Missing The Point

SOUTH BEND, IN — In a recent Irish Rover article, Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., professor of history at Notre Dame, former chairman of the department, and president of Notre Dame Faculty for Life, describes why “there is good reason to believe” that the Chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, Richard C. Notebaert, “is ill-suited to this important role.”

The question Father raises is of surpassing importance.

As Dr. John Cavadini, director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, recently declared in connection with a seminar for executives in Catholic higher education that he organized:

Trustees of Catholic colleges and universities have a fiduciary responsibility for the Catholic character, identity, and mission of their institutions.

We have repeatedly pointed out that all those in governance at Notre Dame — the Board, the Fellows, and the Administration — are in grave default of this responsibility. Notre Dame’s Statutes of the University specify that its “essential character as a Catholic institution of higher learning shall at all times be maintained,” and its Mission Statement declares that its “Catholic identity depends upon the continuing presence of a preponderant number of Catholic intellectuals” on its faculty. As we have shown, the faculty no longer meets that test.

Accordingly, the board’s fiduciary obligation is to take whatever actions are necessary to insure the restoration of a faculty majority of committed Catholics.

It has not done so. Rather, successive boards have stood by watching as Catholic faculty representation has plummeted during the University’s quest for secular acclaim.

As board chairman, Mr. Notebaert’s fiduciary duty to remedy this situation is especially heavy. The Notre Dame board does not mirror the structure of boards expected to govern. It is too large — nearly 50 members compared with, e.g., eight for Apple, 12 for Verizon, and 16 for General Electric — and meets only three times a year. The members, accordingly, inevitably depend heavily on the Chairman and his close associates.

Let us see, then, what Father Miscamble tells us about Chairman Notebaert. Since we only touch upon highlights, we urge upon you his full article, Mr. Notebaert, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the future of Notre Dame.

Father Miscamble begins with a laudatory account of Mr. Notebaert’s “notable corporate experience” and his and his wife’s “generous capacity for giving” to worthy organizations, including the University and the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Observing, however, that Mr. Notebaert “is neither a Notre Dame alumnus nor has he had any significant prior experience in Catholic higher education,” Father Miscamble examines the reasons for believing that he “evidently does not possess a firm grasp on the identity and mission of Notre Dame as a Catholic university.” Father focuses principally upon Mr. Notebaert’s role in the lamentable Martino and Obama affairs.

As Father Miscamble summarizes the Martino matter (see our bulletins Just Stop Talking and Beating Around the Bush) Ms. Martino was appointed to the board despite her substantial contributions to pro-abortion organizations. When these incriminating facts were unearthed and publicized (by The Cardinal Newman Society, Bill McGurn (ND’80) of the Wall Street Journal, and Sycamore Trust), Ms. Martino resigned; but Mr. Notebaert vigorously defended the appointment throughout, “seem[ing] to supplant the University president” and “appear[ing] not to understand the damage that an appointment like this would do to Notre Dame’s standing as a Catholic university.”

What was especially disquieting was what Father Miscamble refers to as Mr. Notebaert’s “quite misleading statement on the matter” and his failure to apologize for his “apparent dissembling.”

Father is charitable in not describing this in detail. But we have done so in the “Cover-up” section of a prior bulletin, as has Mr. McGurn in his two articles, Notre Dame’s Chairman of the Board and Notre Dame and EMILY’S List.

In brief, while the main charge against Ms. Martino rested upon her contributions to Emily’s List, a single-purpose and powerful pro-abortion organization, Mr. Notebaert tried to persuade the Board that Ms. Martino didn’t realize the organizations to which she contributed supported abortion by describing only multiple-purpose organizations and omitting any reference to Emily’s List.

Regrettably, Father Jenkins then followed suit even in responding to questions referring explicitly to Emily’s List.

As Mr. McGurn wrote:

What does it say about Notre Dame’s chairman of the board and its priest-president that they would send out the dissembling e-mails they have?…And what does it say about [Mr. Notebaert’s] view of the intelligence of the Notre Dame board that he would put out something so dissembling?

As to the calamitous Obama affair, Father Miscamble draws attention to Mr. Notebaert’s unyielding response to Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s America article in which the bishop explained his and other bishops’ criticism of Notre Dame. (Eighty-three cardinals and bishops condemned Notre Dame’s action.)

Mr. Notebaert, Father writes,

paid no attention to the damage that the Obama invitation inflicted on Notre Dame’s standing in the broad Catholic community and he breezed past any serious consideration of the relationship between Notre Dame and the Catholic Church.

Most tellingly, as Father notes, Mr. Notebaert “ended…with an apparent endorsement of the Land O’Lakes statement,” presumably in response to Bishop D’Arcy’s question in his America article whether the “guiding light” for schools like Notre Dame is to be Land O’Lakes or Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Father Miscamble closes with the same question:

Does Mr. Notebaert hold that the Land O’Lakes Statement, with its strictures for institutional autonomy from the Church and the aping of our supposed secular peers, should guide Notre Dame into the future? Is this the vision he puts before the future leaders of Notre Dame?

The best answer would be Board action requiring the establishment of a hiring policy designed to insure the ultimate restoration of a majority of committed Catholics to the faculty. Only then will the board redeem itself and discharge its solemn duty to this great university, its founders, those priests and faculty and others who have nourished its Catholic identity over the years, its alumni and donors and parents and students, and the Church.


Roadmap for Catholic students. As we have often said, a discriminating student can still obtain an outstanding Catholic education at Notre Dame, and many do. The challenge is to know which professors and courses to choose.
There are now two valuable aids provided by two fine student organizations: The Irish Rover has published a list and description of recommended professors, and the Orestes Brownson Council has established a program under which upperclassmen will “aid students in seeking a truly Catholic education.”

Faculty and Department Right to Life Representation. The Irish Rover article also included a list of faculty members of the Faculty for Life (UFL) organization as well as the departments who are not represented by any UFL members. While the list surely does not include all pro-life faculty, it is nevertheless worth noting that there are a number of departments with no UFL representation yet. These include, for example, Classics; English; Film, Television & Theatre; Finance; Gender Studies; Journalism, Ethics & Democracy; Peace Studies; Psychology; Theology; and several science and engineering departments.
Student Right to Life Videos & Newsletter. The student Right to Life Club now has a YouTube site. Take a few minutes to watch the testimony of these wonderful young men and women. And take another few minutes to subscribe to their newsletter.
Archbishop Dolan at Notre Dame. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan spoke recently at Notre Dame at the inaugural event of a new organization, The ND Human Dignity Project . The Project is situated within the Institute for Church Life and is administered by the office of University Life Initiatives, The Project’s pro-life objectives seem substantially identical to those of the Fund for the Protection of Human Life, the pro-life organization with which readers of our bulletins are familiar, though the Dignity Project’s “human rights” mission is more expansive. It is encouraging to see the Project’s pledge to “welcome partnerships with other institutes, offices, and departments of at the University.”
Obama’s Notre Dame Sting Redux. In an article recounting the Notre Dame/Obama episode, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami described how President Obama’s subsequent anti-Catholic actions showed how “Notre Dame’s leadership” was “played by the President” – a subject we also have recently examined. (In 2009, Archbishop Wenski led a Mass of Reparation for Notre Dame’s honoring of President Obama.)
Please join the fight to keep Notre Dame Catholic by supporting our Annual Campaign with a Year-end Donation.

We’ve reached barely 5 percent of Notre Dame’s 120,000 alumni and need your help reaching more. Our membership goal for 2012 is another 5,000 alumni, family and friends of the University and we must raise about $20,000 to meet this goal.

Notre Dame is periously close to losing its Catholic identity. The facts speak for themselves. But without an organization like Sycamore, who is going even to notice?

To make a tax-deductible donation and support our mission of Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please click here.

16 Responses to “Missing The Point”

  1. Ralph J Argen MD "53 September 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I have been keeping up with all the great work of the Sycamore Trust and their battle with Notre Dame. I felt they and the Church were a lost cause remaining true to our religion.
    Now even some higher clergy and ceying foul at Obama’s dictum on the Catholic hospitals.

    They supported the democrats for years while they were acting against the Church and they voted for him. They are getting what they deserve they are shutting the door after the horse left the barn.

    I spent 10 years on the Science Asvisory Council and it was enjoyable but a waste of time convincing them or anything.

  2. Thanks Bill for giving us Fr Miscamble’s article, most of us would have never read it otherwise. It is an excellent article that addresses the important issues. Fr has a lot of fortitude to publish this and will certainly take a bashing from the liberals but he believes the saying ” The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing” and did something about it.

  3. Thanks, Bill, for the insight on the Theology Department and pro-life. Maybe someone will alert the department chair that its members would do well to be out-front among the Faculty for Life.

  4. I find it difficult to believe that it would be hard to convince someone who understands that in order to be Catholic, one must be in communion with Christ’s Church, that one cannot be in communion and be autonomous, simultaneously. For this reason, I am hoping that Mr. Notebaert will change his mind.

  5. Sr. Agnes Marie Regan, OSF September 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I watched the U TUBE presentations by Matt and Samantha who recently visited Hannah’s House in Mishawaka. They are two outstanding ND students that give us older alums great hope and joy. They and their colleagues are hope for the future of Pro Life and ND>

  6. How is it that Faculty for Life has no representation from the Dept. of Theology?

  7. It is an obvious question, Edward, to which we do not have the answer. There is this to be said, however: This organization is fairly recently founded and is no doubt still building its membership, and there are certainly members of the Theology Department who are strongly pro-life. For all we know, some may attend the organization’s meetings even though not members. Perhaps the Irish Rover has done an important service here, for it would be both revelatory and a severe embarrassment to the department and University (one hopes) if the department were not represented by a large contingent of members in reasonably short order.

  8. Carmel – Thank you for your your comments. While I appreciate your points regarding the supposed negativity of the bulletins, I have realized that for far too long, many of us have been guilty of treading lightly and politely. It was not until I started reading the wise and truthful words of the members of Sycamore Trust, that I came to understand the whole picture of the downward slide of Notre Dame. Even more profound has been the many students who have expressed how intimidated they have felt by pro Vagina Monologue and anti-Catholic ND professors. The profound disappointment expressed by these students is all I need to know. With all due respect Carmel, perhaps you would benefit by focusing on the negativity imposed on students by the know-it-all, secular professors who do not support the Catholic mission of Notre Dame.

  9. Thank you for your response, ND Mom. I am a long supporter of the Sycamore Trust and I have greatly benefitted from their excellent research related to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame. I am one of the students to whom you refer. I have been on the receiving end of more than enough hostility and backlash from secular professors (as well as students and administration) for the beliefs and positions to which I hold firm and relentlessly stand for. The intimidation is real, to be sure, and the negativity is draining to the point of despair. And it is at that point that I have to realize that despair is of the Devil. I will never deny that things aren’t bad at Notre Dame with regards to the Catholic Identity, but I refuse to give into despair and self-pity. I realized this after my junior year and, during my senior year, I adopted the attitude of meeting the haters where they were. When they saw charity and positivity, they were much more open to hearing what I had to say. From this, their respect for what I stood for grew and a number of them were willing to at least accomodate the Catholic identity. Problems weren’t solved, but strides were made that would not have been possible with an attitude of negativity. This makes me think that those who respond inimically to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame are reacting more to our negativity (which distorts their understanding of Catholicism) than to Catholicism itself. Nevertheless, there certainly are people who truly do resent the Catholic identity, regardless of how we interact with them, and it may come to a point that we must meet their negativity with our own. Positivity and negativity both have a place in the fight for Notre Dame’s soul. Having tried both, I am now inclined to start with positivity and not bring in the negativity until I absolutely must.

  10. I understand that the Catholic identity of Notre Dame is not as robust as it used to be. I thank you Sycamore Trust for its great work in keeping an eye on the “state of the union” with regards to Catholic hiring, pro-life, etc. As someone who is intimately close to the ND campus community, the negativity of these bulletins is very draining and a detriment to its effectiveness, I think. You would do well to applaud some of the *good* things going on on campus. Yes, I know, it isn’t up to the standard that you wish for and expect–however this does not mean the efforts are any less praiseworthy or are not making a difference on campus. If you praised the good things, the positive steps (without references to past mistakes!!!), encouraged the good progress, and did it with a sincere and grateful attitude, you might see more fruit.
    Think of it like dealing with someone who is overcoming addiction: Do you verbally beat this person up, not letting him/her get past the fact that s/he has made some grievious mistakes in the past–mistakes that were wholly avoidable if s/he had made different decisions and acted with more integrity? No, that is terrible bedside manner. You need to be firm, but ever-charitable. Help the person understand where s/he went wrong, but be there to lift him/her up when s/he might mess up again.
    Notre Dame is going through a similar rehabilitation. There are many “trying” efforts going on. Please give it credit for that instead of rubbing its nose in the muck of a mess it has created for itself.

  11. Carmel D. raises a point that we take seriously and have thought about a good deal and about which we have come to a considered judgment of policy.

    Preliminarily, let me say that it is not the case that we take no note of praiseworthy efforts. In this bulletin, the Notes items are largely positive.

    However, it is certainly true that our principal focus is upon the facts that show that Notre Dame is no longer an authentically Catholic university. The reasons include these:

    1. The analogy to a recovering addict fails because the evidence is that those in governance have no intention of restoring ND’s Catholic identity. To the contrary, Fr. Jenkins’s adoption of a hiring goal of 50% check-the-box Catholics demonstrates full satisfaction with the status quo.

    Had we reason to believe otherwise, we would be his and his associates’ strongest defenders, for we recognize the resistance there would be among the faculty and the resolve that would be required to meet that obstacle.

    There is evidence, to be sure, of determined efforts to shore up the public image of Notre Dame as a Catholic university, an image that has been so gravely damaged over the past half dozen years by episodes such as the honoring of President Obama, The Vagina Monologues, and the Queer Film Festival. Those efforts are not all public relations. They include some worthy steps on the life issues, for example.

    But they do not go to the core issue, the makeup of the faculty. Rather, the publicity associated with them tends strongly to mask that problem. The goal seems to be to persuade the public that Notre Dame remains a Catholic university without making it so where it really counts, in the classroom.

    That leads to my second point. We have discovered what one would expect, namely, that those alumni and others outside the University for the most part don’t understand what has happened over the past 30 years or so. Why should they? All depends on the character of the faculty, and the erosion of Catholic faculty representation has proceeded gradually and out of sight. Accordingly, those who are uninformed find it hard to believe that a place they knew as robustly Catholic, that still looks Catholic, and that still is Catholic in many ways outside the classroom is anything but Catholic. And — here is the point — many will grasp at any sign of Catholicism as evidence either that ND is still Catholic or that at any rate it is “back on track.” For us to plant the seeds for that would be for us to mislead rather than to enlighten.

    Sycamore’s overarching aim is to bring to light the truth about the erosion of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. A physician does no service to his patient suffering from late term congestive heart failure to assure him that at any rate he does not have cancer. The crucial facts are those that disclose the heretofore hidden malady, not those outward and misleading signs of continuing good health.

    Still, I quite agree that it is important to note that all is not lost so that alumni and other members of the ND family do not give up and also simply because it is true that important elements of Catholicism persist. It may be arguable, I suppose, that we do not do enough of that, but I think it cannot be said that we do none of it. We repeatedly say that ND remains the most Catholic of the major universities but for CUA and that discriminating students can secure a splendid Catholic education, and we pay special attention to the work of the dedicated student organizations and the work of organizations such as the Center for Ethics & Culture and the Fund for the Protection of Human Life.

    At any rate, I think it far better to strike the balance in favor of disclosing the central facts of secularization lest attention be taken away from those facts though wishful thinking.

    I thank Carmel D. for raising this significant issue and giving me an opportunity to explain our policy. She gives us good reason to continue to reflect upon the matter with an eye toward getting the balance right in terms of the considerations we think most important.

  12. Does it not seem that the underlying assumption of those who downplay this issue is that Catholicism is, at its core, something of a quaint superstition, not an intellectually respectable belief system? If THAT is an accurate assessment of the midset, then should we be at all optimistice that ND will regain a Catholic identity?

    When I hear the issue framed in terms of trying to “reconcile” faith and reason, it tells me that the “faith” is implicitly portrayed as the intellectually inferior alternative. But, in fact, hasn’t the Church always made claims of objective truth? And isn’t truth the whole point of intellectual inquiry?

    As I recall my Scripture, Christ promised that THE TRUTH would set us free, not “a traditional and wholesome belief system that may or may not stand up to rogorous intellectual ‘inquiry'”.

  13. Mark, you make an interesting point regarding faith, truth, and the view of Roman Catholicism as quaint superstition. Unknowingly, you also illustrate it. The scripture to which you refer is John 8:31-32, “Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him,* “’If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Jesus is speaking about freedom from sin, or a proper relationship with God. On the other hand, the context in which you use it relates to perceived freedoms we create for ourselves in this time-space continuum via law and science. The “truth” of our science and law can be very transient and should not be mistaken for the true relationship Abraham or Mother Theresa had with God. Roman Catholicism and our scripture speak to our relationship with God, not to law and science.
    Indeed, faith in God can become “quaint superstition” if we apply it to our law and science instead of relationships of love. If there is a relationship between faith and reason (some would argue there is not), “Faith” cannot be inferior to “reason.” In fact, I would argue (and you seem to imply), faith is the basis for the human pursuit of reason. What is reason moving toward, if not what Abraham described as God? Scripture calls us to a loving relationship with God and our neighbor. Historically, our institutional church and, presently, the University of Notre Dame have demonstrated hubris in claiming the mantle of secular “truth” as an excuse for pursuing worldly wealth and power. It did not work for the Church in the case of Galileo, nor does it work for Notre Dame elitists attempting to justify their coziness with baby killers. Both the institutional Church and Father Jenkins have done Roman Catholicism a grave disservice by attempting to justify intrusions into the transient secular system of “truth.” They have reduced their “faith” into quaint superstition. We absolutely must guard against making the same error as we attempt to right their wrongs.
    I would like to thank William Dempsey for bringing us, the children of Our Lady, back to a right relationship with God. I am a pseudo-scientist (Engineering Ph.D. and graduate of The USAF Test Pilot School) but like Einstein I acknowledge my search for God motivates my thirst for discovery. Ultimately, we may discover more significant secular “truths” that will aid our relationship with God. Personally, I take great solace that post-enlightenment science has produced the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Theory of Relativity, and Dark Energy. These discoveries make the timeless, omnipresent God of Abraham more real to me today.
    However, scientific discoveries may be outdated tomorrow. Ultimately, we can only test our secular “truths” against “faith” that has stood the test of four thousand years. Instead of gaining motivation from the belief that influencing others is most important, the Church, the Notre Dame elitists, and we must look to our relationship with God first. Mr. Dempsey is correct. The Notre Dame elitists have failed that test. Let us be sure we, the children of Our Lady, do not follow their lead. While they are attempting to reconcile their faith to transient secular “truths,” we must ensure we possess a well understood faith to which we can continue reconciling secular discoveries. Please be careful how you use scripture!

  14. I’d better be clear. I do not accept Darwin’s theory either. I believe God created mankind in His image, NOT that he somehow capitalized on or intervened in an ongoing, uncaused, natural “evolutionary” process.

    What fosterred my comment was the apparent underlying assumption that the adherance to such traditional, orthodox beliefs is somewhat less itellectually “respectable” than heterodox views based on someone’s notion of “science”. I disagree with such assumptions, particularly when they are espused to undercut certain essential tenets of Catholic moral theology.



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