The Notre Dame 88 Need Continued Support From Pro-Life Advocates
by Brian Simboli, Ph.D.
February 1, 2010
Brian Simboli graduated from Swarthmore College (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa), where he helped start a pro-life group in 1983. With research interests at the interface of philosophy and economics, he received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame and is completing a part-time masters in economics.
Many persons who attended the March for Life last Friday saw banners asking that charges against the Notre Dame 88 be dropped. The ND 88 protested the University of Notre Dame’s conferral of an honorary law degree on a politician with great political power to promote his pro-abortion agenda.
Their case has generated heated controversy that will only compound itself if trials commence. Now is a good time to suspend emotion and ask the question: should the pro-life community support dropping of charges?
Under normal circumstances a university has a legitimate concern to maintain order on its campus. However, the Obama invitation created a special set of circumstances. Following the example of civil rights protesters of the 1960s, a group of committed pro-lifers decided to exercise peaceful civil disobedience in protesting the universitys decision to honor one of the most pro-abortion politicians in history.
The universitys president disagrees and refuses to call for a dropping of charges. Is he–not to mention his presumed supporters among university officers, trustees, and fellows–correct to persist in this refusal? No, for at least three reasons.
First, it is unbecoming for a Catholic university president, a priest no less, not to request under these circumstances that criminal charges be dropped. Those arrested include another priest and several nuns.
The ND 88 attested to beliefs entirely consistent with the Catholic tradition, but the universitys administration in effect treats them as common criminals merely intent on disruption. In doing so, it allows a legalistic and bureaucratic fixation on its trespassing rules to undermine the solidarity it should otherwise express, in both action and policy, with all committed pro-life Catholics and indeed with all pro-lifers from any religious background. The administrations heavy-handedness in this matter is unnecessary.
Second, there is already a public relations crisis that has done untold damage to the university and what it purports to represent. This crisis will deepen if trials proceed. Regardless what they may think about the ND 88s actions, the universitys officers, trustees, and fellows should find this crisis of great concern.
Consider for example the many now-alienated alumni who question their inclusion in what the university is wont to describe as the Notre Dame family. And what of all those pro-life individuals who once regarded the university fondly and would have considered sending their children there? Calling for a dropping of charges against the 88, in tandem with a continued development of the universitys recently expressed commitment to the pro-life cause, as well as other initiatives to restore the universitys observance of the magisterium, all can play a role in changing these attitudes and restoring the universitys image.
Such actions can help forestall the prospect of a lost generation of young Catholics who, eager to explore the beauty and depths of their intellectual tradition and its contributions to society and culture, would otherwise have attended the university.
Finally, what of the universitys responsibility to its surrounding community? Taxpayers now face the prospect of paying for litigation that will be a direct consequence of the universitys improper decision to confer an honorary law degree on a vociferously pro-abortion President. This litigation will gum up the court system.
I close with some recommendations. While there are no signals yet that the university administration will support a dropping of charges, it should do so. If it does, there will be a resoundingly positive reaction from pro-lifers across the country.
Pending such a change of heart by the university president and those who support him among the university officers, trustees, and fellows, pro-lifers should sign the petition. Furthermore, in the spirit of canon 212, pro-life Catholics should respectfully ask their bishops and the USCCB to request dropping of charges against the ND 88.
Public intellectuals, writers, and editorialists need to continue promoting the cause of the ND 88. They should avoid perpetuating endless debate, which will do little to repair the situation, about this or that particular of the demonstrations. Broad considerations like those offered above are important to accentuate.
Additionally, Notre Dame should stop inviting presidents of whatever political party to commencements, which are hardly venues for meaningful dialog.
This practice serves no educational purpose and undermines the universitys countercultural efficacy as a critic of society. The trouble this practice will continue to cause far outweighs whatever prestige the university thinks it enjoys from presidential visits.
Finally, in a more positive vein, let us all give three rousing cheers for recent efforts to promote the pro-life cause at the University of Notre Dame.
We should especially support and laud any new path-breaking efforts to integrate pro-life themes within curricula and faculty and student research. These efforts will provide a much-needed and bold model for other universities across the country and will challenge the pro-abortion culture pervasive in many of them.
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