On February 15, Notre Dame Philosophy Professor Gary Gutting published an analysis of the Catholic Church’s position on birth control on his NEW YORK TIMES blog.  In his post, Gutting argued that the Church has decided in favor of birth control – regardless of Pope Paul VI’s affirmation of traditional Church teaching in his 1968 encyclical HUMANAE VITAE – since polls indicate that the majority of Catholic women use it.

“The bishops’ claim to authority in this matter has been undermined because Catholics have decisively rejected it. The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church,” he wrote.

While Gutting has every right to express his views, members of Notre Dame’s governing board, and in some cases its founding religious order, should be interested in the issue raised by Gutting and its implications for Church authority.

Past events unfortunately appear to suggest otherwise.  This summer, Chicago businesswomen and Notre Dame alumna Roxanne Martino was elected to serve on the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. Revelations that she had donated more than $25,000 to the pro-choice political action committee EMILY’s List led Martino to resign less than two months after her appointment.

Her appointment was staunchly defended by Board of Trustees Chairman Richard C. Notebaert, who never amended his argument that Martino was “fully committed to all aspects of Catholic teaching and to the mission of Notre Dame.”

Notebaert’s comments aside, it seems reasonable to believe that many Notre Dame trustees simply did not examine Martino’s background thoroughly before electing her.

Trustees, however, appear apathetic toward issues essential to Catholic teaching and, by extension, the nature of a Catholic university.  The IRISH ROVER attempted to reach each member of the Board of Trustees for comment on the substance of Gutting’s argument of the 47 trustees.  Only 5 had the courtesy to respond.

From Roderick K. West, executive vice president and CEO of Entergy Corporation: “I’ve not read the blog, but I respectfully request that you direct all future media inquiries to the university for official comments.”

From Anne Thompson, chief environmental affairs correspondent for NBC News: “Thank you so much for reaching out but as a journalist I cannot comment on a news story.”

From Thomas G. Burish, provost of the University of Notre Dame: “I just returned today from China, where I have been for more than a week.  I have not read Professor Gutting’s blog, and am not in a position to comment on it.”  He later responded: “I support Mr. Brown’s statement.”

From Nancy M. Haegel, professor of physics at Naval Postgraduate School: “I have no personal comment.  For any board-related matters, please contact the office of the board secretariat.”

From Rev. Timothy R. Scully, CSC, professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame: “I have no comment.”

Presumably after being contacted by trustees, University Spokesman Dennis Brown wrote to the ROVER, defending Gutting’s right to express his views but ignoring the question at hand.

“The free and open exchange of ideas is at the heart of any university, and Professor Gutting has the academic freedom to express his,” Brown stated.  “As Pope John Paul II wrote in EX CORDE ECCLESIAE, the Catholic university is ‘a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture.’ As with all faculty commentary, Professor Gutting’s opinions are his alone and do not reflect or represent those of the university.”

Gutting’s views hold radical implications for how one understands the Church and its source of authority.  It is disappointing that no Notre Dame trustee will respond publically to express his own view of Gutting’s position. Indeed, the Notre Dame administration’s relationship with ecclesiastical authority has at times been strained – most notably in its decision to disregard the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2004 statement CATHOLICS IN POLITICAL LIFE by bestowing an honorary degree on President Obama.

In a December article entitled “Mr. Notebaert, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the future of Notre Dame,” Notre Dame history professor (and IRISH ROVER faculty advisor) Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble, CSC, echoed a question asked by John D’Arcy, bishop emeritus of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese: Does Notre Dame take the Land O’Lakes decision, “with its strictures for institutional autonomy from the Church and the aping of our supposed secular peers,” or EX CORDE ECCLESIAE as its guide?

Brown draws from the latter document to defend Gutting’s right to express his views.  Silence from the board of trustees on the substance of his argument about the nature of the Church and its teaching authority, however, hardly inspires confidence.

Contact Katie and Claire at kpetrik@nd.edu and cgillen2@nd.edu.