that claim without qualification and without any mention of those 2007 events. Neither Fr. Jenkins nor any other university official has apologized to Fr. Weslin and the ND88 for its misrepresentation of the university’s policy and for its disparate treatment of them. Nor has Notre Dame sought to rectify that injustice by asking the prosecutor to drop the charges.
How can we explain this vindictive treatment of the ND88? Permit me, first to tell you a little about those targets of the university’s wrath. Fr. Weslin was 79 and in very poor health when he was arrested at Notre Dame and literally dragged off the campus on a pallet. Born to poor Finnish immigrants in upper Michigan, he joined the Army after high school. He converted from the Lutheran to the Catholic faith and married Mary Lou before earning his commission. He became a paratrooper and rose to Lieutenant Colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division, earning his college degree en route. When he retired in 1968, he and Mary Lou became active pro-lifers in Colorado. In 1980, Mary Lou was killed by a young drunk driver whom Norman personally forgave. Norman later was ordained as a Catholic priest, worked with Mother Teresa and devoted his life to the rescue of unborn children through peaceful, prayerful direct action at abortuaries. In December, 1990, I was privileged to defend Fr. Weslin when he and his Lambs of Christ were arrested at the South Bend abortuary. One does not have to agree with the tactic of direct, non-violent action at abortuaries to have the highest admiration, as I have, for Fr. Weslin and his associates. He is a hero of the Faith. Notre Dame should have given Fr. Weslin the Laetare Medal rather than throw him in jail.
The other “criminals” stigmatized by Notre Dame include many whom this university should honor rather than oppress. One is Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, who has become pro-life and a Catholic actively trying to spread the word about abortion. The ND88 include retired professors, retired military officers, mothers of many children, a Catholic nun in full habit, Christian pastors, several PhDs, and Notre Dame grads. They are “the salt of the earth.” They came at their own expense, and not as part of any “conspiracy,” from 18 states. They came because they love what Notre Dame claims to represent. They themselves do represent it. But it is doubtful that Notre Dame does so anymore. The leaders of Notre Dame ought to be deeply ashamed of their continuing persecution of such people.
In response to criticism of its honoring of Obama and its persecution of the ND88, Notre Dame has commendably taken pro-life initiatives, including Fr. Jenkins’ leading of a Notre Dame delegation to the March for Life. It was the first official Notre Dame participation in that event since its inception in 1974. In a discordant note, however, Fr. Jenkins went to the march while he was, by his own choice, the intransigent jailer, in effect, of pro-life witnesses whose “crime” was that they sought to pray, peacefully, at and for the University of Notre Dame.
Nothing in this article is meant to disparage those reactive pro-life initiatives Notre Dame has taken, including the recent appointment of Mary Daly as coordinator of University Life Initiatives. Fr. Jenkins and other relevant Notre Dame officials are acting in what they see as the best interests of Notre Dame. But to what extent is Notre Dame serious about its pro-life commitments? Why do they impose such unrelenting persecution—an apt word—on pro-life witnesses, especially in light of their non-prosecution of pacifist and “gay rights” protestors and their reliance on the brazen falsehood that they “have one consistent set of rules for demonstrators on campus”?
Perhaps a clue may be found in Angelo Codevilla’s new book, “The Ruling Class.” Dr. Codevilla, who received his MA at Notre Dame and is professor emeritus at Boston University, demonstrates that we are governed by a political and cultural “ruling class,” characterized by its “insistence that people other than themselves are intellectually and hence otherwise humanly inferior.” (See pp. 57-58.) A comparable ruling class dominates the academic world. Since the misbegotten 1967 Land O’Lakes Declaration which asserted the autonomy of “Catholic” universities from Church teaching authority, Notre Dame has striven to become an accepted player on the periphery of that academic “ruling class.” As former president Fr. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., said at the 1993 Board of Trustees meeting, “we think we should have greater input into national policy decisions and into ethical preparations for decisions. We think we’re capable of operating in the same world as the Ivys, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Duke, Southern Cal and Northwestern.” (So. Bend Tribune, Feb. 15, 1993, p. B1.)
Notre Dame appears to be governed by academic ruling class wannabes. The operative religion of the academic and political establishments, however, is political correctness. Activist opponents of ROTC and activist advocates of “gay rights” are politically correct. Activist pro-lifers, such as Fr. Weslin and the ND88, are not. For Notre Dame’s leaders to show respect for the ND88, let alone apologize to them and seek an end to their prosecution, as they ought, would be to touch a third rail of academic respectability. It would not play well in the ruling academic circles. What would they think of us at Harvard, Yale, etc? Notre Dame has expressed a worthy desire to be a pro-life champion. If they really mean it, the first step must be a public request by Notre Dame to the prosecutor to dismiss unconditionally the charges against the ND88. Without such a rectification of an injustice inflicted by the university, Notre Dame’s otherwise commendable pro-life initiatives are merely cosmetic, a defensive covering of the institutional anatomy. The ND88—and Notre Dame itself—deserve better.
Professor Charles E. Rice is professor emeritus on the faculty of Notre Dame Law School.