Monday, January 3, 2011

Follow-up: The professor and me, and the Catholic cultural divide

(Please go to this post, to get the first part of the story.)

A few hours after I hit the "publish" button, I received an email from the professor. He was not yet aware of my blog post and was quite friendly (a huge turnaround from his last email), even as he reminded me that my view of the "truth" (translation: what the Church teaches!) has led me to disrespect anyone who deviates from that "truth". 

He spoke of Jesus, and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. And he asked that I not judge Fr. Hesburgh on one "single issue", but recognize that he had taken an unremarkable Notre Dame and built it into a great university.

There was more gentle correction and talk of common ground, and then he concluded by asking me not to blog about our conversation.

I sent a friendly response, telling him that I had already posted about our conversation just that morning. I assured him that I was hopeful to continue our conversation, and that many, many people care deeply about what has happened to Catholic universities in America, specifically in terms of orthodoxy (or lack thereof). I explained that my main point in publishing the post was to introduce my readers to the Land O'Lakes disaster. I lamented the ignorance of the average Catholic these days (something I figured we both could agree on), and I pointed out that the Vatican itself had worked to undo the immense damage caused by Fr. Hesburgh's actions.

I wished him a good New Year.

His response was to cut me off cold, after expressing his disappointment that I had published the post.

I understand that the professor took this very personally. But what the professor doesn't understand is that this is not about him. He is merely representative of hundreds of professors and administrators at scores of Catholic universities -- universities that have shed the heart of their Catholic identity while conveniently keeping the name. All in accord with Fr. Theodore Hesburgh's Land O'Lakes rebellion.

The professor said that I should not judge Fr. Hesburgh on one issue.


The very reason Fr. Hesburgh is beloved in academia is the very thing that the professor wants me to overlook. The celebrated "ascendency" of Notre Dame began when Fr. Hesburgh orchestrated its autonomy from Church authority. Are we to understand that a university becomes more great when it becomes less Catholic? That's a lot for the Catholic faithful to swallow. As I've said, the Catholic universities in America, with a few refreshing exceptions, have sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver, and they cannot (will not?) see it. 

This is a cultural divide, not an intellectual one. And it's a divide of which the professor and his colleagues seem utterly unaware. I gained a clearer understanding of this divide when I read Joseph Bottum's analysis of the Notre Dame/Obama scandal (First Things) and his discussion of "the great divergence in outlook and purpose between Catholic universities and the Catholic population of America."

This sad cultural divide was confirmed for me in my exchanges with the professor, as I did not hear even an acknowledgement of the catastrophe that befell my generation of Catholics, how we were robbed of our patrimony, our religious inheritance, our authentic faith. Could the professor truly not be aware of the indignation and frustration that's out here and growing, especially as more and more Catholics awaken to the truths of the Faith that were withheld from them? What can we say of the myriad Catholic professors who do indeed teach the "official Catholic position", but present it only as one more option (and not even the best option) alongside a rainbow of dissenting views? 

The same day I posted about the professor, I saw a comment from a woman who read my story and told her friend: "Her story is so very much like mine. The details differ; but the broad outline is very much the same.... I'm still struggling with so much baggage from all that I was never taught." Her struggle is common, but those chiefly responsible have yet to acknowledge their neglect, which has now affected two generations.

It's true that I'd never heard of Fr. Hesburgh before our exchange, but I've done plenty of reading about him in the past few days. I found an interesting reflection by a heartbroken 1953 graduate of Notre Dame University, a medical doctor who loved (and still loves) Fr. Hesburgh. The doctor uses Hamlet as an allegory for the Church today, specifically the American Catholic university. He entitled his post: "Hesburgh, Prince of Notre Dame: A Tragedy":  
“To be” is to return to the orthodoxy of the Magisterium. No more “secondary” or “alternative magisterium.” No more “autonomy” from Catholic authority claimed by the Land O’ Lakes Statement in 1967. Fr. Hesburgh, whom I love, brokered this. In doing so he lept back eighteen centuries to the renowned theologian Tertullian who after a lifetime of great work besmirched it in his dotage.


  1. "What can we say of the myriad Catholic professors who do indeed teach the "official Catholic position", but present it only as one more option (and not even the best option) alongside a rainbow of dissenting views?"
    We can say that it is unacceptable and that we deserve better which you so eloquently have! Thank you!

  2. I have had so many professors like this (not particularly in secular universities though!)that I am kinda in "non-shock" over here.

    But, my favorite was when I was a graduate student at a very Catholic Univ pursuing a degree in Religious Studies...and locked horns with a professor who would not allow pro-life teaching in his "social justice" courses. He saw no connection there.

    So, I was thrown out of the program.

    It was a major turning point and eye opener for me.

    I either clammed up shut up or was kicked out.

    And, this was me a student that had already spent 10 years as a missionary Catholic Worker, it is not that I didn't understand their liberal views.

    Then I was socked with the bill for this "education."

    I complained to the President of the University.

    I told him I was going to go to the Bishop with my complaint that I was suffocated and run out of the department for being too orthodox.

    Funny...a few months later I stopped getting bills from that University.

    My $20,000 tuition was wiped out.

    Nobody ever wrote me letter about it.

    I still have the letter from the Dean, though, saying I was being dismissed from the Relgious Studies Department...

    Something I am more proud of then my other degrees.

    I guess they thought being that I had come from Berkeley I was going to be a great grad student.

    Little did they know.

    So, sigh, I am not surprised.

    Best thing that ever happened to me by the way.

    I embraced my vocation as a lay Catholic on that momentous day.

  3. I agree. Youth are "well-schooled" in relativism today by the time they get to college. The university is not offering them anything special if that is going to be their focus. And many youth are to the point where a lack of any solid foundation is paralyzing them. Every life decision is so subjective. It is whatever *you* think (effectively making you the center of your universe, the pope and God all rolled into one, which frankly, as a young student is such a heavy burden). Trust me... I am all about free will and independent thought. But I sure as hec don't want to be the "be all and end all" of my world! I see the strain of this in so many youth... the anxieties, the aimless wanderings, the depression. And the anger when a person realizes hey wait a minute... I was raised Catholic and no one ever taught me a darn thing about it! All this time I've been left to wander on my own.

    Sorry to ramble on... this exchange "got" to me. I agree the professor seems totally unaware of what has happened with this kind of teaching. I had a fantastic professor in a (state) university that taught by this method and then systematically dismantled it because he said (paraphrase), "No one really lives this way. No one CAN live this way. We have to seek truth even if we never totally find it." (I have no idea what his religion was or if he had any faith at all, but he was one of my heroes for being intellectually honest and by giving a young me "permission" to start seeking truth instead sitting in a paralyzed state of a thousand contradictory worldviews and being told no one is more right or wrong.)

  4. Much calmer today. I better understand the issue at hand here.

    Yesterday when I read your previous "Professor Post," I heard a lot of yelling then I was afraid someone was going to steal somebody's univ. mascot and someone else would return home to find a goat in the kitchen. I was imagining all sorts of college pranks and high jinks (sp?)

    Little JoAnn, good for you!

    Leila, I never heard of the Land O'Lakes rebellion.

    If people don't want to hear or follow Catholic doctrine then don't go to Catholic universities. But Catholic universities who are not following the Church should not call themselves Catholic.

  5. Kudos, Leila, for stating your case. I realize that I was the commenter who had sent the Catholics for Choice link, and I wonder... was your only objection the lack of a disclaimer? I can understand that.

    I did not go to a Catholic university, but I admit that I am amazed at Little Joann's story of being silenced for stating an opinion, especially when it dovetails with Church orthodoxy. Odd. My surmise is that Catholic universities are much different from the Catholic HS I attended in the 70's, manned by Irish Christian Brothers-- who taught dogma, but entertained questions and discussion to the contrary.

    My formal university Ethics/Morals were learned at the decidedly secular University of Chicago, with a heavy dose of the Classics, including Augustine and Aquinas, and while I may not personally agree with every tenet of Catholic doctrine, I certainly understand and respect it.

    One question: What percentage of US Catholics would you estimate to be "orthodox" (a word I have never heard before; I just assumed, as you have alluded to, that there are simply Catholics and non-Catholics.)

  6. Tony, yes, there should have been a big disclaimer. And now that I know he is a Catholic professor, there is really no excuse for using an abortion front group as a legitimate source for Catholic teaching. There are plenty of orthodox Catholic sources which openly discuss the same historical issues.

    I am sure that the percentage of orthodox Catholics is very small. I wouldn't know how to venture a guess. Some dioceses are better than others. The new young priests and seminarians and sisters are very orthodox, praise God.

    My father was taught by the Christian Brothers in Palestine (before 1948, when modern Israel was founded). He loved them. :)

    Thanks for the respect... That's really all I can ask. :)

    Little JoAnn, you are my hero. ;)

  7. Enjoyed your post! A number of year's ago I was taking a class from Dr. Hahn and he spoke about the the tragedy of the Land O' Lakes conference.

  8. I have had to go back to "no anonymous postings" again because our bad apple is back on the scene. He is seemingly obsessed with my blog. Dear Mr. Bad Apple, that was not the professor's quote. That was a quote from another source. Try to be accurate.

    And, my lawyers have advised me that your "outing" of the professor is on your legal head. As I've always said, I don't care who knows his name, but I certainly will not let you control information on my blog. You are truly not welcome here, so please go away and stay away.

  9. Another deleted post.

    Dear Bad Apple.... I won't be looking because I don't care. *yawn*

    God bless!

  10. I am recently struggling with some of the very things illustrated in your exchange with the professor. I am new to your blog but will continue to stop by. Thanks.


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