Identity Crisis

SOUTH BEND, IN —In this bulletin we describe, among other happenings, the University’s role in the distribution of pornography to students. First, however, we offer some introductory comments about the disparate messages sent by various of the University’s actions.

Notre Dame is beset by an identity crisis, neither truly Catholic nor fully secular. It fails its own test of Catholic identity because of the radical reduction of Catholic representation on its faculty, as we have shown. Still, important Catholic elements persist.

The result is that actions by or at the University sometimes evidence the erosion of its Catholic character and sometimes the Catholic strengths that remain.

It is crucially important to recognize that these events are of only secondary importance. What counts for a university is who teaches and what they teach.

Still, these events are significant symptoms of what’s happening to the University. Episodes such as The Vagina Monologues, the Queer Film Festival, and the honoring of President Obama alert unsuspecting alumni and others that something is amiss. On the other hand, projects such as the University’s adult stem cell research initiative that we described in a recent bulletin give hope that what has been lost may yet be regained.

In this bulletin we continue our account of events that evidence this identity crisis.

The University as pornography enabler.

The last edition of The Irish Rover contains an arresting lead article about the University’s role in making pornography available to students.

It is no secret that the hookup culture has a hold at Notre Dame just as it does on campuses across the country. The article explores the relationship between pornography and illicit sex and confirms the pervasiveness of pornography at Notre Dame.

“As many members of the Notre Dame community attest, Notre Dame is no exception to [pornography’s] widespread use, primarily in male dorms.”

The principal source of pornography for students is doubtless the Internet, probably supplemented by television. The University controls both. It is the Internet Service provider and the supplier of cable television.

As to the Internet, as the Rover reported, University policy prohibits students and others from “view[ing]” or “send[ing]” “obscene, pornographic, sexually explicit or offensive material.” However, the Rover also reported that the University “does not currently filter any sites” in order to block pornography.

This prompted us to ask the University why not.

Our question:

As the ISP and the provider also of cable television to students, the University doubtless has the ability to block sites and channels that are without question egregiously pornographic. This would not, of course, prevent students from gaining access to pornography. It is too omnipresent. But at least much of the worst material might be blocked and, more importantly, the action would amount to a statement by the University. [We] assume pornographic magazines are not offered in Hammes or elsewhere on campus, but at present the University delivers it to the students via the Internet and television in large and unrestricted volume.

The University spokesperson’s answer, “essentially the same” as he had given the Rover, was – brace yourselves – that the University relies upon the students not to look.

“The University relies on the integrity of our students, faculty and staff to abide by this and many other policies.”

It is no criticism of the spokesperson, who is courteous and prompt in responding to our inquiries and must work with what he has, to note the transparent inanity of this explanation. Surely common sense and common experience teach those responsible for these services that to count on students’ self-restraint respecting pornography is to invite ridicule.

So one can only speculate as to the real reason the University serves as the principal distributor of pornography at Notre Dame. To make matters worse, the University charges for doing it. But what is in any event clear is that, since the University thereby acts as an enabler of what the Church teaches is grave sin, the University is not acting in accord with Ex Corde Ecclesiae’s injunction that at a truly Catholic university “ Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities.”

Lax on pornography for students while conscientious on birth control for staff.

This heedlessness respecting pornography contrasts sharply with a laudable University action we have described recently: its opposition to the proposed Administration regulation that would require the University to include coverage for contraception in the health insurance it provides employees.

The irony is striking: The University conscientiously resists subsidizing birth control pills for its adult employees but does not do what it can to interdict a fetid stream of pornography to students entrusted by parents to its care.

More items of interest:

Two of the prime movers in Notre Dame’s stem cell projects — Dr. David Hyde and Dr. Phillip Sloan recently participated in an important Vatican conference on the subject, and Professor Richard W. Garnett, Associate Dean of the Law School, has been appointed as a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new Committee on Religious Liberty.
“Want smarter children? Space siblings at least two years apart, research shows.” That’s Notre Dame’s billing of a recent study by Notre Dame researchers. They built upon prior research that, they write, has found that “children from large families generally have lower educational attainment, lower IQ scores, worse unemployment outcomes, and are more likely to engage in risky behavior.” The University’s praiseworthy refusal, as a Catholic university, to sponsor research that could be used to promote embryonic stem cell research evidently is not thought relevant to research that doubtless will be seized upon by Planned Parenthood and its ilk with stress upon its Notre Dame provenance.
The report is likely to have substantial impact. Already it is reported that “[t]he news is making the rounds of the blogosphere this week since so many parents want to do everything they can so their child can have an advantage.”

In a recent notable column in The Washington Post, “Obama Turns His Back on Catholics,” that closely parallels one of our recent bulletins , Michael Gerson opens his analysis of the administration’s assaults on the Church with a description of how Notre Dame was taken in by the President when he was honored in 2009. Gerson’s view of the emptiness of Obama’s carefully crafted words echoes our report
Catholics, eager for reassurance from a leader whom 54 percent of them had supported, were duly reassured. But Obama’s statement had the awkward subordinate clauses of a contentious speech-writing process. Qualifications and code words produced a pledge that pledged little.

We have often urged the support of the centers of Catholicism on campus that nourish the Catholic character of the school. One of the most important of these is the student Right to Life club. Visit their home page to see what they do and to contribute. We especially recommend subscribing to the club’s newsletter, “Footprints,” which you can do at
We remind you again of the opportunity to contribute in support of the upcoming student-organized Edith Stein conference. For a description and instructions see our previous bulletin.

15 Responses to “Identity Crisis”

  1. The Observer moderator has deleted comments on the web that support Catholic teaching on the disordered nature of same-sex sexual attraction and overcoming disordered inclinations of any nature.

  2. Why limit this to pornography? Why block out only one heresy?
    Pornography is contrary to Church doctrine respecting human nature the University ought not facilitate its distribution. According to the argument, because “the University doubtless has the ability to block sites and channels that are without question egregiously pornographic”, the University ought to block access to those sites. I confess I do not understand the meaning (or need) for modifying pornographic as “egregiously”, but even if we limit the block to garden variety pornography, this hardly addresses the larger problem that pervades this discussion. For good or bad, the internet contains almost anything the human mind can conceive. Many of those things are heresy and contrary to Church doctrine. Pornography is one example.
    The early Church spent centuries defending true Christology against heresies such as Arianism, Adoptionism, Apollinarianism, Modalism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Nestorianism, Priscillianism, Sabellianism, and more. And, that was not all. The Church later resisted the Donatists and the Albingensians, among others. These were grave matters; the Church was, at times, rent. Too, the revolt started by Luther in the 16th century gave birth to numerous heresies that, over the next 500 years spawned even more heresies.
    In addition to pornography, the internet contains many sites that discuss and support these heresies. If the University blocks access to pornography sites (and especially egregiously pornographic sites), why should it not block access to sites supporting Arianism? Why should it not block sites that deny the primacy of the Church of Rome and the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff?
    Of course, some will say sites supporting these theological heresies are not as prevalent or popular (at least with college students) as pornography. But, those heresies are no less pernicious, and some are more so.
    In the event, let’s consider more modern heresies that ought to be blocked, if anything ought to be blocked, and which are as prevalent on the internet as pornography. Let’s also stay close to home. The internet contains all the horrors of abortion, and much of it is accompanied by a fierce anti-Catholicism. If the University blocks pornography, why shouldn’t it block pro-abortion sites? The great Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc wrote in “The Great Heresies” that Islam was the most dangerous and pernicious heresy in history. Not surprisingly, the internet is sated with pro-Islam sites preaching vile anti-Semitism and jihad and Sharia and all the rest. If the University blocks pornography, why shouldn’t it block pro-Islam sites? Another doctrine at war with the Church that is popular on the internet is the heresy of liberation theology, which is Marxism. Liberation theology’s rejection of private property and its advocacy (or at least tolerance) of violence are as harmful to human nature as pornography. If the University blocks pornography, why shouldn’t it block liberation theology sites?
    These three examples are not detached from modern college life. We saw the honoring in 2009 of the mass murderer Barack Hussein Obama; we saw tenure being given to a known terrorist Mr. Ramadan; and we see entrenched and unapologetic liberation theologists. As your article correctly notes, evil things can be accessed (and distributed) by means other than the internet.
    Limiting this matter to blocking pornography on the internet is too small; it is a dereliction of our responsibilities. The larger issue is the internet. Still larger is the nature of a Catholic university and its mission and identity.

  3. Tim McKeogh '80, '81 MA September 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Looking back there’s something satisfying about having attended a Christian school in the middle of a cornfield. The lack of distractions to one’s studies and the accountability were a great help to me during those years.
    Enter the computer age and now, if only from a pragmatic standpoint, there were Internet/TV programming filters in-place then students would surely find less temptations and distractions competing for their time as the challenges of a morally mature approach to one’s life call. Pornography, like drinking and gambling, may be legal to varying degrees but that certainly doesn’t make it worthwhile. Why an 18-22 y/o would waste their time on that stuff is beyond me. Life at ND offers some amazing opportunities that won’t be there later in life. There are real women at ND and SMC that a young man can have a caring, respectful, Christian relationship with. Do any of our current male undergrads think they’ll meet women like these (intelligent, successful, usually Catholic, from good families, with whom they have tons in common with) AFTER they graduate? If so, the are deluding themselves!

  4. P.S.S., my son, Michael, believes that there is a market for creating an Internet and Cable company that is Family Friendly. Perhaps The University of Notre Dame, as a way to help create and facilitate an Internet and Cable Company that is consistent with Christian values and thus Family Friendly, would consider researching and helping with the founding of such a Communication Network?

  5. Perhaps you should address this issue directly to Father Jenkins. Knowing Father Jenkins, it would not surprise me if he would thank the students for calling this to his attention.

    P.S., it would also not surprise me if once the study on spacing children two years apart is released and scrutinized, it will show that factors that can lead to lower education attainment were not considered.

  6. If the Irish Rover article was not brought to Father Jenkins’s attention — they tried to carry it to reasonably high levels but received no response — our bulletin has gone to him as well as to Provost Burish. Let us see if anything happens. I will be greatly surprised but we would certainly highlight it

  7. About your lead article – I see both the problem highlighted and your proposed solution to be ones that may have thoughtful readers wondering about the depth of both of them. It is true that an unfiltered internet connection supplied by ND can be used to browse porn, and it is also true that ND could do some obvious blocking of known porn domain names and IP ranges. The problem highlighted looks like you had to dig to find an issue, almost creating an issue. The solution of blocking access to porn sites lets ND “off the hook” way too easily, because it doesn’t provide a real solution for young men with a porn addiction. It merely provides ND with the barest of legal defenses. The mechanism of a real solution is likely already on campus: the dorm rectors, assistant rectors, faculty and any counselors ND has on staff trained in counseling addicts and addictive behavior. In my mind, the question to ask ND is whether they indeed have that last category of staff – addiction counselors (who could be dorm rector staff). Merely blocking some websites and TV channels won’t fix addicted students’ behavior so that they can be healthy members of society when they leave ND.

  8. As we wrote, we reported in part because the students on the Irish Rover thought the issue deserved their front page attention and in part because we agreed. Surely most would agree with those at Notre Dame who regard the widespread viewing of pornography by students as a serious problem. The Church does, as the Catechism passage we cited attests. Those who think porn of relatively little consequence will, of course, disagree. But since our concern is with the Catholic character of the university, we try to be guided by what the Church says. To us, this is not “creating an issue,” but recognizing one. As I say, others may of course take a more benign view of the matter.

    Of course ArtND76 is right in observing that ND’s exercise of a degree of control over Internet porn would not come close to solving the problem. We said as much. But it would do something, and more importantly it would attest to the University’s adherence to Church teaching on pornography and to its conviction that the use of pornography is a moral transgression and dangerous to one’s soul. Anyone who has read our materials knows that we focused on other related matters that are, in my view at least, more significant. For example, we have noted several times the default of the university in eliminating Moral Theology as a required course and not even including a unit of instruction on such issues as sexual ethics and life issues in a required course. And were dorm supervision geared to dealing with the problem, one would not expect The Rover to report on the incidence of pornography in men’s dorms. (Not all, I might add. Not everyone is indifferent.)

    But just because other steps can and should be taken doesn’t mean that the university should not do what it can with respect to Internet porn.

  9. Terry Sullivan CST '75 September 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    This is a troubling article which only underscores the sad morass we find ourselves in as a culture. Confusion reigned in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. I hope this moral confusion can be rooted out sooner than later. ND really needs to go back to its roots along with the rest of American culture.

  10. In the Spirit of Notre Dame, and the spirit of In Loco Parentis, one would expect The University to thank the students for calling this to their attention and state that they would be taking the appropriate steps to see that pornography, which demeans the inherent Dignity of the human person, is blocked from both cable and Internet access on The University of Notre Dame.

  11. D. G. D. Davidson September 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    The claim made in my in-box when I got an e-mail link to this article was that Notre Dame is distributing pornography. But when I get to the actual article, I find that Notre Dame . . . provides Internet access in dorms.

    No story here, move along.

    We seem to be in agreement here that attempting to add a filter would be little more than a symbolic act, so what’s the point? Certainly, pornography is a problem, but adding ineffective filters is pointless. Proper moral training would be a better way to tackle the issue.
    11/28/2011, 12:39:44
    – Like – Reply

  12. I put aside debating the difference between distributing and transmitting in favor of agreeing that surely providing proper moral training would be incomparably better than blocking Internet porn, if one had to make a choice. But, first, they are not alternatives but complementary. Next, why should symbolism be thought unimportant? In fact, the University and the Church act symbolically with great frequency — close to home, witness Fr. Jenkins’s participation in the March for Life. More, in this case the symbolism runs both ways. That is, by providing porn without any check the message is that the University really doesn’t care.

    As to providing proper moral training, the fact that ND does not do so –t — it has eliminated Moral Theology as a required subject, erased mandatory discipline for fornication (called by some more euphonious name), and provides no unit of relevant instruction in any required course — probably bears upon its unwillingness to check the flow of porn into the dorms. There is symbolism here as well, and across the board it runs in the same direction.

  13. I do not understand the objection to the research on birth spacing and educational outcomes. It’s an empirical study, based on solid data. Those who think that the research is faulty are certainly welcome to challenge the findings with their own set of data, but objections based on how Planned Parenthood or “the blogosphere” might interpret the study are misplaced. There is nothing in this study that contradicts Church teachings.

  14. It is not a question of how contraception proponents would “interpret” the results, but rather the use they will make of them. The principle we advance is that, as a matter of policy, a Catholic university should not allocate its resources to research the results of which will predictably be used to promote immoral action. If one disagrees with that proposition, then our analysis is misguided. If one agrees, then I submit that the analysis is quite sound. As to Notre Dame. this is plainly the principle reflected in the University’s barring barring embryonic stem cell research. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the research. But there surely is in the use to which it may be put. Here, as we said, the results will predictably lead to more contraception and conceivably even abortion as one of the motivating factors for “high achievers.”. To be sure, the child spacing research might be used in the context of natural family planning, but not only would such use be vastly outweighed by its use to promote contraception, but the higher IQ rationale would scarcely qualify as the sort of “serious” reason required for licit NFP. More, the fact that there might be some unobjectionable use made of the results would surely not lead ND to engage in research, say, on increasing the deadly force of armaments. It is a question of allocation of research resources analagous to the principle employed by ND in allocating its financial resources, namely, to refrain from supporting enterprises engaging in immoral actions.

  15. I do disagree with your proposition that Notre Dame should avoid research that seeks to further the search for truth for fear — and that is what it is, fear — that someone may misuse the results. Your comparison to embryonic stem cell research is misplaced, because that research itself requires the prior sinful act of destroying human life. A better comparison might be to research that demonstrates that moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy does not harm the unborn child — should such research be avoided because it might encourage some pregnant women to throw caution to the wind and have three beers a day?

    The suggestion that society would be better off NOT knowing certain truths because we cannot be trusted with them is dangerously paternalistic, and flies in the face of the late John Paul II’s insistence that faith and reason are not incompatible. Be not afraid.

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