University sponsors events contrary to Catholic teaching

Right to Life Michiana celebrated fifty years of fighting for life at their annual benefit on October 27. As their largest fundraiser, they refer to the benefit as “the event that makes their work possible” by drawing thousands of dollars in donations to be used in their fight for life.

The University of Notre Dame has been a key sponsor of the Right to Life Michiana benefit for over a decade, acting as the top-tier sponsor for the yearly benefit. University-affiliated centers and student groups also donate thousands of dollars through their ticket purchases. 

Until this year. 

This year, a university administrator decided that Right to Life Michiana’s invited speaker transgressed the bounds of acceptable pro-life discourse. Ben Shapiro needs no introduction, and my purpose in writing is not to defend him. But the university, worried that association with Shapiro would sully her good name, opted not to participate in this year’s pro-life benefit. They did not pass go, they did not give $200—let alone their usual sum.

Notre Dame eschewed sponsorship, and, as the fiduciary for all university-affiliated groups, forbade those groups from donating to the benefit or purchasing tickets. The stated grounds? Ben Shapiro’s presence conflicts with the Catholic mission component of the university’s charitable giving policy, which has been used in the past to prevent university donations to organizations involved in stem cell research. However, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend itself served as a sponsor for the benefit.

The Student Activities Office (SAO) had already approved Notre Dame Right to Life’s (NDRtL) purchase of tickets for the benefit when NDRtL president Merlot Fogarty received a phone call from an SAO employee who informed her that the club would not be able to attend the event. He did not explain the university’s reasoning.

Confused by the unexpected reversal, Fogarty sought clarity from university administrators. On September 8, she and several other NDRtL club members met with Chuck Lamphier, the Executive Director of the Office of Mission Engagement and Church Affairs and the administrator responsible for the university’s decision not to donate to the benefit. 

“This event is problematic. This speaker is problematic,” Lamphier said. He cited a 2010 tweet by Ben Shapiro as a reason for the university’s hesitation to associate with his speaking engagement at the benefit. 

The issue, Lamphier clarified, is not one of academic freedom, but rather one of money. “For this event, we have determined that university dollars are not going to go to it,” he said.  

Lamphier clarified that the university’s decision not to give money to the benefit does not mean the university will not support the organization of Right to Life Michiana in other ways, and he referenced the university’s long history of support for the organization by means of the benefit. 

Rather than donate to the event, the university would redirect their normal financial contribution to the Women’s Care Center, Lamphier told Fogarty. The money would still help women and children, but without publicly connecting the university to Ben Shapiro. A source at the Women’s Care Center, who wished to remain anonymous, shared that the center has not received a comparable donation from Notre Dame. 

Associating with Ben Shapiro was a bridge too far, but Notre Dame evidently has no qualms about entangling the school with the promotion of radically pro-abortion views, such as those held by panelists an event sponsored by university entities in South Bend on the same night as the Right to Life Michiana benefit. The Gender Studies Program and the Institute on Race and Resilience co-sponsored a community teach-in by “reproductive care advocates” at the Civil Rights Heritage Center called “Post-Roe America: Making Intersectional Feminist Sense of Abortion Bans.” 

Ben Shapiro wrote an offensive tweet in 2010. By comparison, one panelist at the“Post-Roe America” event, Sharon Lau, has devoted her career to the industrialized mass slaughter of unborn children. Lau serves as the regional advocacy director for the parent organization of South Bend’s local abortion provider, Whole Women’s Health. Her resumé boasts experience working for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. 

Another panelist, Indiana state representative Maureen Bauer, has publicly argued that abortion is a basic human right and has expressed her concerns that universities will “struggle to appeal to younger generations” if students lack access to abortion. 

And panelist Eli Williams, who previously served as director of South Bend’s LGBTQ Center, is a long-time abortion clinic volunteer who wants to destigmatize abortion and provide abortion access for all. Williams articulated these hopes in a co-authored article published in Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine and promoted by Notre Dame’s Department of Sociology

The “Post-Roe America” panelists volunteered their time and thus did not receive payment from the university. While the university avoided financial entanglement in this instance, Notre Dame publicly associated herself with pro-abortion stances under the guise of academic freedom, just weeks after a professor’s offers to help students procure abortions came to light.   

Several days prior, money did change hands, again under the auspices of academic freedom. The LGBT Law Forum hosted an event titled “Decriminalizing Sex Work” and paid a speaking fee to Cruel Valentine, a self-described a “sex worker, activist, and law student” to tell students that sex work is empowering.

Valentine lectured about the “whorearchy,” protested the stigmatization of sex work, and called for the elimination of legal consequences for individuals who either solicit or provide sexual services in exchange for money. 

This pro-prostitution event was protected by the university’s policies regarding academic freedom. So, too, was the pro-abortion panel. 

But university administrators weaponized policies to obstruct charitable giving to Right to Life Michiana because the guest speaker tweeted something unpalatable more than a dozen years ago. And this apparently makes him worse than the women who perpetuate the lie that abortion is a right, worse than the woman who has dedicated her life to stripping away legal protections for vulnerable people coerced into an exploitative economy inseparable from sex trafficking, human trafficking, pornography, and abuse.

Ideas are dangerous when money is involved, but apparently never in the classroom, and never when those ideas conform to secular progressive gospel. If these are the fruits of academic freedom, Notre Dame would do well to remember the consequences of our first parents’ flirtation with that Edenic tree.  

Mary Frances Myler is editor-in-chief emerita of the Rover and a member of the Rover’s board of directors. She is a post-graduate fellow with the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government and is working on a book about Catholic identity and the modern Catholic university.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice