At the end of 2015, some of the country’s leading universities were being besieged by protesting students making demands of administrators. These institutions seemed to be reaping the unpleasant fruits of their wholesale obeisance to political correctness and liberal orthodoxy. The University of Notre Dame, which has long endeavored to imitate such institutions at the expense of adherence to Catholic orthodoxy, recently demonstrated that it does not fear giving homage to such liberal orthodoxy and political correctness.
The Sycamore Trust, an alumni group seeking to preserve Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, launched a new website—NDCatholic.com—which “provides information to present and future students on how to obtain an authentic Catholic education at Notre Dame—one that will allow them to grasp the complementary nature of faith and reason, to develop a deep understanding of and love for the truth, and to gain a clear appreciation of the Catholic moral and social vision.” Notre Dame maintains on its website that “[t]he Catholic faith is fundamental at Notre Dame … we believe in the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake; we believe in sustaining a dialogue between faith and reason across disciplines and in the multitude of discussions, debates, and inquiries that take place at the University; we believe in academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible.”
So, it would seem that ND Catholic and the university share a common vision. Yet, within two days of ND Catholic’s internet appearance, Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, the beloved history scholar and former Moreau Seminary rector who was the site’s primary contributor, surprisingly informed the Sycamore Trust that he could no longer remain in association with this website, cryptically explaining: “I regret that I can say only that I am required to end my involvement with the NDCatholic site and am not at liberty to say why.” While speculation as to the source of the pressure applied to Fr. Miscamble exists, it is obvious that this effective silencing of Fr. Miscamble could not have occurred without, at the very least, the tacit complicity of the Notre Dame administration.
Father Miscamble has consistently advocated for Notre Dame to offer an integrated Catholic education. He has always fearlessly spoken out when he believed the university had failed to provide such an education or acted in a manner inconsistent with tenets of the Catholic Church. In 2009, he spoke movingly to the students who boycotted their own graduation in which the university accorded the rabidly pro-abortion Barack Obama the honor, not only of giving the commencement address, but also that of receiving an honorary degree of laws. He has been an intense supporter of the efforts of the Sycamore Trust, often addressing its annual breakfasts. He penned For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University, in which he set forth principles by which a Catholic university should be governed, making it clear that Notre Dame has often not been living up to the purpose of a Catholic university.
So why now has this project provoked the imposition of a ban on Fr. Miscamble’s participation? Was it alright for him to critique Notre Dame as long as it had seemingly no actual effect on Notre Dame’s de facto mission to create a liberal secular university which, while clothed in the garb of the Catholic faith, does not enable the faith to actually penetrate to the heart of the university or most of its students? Was it the fact that, with faculty profiles distinguishing certain professors as providing a truly Catholic perspective on their subjects and others who are at least respectful of a Catholic university’s true mission, Fr. Miscamble would now be clearly exposing the fact that a majority of its professors do not endorse or promote Notre Dame’s Catholic mission? Was there concern that such effectively non-Catholic professors would be potentially known through exclusion from the site, even though Fr. Miscamble had made clear that the site had not yet completed its evaluation of professors within the College of Arts and Letters, let alone start to evaluate those in the university’s other colleges? Could it be that it was too much for the administration that students serious about obtaining a truly Catholic-inspired education might now have a reliable vehicle for finding courses which could actually provide such an education?
Whatever the reason, an authoritative and instrumental voice has been removed from the site. The Notre Dame administration has apparently, with a heavy hand, again given way to liberal orthodoxy.
Pope Francis, in his 2014 meeting with Notre Dame’s leaders, emphasized the need for Catholic universities, and Notre Dame in particular, to maintain and preserve its Catholic missionary character: “This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities …, which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.” (Emphasis added.)
Consistent with Pope Francis’ admonition, Fr. Miscamble insists that Catholic universities possess the ability “to diagnose more clearly the true nature of societal ills and to prescribe appropriate remedies without the restrictions which secular institutions place upon themselves.” They are uniquely poised to “[inject] moral and religiously-grounded viewpoints into the public square … [which can] speak to the development of a more just and moral society. The concerns of Pope Francis and Fr. Miscamble echo the counsel of our first president that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
If Notre Dame’s complicity in banning Fr. Miscamble from NDCatholic.com derives from a tacit rejection of its Catholic identity, then it is missing a tremendous opportunity to have a positive effect on our society through the cultivation of mature young persons ready to speak and live the truth about man and his relation to the Creator. Such a failure by Notre Dame and other prominent Catholic and Christian centers of higher learning deprive our nation of significant resources in confronting a culture increasingly permeated with moral relativism, disregard for human life, and deprivation of man’s freedoms. In the absence of other counter-cultural resources, liberal orthodoxy and political correctness will eventually reign supreme.
Richard Maggi is a 1973 alumnus in government, a commentator, and attorney who resides in New Jersey.