In the wake of President Obama’s 2009 honorary degree and commencement speech, a flurry of university press releases asserted Notre Dame’s commitment to the pro-life cause. Upon the release of an institutional statement in defense of human life, University President Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, said, “The statement articulates what always has been the case: that Notre Dame fully embraces Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life.”
The recent appointment of a trustee who donated over $27,000 to pro-choice causes and the university’s response to this controversy, however, arguably demonstrates that the matter is not so clear cut.
On May 10, 2011, a university press release announced the recent election of Roxanne M. Martino, a Notre Dame alumna and the president and chief executive officer of Aurora Investment Management, to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees.
Following the Cardinal Newman Society’s claim that Martino had given over $15,000 to pro-choice organizations, the Sycamore Trust, a group of Notre Dame alumni dedicated to preserving Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, revealed that the actual amounts were even greater: Martino had given $27,150 to EMILY’s List as of December 23, 2010.
In response, Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Notebaert sent an email to his fellow trustees in which he denied these claims.
“First, it’s inaccurate to characterize Roxanne Martino as pro-choice,” the email stated. “Ms. Martino (along with her husband, Rocco) is a Notre Dame graduate, and she is fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of life.”
Casting the donations as an oversight, Notebaert wrote that Martino “has through the years contributed to organizations that provide a wide range of important services and support to women. She did not realize, however, that several of these organizations also take a pro-choice position.”
An email from Fr. Jenkins to concerned alumni reiterated the content of Notebaert’s message in nearly identical language:
“Ms. Martino (along with her husband, Rocco) is a Notre Dame graduate, and she is fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of life.
“She has through the years contributed to organizations that provide a wide range of important services and support to women. She did not realize, however, that several of these organizations also take a pro-choice position. This is not her personal position, and she will now review all of her contributions to ensure that she does not again inadvertently support these kinds of activities in the future.”
This response, sent to many who inquired specifically about EMILY’s List and no other group, failed to address the question. At over 900,000 members, EMILY’s List is one of the largest and best-known political action committees in the nation, investing $38.5 million in the 2009-2010 election cycle. The briefest of visits to the group’s website reveals its aim: “The mission is simple, really: EMILY’s List is dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.” EMILY’s List offers no additional “services and support” to women outside of this goal.
Indeed, Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn pointed out that Martino also donated repeatedly to the Illinois State Personal PAC, another unambiguously pro-choice organization. A visit to the website’s homepage alone reveals the banner “Vital to Electing a Pro-Choice Illinois.”
Likewise, the implication that Martino and her husband support Church teaching based on their status as Notre Dame graduates is a non sequitur. It is also easily refuted, unfortunately, by speaking with a sampling of alumni as well as by a 2004 survey by the Higher Education Research Council at UCLA. According to the survey, after 4 years at Notre Dame, the percentage of students who identify as pro-choice rose from 31 percent to 42 percent.
It seems incredible that Notre Dame’s trustees would be satisfied by the Notebaert’s assertion that “it’s inaccurate to characterize Roxanne Martino as pro-choice” when it became known that Martino donated more than $27,000 to EMILY’s List. University Spokesman Dennis Brown declined to comment on the screening process for candidates for the board.
Was Martino’s connection to EMILY’s List known to Fr. Jenkins, Mr. Notebaert, or any other university fellows at the time she was selected as a trustee? When THE ROVER posed this question, Brown, responded, “We have nothing to add beyond what was stated in our June 8 news release.”
Is this the clarity one might expect from the leadership of a Catholic university? Or does it sound more like an attempt to “handle” a potential PR disaster?
The university’s final statement on the issue only contributes further to the ambiguity.
The same university press release announcing Martino’s resignation stated that she left “in the wake of reports criticizing donations she has made to organizations that characterize themselves as pro-choice.” The less than subtle use of the phrase “characterize themselves as pro-choice” indicated a troubling refusal to confront the well-known and indisputable fact that EMILY’s List is a single-issue organization dedicated to advancing the pro-choice cause.
The press release quotes Notebaert as stating that “Ms. Martino has served Notre Dame in many ways over the years and is highly regarded as someone who is absolutely dedicated in every way to the Catholic mission of this University.”
This statement, perhaps, best illustrates the larger conflict that lies behind this single incident. What precisely is the “Catholic mission of this University” if a consistent supporter of EMILY’s List is “dedicated in every way” to it? In an interview beginning on the front page of this issue, Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC, suggests that Notre Dame faces great conflict over the nature of its identity. “There are already plenty of schools where intellect has managed to detach itself from morality,” he points out. “Who will care about Notre Dame if it is merely a Duke or Northwestern ‘wannabee’?”
The question remains whether, given the unique challenges that Notre Dame confronts, the university’s leadership has the courage and clarity of conviction to embrace the idea of a Catholic university, set forth in Ven. Pope John Paul II’s EX CORDE ECCLESIAE, of proclaiming to our age “the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished.”
Claire Gillen is a senior history major in Welsh Family Hall. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.