“War Over Woke Catholicism”at Notre Dame

Controversy triggered at @NotreDame when @IrishRoverND editor reminds readers that the school is Catholic. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

With the permission of National Review (copyright reserved), we reproduce below the recently published article “Notre Dame Students Go to War over ‘Woke’ Catholicism” by Alexandra DeSanctis (ND ’16) and Carl R. Trueman.

The article is an especially compelling analysis of the controversy triggered by the editorial by Mary Frances Myler, the editor-in-chief of the unofficial Notre Dame student newspaper The Irish Rover, about the suppression by the Notre Dame administration of the Church’s teaching on sex, marriage, and gender.

Dr. Trueman is a professor of Biblical & Religious Studies at Grove City College, and Ms. DeSanctis (ND ’16) is a staff writer for the National Review who was executive editor of The Rover when a student and, we are pleased to say, is a current Sycamore Trust board member who received the Sycamore Trust Student Award in 2016.

Before we turn to the article, we draw your attention to an especially valuable National Review edition devoted entirely to Roe v. Wade. 

On December 1, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization respecting a Mississippi statute barring abortions after about 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law would be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions affirming the right to abortion until viability. The general consensus in the wake of the argument is that it seems likely the Mississippi statute will be upheld. Whether Roe will be cut back in some way or discarded entirely with abortion left to the states is unpredictable.

The National Review issue contains a battery of excellent articles by pro-life luminaries including Notre Dame Professor O. Carter Snead and Ms. DeSanctis. Here’s what the editor of National Review, Rich Lowry, had to say about Ms. DeSanctis:

If you asked me what we especially need in this moment when abortion policy has a new salience — when the Left is all-in on a no-restrictions absolutism and when Roe might be in play — I’d say a talented young woman who is passionate about the pro-life cause, extremely knowledgeable, prolific, combative when necessary, and utterly, completely fearless.

In other words, I’d say we need Alexandra DeSanctis.

And fortunately, we have her. If we didn’t, we would’ve had to invent her in a laboratory. Rich Lowry, National Review Editor,

Now to “Notre Dame Students Go to War Over ‘Woke’ Catholicism.”

Notre Dame Students Go to War over ‘Woke’ Catholicism

By Alexandra DeSanctis & Carl R. Trueman

The university has failed to articulate the truth of Catholic Church teaching on human sexuality and gender identity.

It is a sad reality that, among students at the University of Notre Dame, it is becoming unacceptable to share Catholic Church teaching on matters of human identity and sexuality. A few weeks back, Notre Dame senior Mary Frances Myler — who serves as editor in chief of the Irish Rover, an independent student newspaper — published a column critiquing the ways in which the university has failed to apply the fullness of the Catholic tradition to its handling of gender-identity issues on campus.

The backlash among students was swift and predictable. Immediately, Notre Dame’s campus paper The Observer published a letter to the editor from one of Myler’s classmates expressing outrage at her column, and the paper issued its own editorial implicitly castigating Myler. Just this week, The Observer published a second letter from a student, chastising Myler in terms even more personally insulting than the first.

This most recent letter, from Notre Dame senior Sara Ferraro, is in many ways the standard fare we have come to expect from the woke campus denizen. It is not an argument so much as a bill of indictment, larded with emotion and hyperbole. It dismisses Myler’s editorial as hate speech. It excoriates her for using “she” and “her” when referring to the Church — a choice that follows biblical and historical tradition, Paul being unaware of Obergefell v. Hodges when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians — while describing the LGBTQ movement as “it.” (Left unexplained is whether that movement ought to be referred to as a “she” or a “he,” a binary that seems rather exclusionary according to Ferraro’s own logic.)

The letter likewise relies on elisions that distort Myler’s argument and form the basis for non sequiturs buried within emoting. For example, Ferraro presents Myler’s objection to Notre Dame’s outright celebration of LGBTQ identities as if it were an objection to supporting LGBTQ students, as well as denial of their personhood and humanity.

In this, Ferraro not only mischaracterizes Myler most uncharitably but also displays her ignorance of mainstream Catholic thought, and indeed broader Christian teaching. Myler’s understanding of what constitutes human personhood is firmly rooted in the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, which demands a distinction between the sin and the sinner — a concept perhaps distasteful to a generation that has rejected the notion of sin and become enamored with the doctrine of queer theory.

In a properly Christian understanding, sexuality does not constitute the whole of one’s humanity or personhood. Every individual has intrinsic dignity and commands our respect simply by virtue of his or her nature as a human being. This does not, however, mean that all self-asserted identities are to be considered equally valid.

Indeed, it is the LGBTQ movement, not the Christian or the Church, that has jettisoned a proper conception of human dignity rooted in identity. Rather than valuing each individual simply because he or she is a human being, created in the image and likeness of God, gender theory grounds our identity instead in our location on the spectrum of bespoke sexual identities, placing this conception of the self above the human nature that unites us.

Perhaps the most unfair aspect of Ferraro’s response is its use of self-congratulatory piety to attack Myler. What are we to make of how she dismisses Myler’s calm but trenchant adherence to Church teaching as “hate speech,” as divisive, as inflicting damage, as promoting discrimination — all before claiming to respect Myler’s presence on campus and insisting that she wishes to be friends?

It appears to be character assassination cloaked in a veneer of faux kindness. As to “growing and learning together,” one wonders exactly what Ferraro hopes to learn from Myler, whom she has previously dismissed as bigoted, despicable, and dangerous. We suspect this might be a learning process that is rather one-sided.

With her column, Myler has taken a courageous stand, offering Notre Dame’s faculty and administration an opportunity to demonstrate that they operate an institution committed not to four-year courses in personal therapy but rather to a robust education within which students are asked to confront ideas with which they disagree — and to do so in a Christian environment that cultivates both courtesy and courage in classroom and campus engagement.

It is disappointing that, at a Catholic university, it would fall to a student to rearticulate the beauty and truth of Catholic teaching on sexuality, which is grounded in God’s creation of human beings as male and female, made in His image and likeness. No doubt the university administration has little to say in Myler’s defense because her piece demonstrated how Notre Dame has responded to the shifting tides on sexuality, marriage, and gender identity by embracing secularism. That descent has been swift.

When I (Alexandra) was a student at Notre Dame only five years ago, the primary debates among students were over whether the university should officially recognize the LGBT student group, while progressive students vocally resisted the formation of a student group dedicated to articulating the case for marriage as being between one man and one woman. Today, Myler finds herself under vicious attack from fellow students merely for publishing, in an independent newspaper, an affirmation of Catholic teaching.

All we can hope for from this ugly incident is that it might reveal once again whether Notre Dame’s professors, administrators, and president have the temerity to stand in defense of Church teaching beside some of their students, who at the moment appear to possess the lion’s share of courage at Our Lady’s University.

Alexandra DeSanctis
Alexandra DeSanctis (ND ’16) is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and member of the Sycamore Trust Board of Directors. She was previously a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism with the National Review Institute. While at Notre Dame she was executive editor of The Irish Rover and recipient of Sycamore Trust’s Student Award for Outstanding Contribution to Notre Dame’s Catholic Identity in 2016.

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21 Responses to ““War Over Woke Catholicism”at Notre Dame”

  1. obviously the University has student atheists among them like Ferraro.LGBT HAS BECOME A LOUDMOUTH VOCIFEROUS
    ORGAN that should not be tolerated when they so act. Conduct themselves properly and respect those who are not
    of their being, would be a plus for them.
    If catholic students ignore church teaching in a Catholic University; why aren’t they more comfortable moving to a secular one?
    Burke Cueny ’57

  2. bo·gus
    not genuine or true; fake.

    But for the fact that there are those who deny that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and thus The Author of our inherent, Unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit Of Happiness, from the moment of our creation, when we are brought into being, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, because they desire to render onto Caesar or themselves what has always and will always belong to God, would slavery, abortion, or identify persons according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, all acts that objectify the human person, while denying their inherent Dignity as beloved sons and daughters, exist?

    How than can any Catholic claim to be woke, if, in essence, they are Sleeping in Gethsemane?
    Oh what a tangled web has been weaved by those who desire to deny The Truth Of Love Incarnate by making it appear as if one can be both for Christ and against Christ, and still be a follower of He Who Is The Very Essence Of Perfect Life-affirming and Life-sustaining Love.
    Woe to us

    Pray for The Triumph Of Our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart at Notre Dame.

  3. Eugene Dixon '69MBA December 30, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Focusing on “wokeness”, ND fills the shoe. The University required all students to be vaccinated against covid, yet decided earlier this week to prohibit the Band from participating in the Fiesta Bowl due to covid fears. Yet the football team is allowed to go. Has the woke administration come to the conclusion that the vaccine they mandated is worthless and ineffective against covid? Logic is out the window at ND . . . Of course, follow the money is always present.

  4. Steve Martinek '71, '74 (earlier times and values) December 19, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    Further to Mark…Mental and physical impairments and disabilities, and illness and disease also occur in nature–yet we do not re-cast or re-brand such conditions as “good health.” Various races or ethnicities occur in nature, including Asian, Hispanic and Negroid–yet we do not re-brand all as Caucasian. Quite beyond normalcy and Catholic dogma and teaching, why would our culture deem it noble to empower the 2% who are same-sex attracted, and the .1% who are gender dysphoric to overturn and replace accepted societal norms regarding marriage and participation in girls’ sports?

  5. Christina Parsons ‘93 December 19, 2021 at 4:07 am

    The Church has been under siege for 2,000 years, since its very inception. The ways and means, motives and personalities vary, but the attack is relentless. Because it is at its core spiritual.

    When Mary said Yes to Gabriel, God’s messenger bearing the greatest of requests, she had no idea that she would not only become the mother of God in human form, but also the one who by this vast honor, would also be our greatest aid in times of peril for the Church and her faithful.

    It’s time to turn to Mary as mediatrix in earnest, implore her to save our university, our country and indeed our Church from the evil that seeks to destroy all that is good and true.

  6. Steve Martinek '71, '74 (earlier times and values) December 18, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    Mark’s missive sparked some thoughts. Indulge my sharing a few. “Acceptance of today’s truths may be discomforting.” Well, acceptance of eternal Truth is often more discomforting. Mark goes on to offer the dramatic, yet surely true, assertion that acceptance (and normalization and extolling) of the disordered sexual attractions and lifestyles of a small vocal, politically influential, minority, may well have proven to be a matter of life-or-death thus saving of mortal life for gays or trans. How little does that matter if our normalization and mollification leads them to lose their immortal souls? How would we act toward the rainbow-crowd if we truly loved them and sought the salvation of their souls? Respectfully, Steve

  7. We have seen Catholic teaching move from damning homosexuality as a perverted choice and an abomination that must be “healed,” to the misplaced response of “hate the sin and love the sinner.” Now much of the world in general, supported by the medical, psychiatric, academic and religious professions, including the leadership of our University, is growing into an understanding that homosexuality as well as heterosexuality occur naturally within our human race and therefore is not to be frustrated by denial of marriage or other rights enjoyed by us so-called “normal folks.”

    Acceptance of today’s truth is discomforting to many of our tribe, but it can be literally life – saving to those LGBTQ people who are part of God’s beautiful diverse creation.

    The single commandment that we all best know is to love. Does not this commandment allow for, and even require, ever higher levels of awareness? That over time allow for better answers than those we inherited? That allow for growth and expansion of the radical rethinking introduced by Jesus Christ?

    • If, as you, say, the leadership of the university, rejects as fundamental Church teaching as that on marriage, what warrant does it have to promote Notre Dame as a Catholic university? Surely it is false advertising that may gravely damage those parents and their children who rely on it. Let’s have some honesty about it all.

  8. Steve Martinek '71, '74 (earlier times and values) December 18, 2021 at 6:32 am

    Thank You, Edward Knauf for words which inspired some reflections worth sharing.What is the true “raison d’etre por du Lac” and for the angst many of us feel at the devolution and dissipation of her values and mission? God, Himself, wanted to be present and perceived in all corners of humanity–so He invented mothers, and particularly Our Lady, Notre Dame, our Mom ordained to us by Jesus from the Cross. I humbly suggest that we alums, current students, faculty and admin, and all the good priests and past faculty, while all integral parts of Notre Dame, do not comprise the whole of her. Curiously, perhaps ironically and counter-intuitively, this once all-male bastion of formation, education, and spiritual development must be seen, at its core (in its very coeur) to be a sacred place in honor and furtherance of motherhood. It was, for generations, the example and spiritual leadership in the Faith of mothers and grandmothers (many immigrants), and local nuns and priests, who saw and extolled the value of sending young men, during the critical inflection point on the verge of manhood, to such a sacred place of formation in the Faith and values and morality needed to become leaders–and ultimately saints. Tragically, in modernity, our beloved University, like our Republic, has abandoned the views and values of antiquity–including the gratitude, honor and love of mothers, grandmothers, and womankind. We have corrupted women, and debauched Love and Truth and Faith themselves at one of the most glorious sacred spaces on earth, dedicated to Our Lady, Notre Dame. We must acknowledge our vicarious, collective, and personal complicity and guilt for it happened “on our watch” (perhaps while we were not watching). AIG (“All I Got”) Steve

  9. Extremely good! Thank you. Our society needs more young women and men willing to take up this cause. The cross and the Bible compels us to. For His glory.

  10. Souls are being lost at Notre Dame, because her clerical leadership has long since abnegated her solemn responsibility, indeed her very raison d’etre – eternal salvation of her charges.

  11. Steve Martinek 71,74 "We were ND." December 17, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    Tragically, Tom Breen is willfully myopic regarding the reality of higher education in modernity, generally, and on our beloved ND campus, specifically. The progressive Left is truly afflicted with toxic “woke” (and all words are intentionally, and deservedly pejorative). They are intolerant and neither invite/accept or welcome traditional values or views or dogma contrary to their own biased and deviant views of life and humanity and the Catholic Faith and our nation’s heritage. CRT, BLM,and the entire rainbow agenda coalesce in common service to an increasingly ascendant agenda and narrative in our university, our nation, and our society. Ours is not a systemically racist culture in which minorities and the poor or dysfunctional are oppressed or repressed or denied rights and liberties. Assertions to the contrary do not withstand simplest scrutiny. Steve

  12. Interesting how the word “woke” has taken on a derogatory meaning among so many critics of those who are trying to determine what may be just and what may be unjust. I am often confronted with the word when advocating for a client in the criminal justice arena. To be accussed of being ‘woke’ is so often meant to end the discussion. If I am woke, you must be right.

    A healthy and civil discussion about any of the teachings and traditions of the Church should not frighten anyone. To dismiss the opinions of those you wish to label as ’woke’, serves only the status quo, as unjust as it may be. I have seen both sides of the issues taken to extremes, as we all have.

    The University is not at fault for failing to defend author Myler’s position. It does not need to be defended. It is her opinion. No doubt an honest opinion reached after research and contemplation. Let’s not forget that Myler’s opinion was published for the purpose of debate, discussion and reaction. The National Review may not like some of the reactions, and that’s OK, the Review is entitled to its opinion.

    Why is this dialogue called as a war on woke Catholicism. What’s wrong with woke Catholicism?
    The way in which the word is used today seems to fit a very christian tradition.

    chiefly US slang:
    aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)

    Thank you,

    Tom Breen

  13. Charles Vandegrift '56 December 17, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    Thank our good Lord that we still have understanding Lay people who have the knowledge, the ability, and the courage and willingness to express and defend the Word of God to a hostile audience.

  14. Dear Alexandra,
    Do not stop at the assertion that human dignity derives from creation in the image of God. Applying the break there buries the lead. Male and female communion accounts for the image of God much as does intelligence and free will. Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body pursues this game-changing stratagem as spelled out in my book: Mere Marriage: Sexual Difference and Christian Doctrine —reviewed here by ND Alum, Jim Thunder:

  15. John W Borchard, Jr. December 17, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you for illustrating the controversy. I am so sorry that faculty and administration, hiding under the Catholic label, have become so openly “woke.” Certainly a university should be open to all intelligent conversation — the operative word is ALL. UND has become “officially” not open to Church history and theology. It’s like feeding on the dressing, but discarding the turkey.
    John Borchard ’64.

  16. Congratulations! It is good to see that there are still students who have not been twisted away from Catholic doctrine!

  17. Sooner or later, the bishops have to show leadership on these tough issues. There is no room for division on issues that involve faith and morals.
    Notre Dame and other Catholic Universities need to
    Meet with the US Bishops and clearly define these issues.
    Joe Libby 61

  18. The fearless few on campus must be supported by the many thousands of Notre Dame graduates who love Our Lady’s university and wish it to continue, as it has for decades, a shining light of Catholic thought.

  19. Well said! The Rover has produced, or perhaps more accurately, attracted some of the most spiritually mature, brightest, and best young writers I have had the pleasure of meeting or reading. Thank you to both Mary Frances & Alexandra.

  20. Bravo, Alexandra. Well stated and love your language skills.
    Tim Daro ’74 English

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