Beating Around The Bush


In this bulletin, we describe the misdirection employed by top leaders of the University in their effort to salvage the appointment to the board of  trustees  of a long-time supporter of pro-abortion organizations and what this sorry episode means in the struggle for the soul of the University.

SOUTH BEND, IN —While the resignation of Roxanne Martino from the Notre Dame Board of Directors is welcome indeed, this deeply troubling episode raises questions of the utmost importance about the leadership and future course of the University.

After all, were it not for the ever more incriminating successive disclosures of support by Ms. Martino of pro-abortion organizations, she would still be involved in setting policy for the school. And had the shifting and increasingly implausible explanations given by the Board Chairman, Richard Notebaert, and adopted by Father John Jenkins succeeded in quelling the protests, she would still be in place.

The “blame the messenger” Notre Dame public relations press release announcing Ms. Martino’s resignation is both illuminating and discouraging.

First, the University cannot even bring itself to concede that EMILY’s List and theIllinois Personal PAC are in fact pro-choice. Rather, in unusually placid and accommodating words, the University says these organizations only “characterize themselves as pro-choice,” as in “he says he is Christian.” Is the suggestion that Ms. Martino just did not believe these organizations’ own pro-choice “characterization”?

Much more importantly, there is not the faintest hint by either Mr. Notebaert or Ms. Martino that her actions bore upon her qualifications for the Board.

Ms. Martino’s declaration that she is “fully committed to all aspects of Catholic teaching and to the mission of Notre Dame” without any expression of regret for her support of pro-abortion organizations surely rings false, but much more worrisome is Mr. Notebaert’s assertion that Ms. Martino is “absolutely dedicated in every way to the Catholic mission of the University.”

Mr. Notebaert  seems clearly to be saying that Ms. Martino’s association with pro-abortion organizations is fully in harmony with the mission of this Catholic university. Unhappily, this is of a piece with Mr. Notebaert’s actions, joined in by Father Jenkins, throughout this scandalous episode.

The significance of Mr. Notebaert’s statement was perceived immediately among pro-life advocates. Anthony Lauinger, Vice President of the National Right to Life League whose association with Notre Dame has been long and deep, observed with alarm that Mr. Notebaert’s statement “raises grave concerns about whether some at Notre Dame even comprehend what constitutes ‘the Catholic mission of this University.”

In this bulletin we trace the unfolding of events from the time of Ms. Martino’s election. They raise questions that demand answers respecting how Board members are selected, their qualifications, the vetting process, full disclosure to those who elect the members, candor by the Chairman in informing the Board and candor by the President in responding to alumni, and the diminishing role of the Order.

We also furnish Fr. Wilson Miscamble’s courageous and compelling address  during the recent Sycamore Trust meeting at Notre Dame in which he laid waste to this appointment and described how it has undermined the University’s tepid effort to undo the damage caused by its honoring of President Obama.

Our bulletin is considerably longer than usual. We ask both your patience and your attention. The matter is of large importance.

Initial Disclosures: Ms. Martino’s support of EMILY’s List

As we recounted  earlier (Just Stop Talking and Notre Dame Fellows Elect Pro-Abortion Trustee), shortly after the election of Ms. Martino there emerged escalating reports of her long, regular, and  substantial support of EMILY’s List, an organization with the sole mission of  “electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.” EMILY’s List, as we reported, is one of the most powerful pro-abortion organizations in the country. The list of pro-choice candidates it has helped elect is a rogue’s gallery of enemies of the Church on the defining moral issue of the day.

  • First,  the Cardinal Newman Society disclosed that Ms. Martino had contributed $16,150 to EMILY’s List between 2005 and 2008.
  • Next, Sycamore Trust  reported that Ms. Martino’s contributions had been much larger — $27,150 — over a much longer period and were in fact current.   Ms. Martino began contributing to EMILY’s List in 1998 and began major giving in 2005. In 2006 she contributed $4,900, almost the $5000legal limit, and from 2007 through 2010 she gave the full $5,000 each year. Her most recent $5000 contribution for 2010 was made last December 23rd.

The Cover-Up

Bill McGurn (ND ’80), a prominent Wall Street Journal columnist and former high public servant, played a major role in unveiling the repeated efforts by Mr. Notebaert, joined in by Father Jenkins, to screen these contributions from the Board and alumni.

In his first article, Mr. McGurn described Ms. Martino’s  extensive support of EMILY’s List and the exclusively pro-abortion agenda of that organization as background for his report that Mr. Notebaert had sent a misleading memorandum to Board members in defense of Ms. Martino. Mr. Notebaert’s explanation:

She has through the years contributed to organizations that provide a wide range of important services and support to women. She did not realize, however, that several of these organizations also take a pro-choice position.

This description had nothing to do with EMILY’s List and its single-purpose agenda, but evidently Mr. Notebaert hoped it would serve. Mr. McGurn observed:

What does it say about his judgment as board chairman. And what does it say about his view of the intelligence of the Notre Dame board that he would put out something so dissembling?

In his second article, Notre Dame and Emily’s List, Mr. McGurn turned his attention to Father Jenkins. He reported that Father Jenkins had simply copied Mr. Notebaert’s explanation in response to questions from alumni. Moreover, copies of some of these exchanges that we have in our possession confirm that the inquiries were explicitly, and only, about EMILY’s List.

Then came the most damaging admission, this from Mr. Notebaert whom the University called into service to respond to Mr. McGurn’s pressing the University for an example of “important services” provided by EMILY’s List  unrelated to abortion.

With no examples to give, Mr. Notebaert made the breath-taking concession that  his and Fr. Jenkins’s description of the organizations to which Ms. Martino had contributed “did not apply to EMILY’s List.”

There was no effort to plead ignorance or mistake. The dissimulation in offering a bogus explanation — one that appeared to cover EMILY’s List but did not — was evidently intentional.

As Mr. McGurn trenchantly observed:

At this point the question of judgment goes far beyond Martino. What does it say about Notre Dame’s chairman of the board and its priest-president that they would send out the dissembling emails they have?

Forced to say something at last about EMILY’s List, Mr. Notebaert  declared without visible means of support simply that  Ms. Martino “was unaware” of what EMILY’s List did. This would be a risible claim for any literate person in his or her right senses. For a CEO of a company charged with handling some $8 billion in assets it is surreal.

(A footnote: Bill Dempsey e-mailed EMILY’s List to ask for solicitation materials and was told that he would have to become a member by contributing. Nevertheless, in short order he received two e-mails (An anti-choice extremistand Our Senate Firewall) seeking support for pro-abortion actions. As a member, Ms. Martino must have received countless messages over the past 12 years.)

The Most Recent and Conclusive Evidence

Finally, in his June 3rd  report, Mr. McGurn revealed that “over roughly the same period Ms. Martino gave to another group solely dedicated to advancing abortion rights, the Illinois State Personal PAC.” “Like EMILY’s List,” he wrote, “this group makes no secret of its agenda, stating up front across the top of its home page: “Vital to Electing a Pro-Choice Illinois.” But it does not stop there. It  promotes abortion by directing women to abortion providers and  advising teenagers how to obtain abortions without parental consent.

The record of contributions discloses that in 2008 Ms. Martino donated $3,500 to this organization, which means she contributed $8,500 in that single year to organizations with the sole mission of electing pro-choice candidates to public office and promoting abortion. In 2007 the total was $6,300.

Mr. McGurn concluded:

Very hard to see how a woman who gives so repeatedly to two different single issue prochoice groups is not…well…prochoice. Every bit of new information, however, suggests that the bigger issue here is not Ms. Martino but the University itself: specifically, the chairman and the president  and how forthcoming they are being with the truth.

Mr. McGurn is hardly alone. Pro-choice commentators have lamented Ms. Martino’s resignation, but we have found none of any stripe who have credited the tortured explanations advanced in her defense.

Rather, noted Catholic author and commentator George Weigel, in a detailed account of the case, referred to the “dissembling” of those in governance in their attempts “to wriggle out of the bind.”

Father Miscamble’s address

At Sycamore Trust’s June 4th breakfast meeting, Fr. Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C. — the founder and president of the Notre Dame chapter of Faculty for Life and  member of the national organization’s board of directors, a former chair of the History Department, a former rector of Moreau Seminary, award-winning author and gifted teacher — spoke with courage and candor about the waning Catholic identity of the University and specifically addressed the Martino episode.

We cannot do justice to this remarkable address here.  It should be required reading for all who love Notre Dame. We earnestly press the full text upon you now.

Very briefly:

After an introductory gratifying encomium to Sycamore Trust — it “plays an enormously important role in promoting the Catholic character and mission of Notre Dame” — and recognition of the “many wonderful developments taking place at Notre Dame,”  Father turned to describing “the reality of our circumstance.”

Speaking “plainly and directly about recent developments,” Father used the Obama incident as a point of departure to describe the pro-life steps taken when the administration “was pushed into damage control mode.”

We should be “grateful for these measures,” he said, but should know

that  the main pro-life efforts on campus continue to be those pushed by the students in Notre Dame Right to Life and by those faculty most closely associated with the Center for Ethics and Culture, certain terrific folk in the Law School, and the Faculty for Life group.

“Speaking for myself,” Father Miscamble said, “I would say the central administration did what they felt was required but little more.” And the Martino case, he said, indicates there is not the “desire and commitment” to do more.

Noting the obvious implausibility of the “ignorance defense” mounted by Mr. Notebaert and Fr. Jenkins on behalf of Ms. Martino, Fr. Miscamble asked: “Would an ‘unambiguously pro-life institution’ [Fr. Jenkins’s description of Notre Dame] seek to defend this appointment?”

As  George Weigel put it:

What is so striking about the Martino case…is that it makes clear that Father Jenkins’s modest efforts to demonstrate the university’s pro-life commitment since the 2009 Obama commencement have been largely in vain. Things have gotten worse, not better, since 2009

Broadening the perspective beyond life issues, Father Miscamble continued:

In many ways this matter is more important than the Obama fiasco for what it means about the future direction of Notre Dame and for what it tells us about those who lead our university.

The case, he said, had raised “substantial questions about the suitability of Mr. Notebaert “ — who “seems to have supplanted Fr. Jenkins on the matter” — “to lead our Board.” Nor has this been “an episode in which Holy Cross has sought to lead,” for “the six Holy Cross Fellows seem ready to acquiesce in Mr. Notebaert’s decisions.”

Fr. Miscamble closed with a ringing plea to alumni to “stay involved with Notre Dame” because the debate as to competing visions of its future “is occurring right now.” On the one side there is the “complete institutional autonomy from the Church” proclaimed by the Land O’Lakes Statement that Mr. Notebaert seems to champion. On the other is John Paul II’s  Ex Corde Ecclesiae description of the nature of a Catholic university that is incorporated into Notre Dame’s Mission Statement:

A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in Him all things can be brought to their completion. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame wishes to contribute to this educational mission.

George Weigel has reported that a meeting between Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Fr. Jenkins immediately preceded  Ms. Martino’s resignation. Bishop Rhoades’s dedication to Ex  Corde Ecclesiae is well known. One may wonder whether Mr. Notebaert’s insistence that Ms. Martino is “just the sort of person we want on our board” notwithstanding her long engagement with pro-choice organizations is a mark of his and Bishop Rhoades’ opposing views of what sort of university Notre Dame should be.


As with the much belated settlement of the ND 88 cases, the resignation of Ms. Martino under pressure is plainly designed to cut the University’s losses. The hope is that the Board and the Fellows and alumni and the public will just forget what has happened.

It should not be so. There should be an independent investigation and report. As Mr. McGurn wrote:

One would think that the priests and at least one bishop on the Notre Dame board should be demanding some hard answers here. This is a big story…and the Notre Dame community deserves a full and complete accounting…of what Notre Dame’s top officials knew about this, and when they knew it.

And one would think the members of the Board would be asking the same questions. On any corporate board the sort of obfuscation engaged in here by Mr. Notebaert would not be entertained. Just what sort of a Board is Notre Dame’s? Who runs this place anyway?

It is past time, we suggest, for the leaders of the Order to rouse themselves and reclaim the University as a Catholic institution honoring in practice and not just in word its Mission Statement, which we repeat again because of its soaring vision:

A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in Him all things can be brought to their completion. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame wishes to contribute to this educational mission.

[separator line=”yes”]

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply