Catholic Higher Education: Still Not Practicing What We Preach


Notre Dame is still struggling with its mission as Our Lady’s university.

On August 15, 1990, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (English: From the Heart of the Church). The document marked the first step in the systematic effort to renew and reform Catholic higher education around the world.

One might have hoped that Catholic universities and Catholic professors were already applying their faith in the classroom and around the campus, and that publication of rules mandating this would be met with an exasperated eye roll because OF COURSE Catholic universities were Catholic.

But what happened on many campuses bordered on open revolt; and faculty committees—asserting their right to “academic freedom”—constructed hurried plans to circumvent the process. At the Catholic university where I worked at the time, I had been increasingly discouraged by professors’ acceptance of abortion, contraception, homosexual relationships—all the touchstone issues which were playing out in the greater society.

In essence, Ex Corde sought to assure that Catholic universities had the following essential characteristics:

  1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
  2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
  3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
  4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.”

It’s that darned #3 that continues to cause trouble!

Notre Dame wrestled with how to interpret its “Catholic identity” when, in 2009, President Obama, arguably the most radical pro-abortion and pro-infanticide president in U.S. history, was invited to be commencement speaker and received an honorary degree from Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins. But this year, it appeared that the university had found its Catholic voice when 25 members of the faculty signed an open letter to the President, declaring the HHS mandate is “a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.”

I was discouraged, then, to read a recent report by TFP Student Action, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, asserting that Notre Dame was offering pro-abortion “internship opportunities” to students. TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie said, “It’s highly scandalous for a Catholic university to encourage students to intern for groups that actively promote the sin of abortion.”

TFP Student Action identified several internships which seemed to require an adherence to pro-abortion values, including:

  • The Feminist Majority Foundation. This organization’s stated mission is to support “Safe, legal and accessible abortion, contraception, and family planning, including Medicaid funding and access for minors.” The foundation also “supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.”
  • The National Women’s Law Center. The center’s public priorities include “Protecting a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion; expanding access to affordable birth control, including emergency contraception; investing in comprehensive sex education and ending federal funding for abstinence-only programs…”
  • EMILY’s List. According to its website, EMILY’s List “is dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.”
  • Think Progress. This group, in addition to supporting abortion, has criticized Bishop Thomas J. Tobin for defending traditional marriage.
  • Human Rights Watch. This liberal group advocates for ‘gay rights’ causes while actively promoting abortion.
  • The United Nations Population Fund.

“It couldn’t be,” I thought, thinking back to the noble and clear principles defined by Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

So I visited the website of the University of Notre Dame to see for myself.  Yes—I did find all of the above “internship opportunities” available through the Political Science Department. But more:  I found that internship grants had been awarded to students for work at other organizations such as:

  • The Minnesota Women’s Consortium. Among the Consortium’s member groups, all of which claim to “empower women,” is Planned Parenthood.  The student intern blogged about her experiences at College Feminists Connect.
  • The Anti-Defamation League of Boston, where the intern’s goal is to help combat “sexism, racism and heterosexism.”
  • The Resource Center of Dallas. In addition to counseling, medical assistance and food subsidies, the Resource Center offers education programs for the GLBT community in Dallas.
  • The National Organization for Women, one of America’s paramount abortion advocacy groups.
  • The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance in Chicago.  That non-profit offers “sensitivity training and anti-prejudice workshops to schools and teachers wishing to create safe, non-threatening school and classroom environments for LGBT students.”
  • People for the American Way. That organization conducts research, legal, education, and advocacy for a wide variety of liberal causes.

My research continued.  Among research internships in the Bio-medical Sciences was one program at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). Their research is not restricted to adult stem cells; rather, they rely on embryonic stem cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, a type of research which the Church strongly opposes.

If it seems that I’ve singled out one U.S. Catholic university—well, that’s true.  I don’t mean to imply that Notre Dame stands alone in its complicity with organizations which are opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I know that this same story is played out at Catholic universities across America, and that new, faithful Catholic universities like Ave Maria and John Paul II have grown up in response to this crisis of educational fidelity.

One resource for up-to-date information about the problems at Catholic universities is The Cardinal Newman Society. Founded in 1993, The Cardinal Newman Society has as its mission to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education.


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