Our purpose was to illustrate the difference between The Observer and The Irish Rover, the independent student publication dedicated to the preservation of the Catholic identity of the University.
But the cartoon episode has broader significance. The reaction of the Administration, especially when compared to its reaction to a recent Observer cartoon about violence to homosexuals, is revealing.
The available image of that three-panel cartoon is poor but adequate. The figure in the first panel, a saw with human appendages, asks: “What is the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?” The man in the second panel responds, “No idea.” In the last panel, the saw says “With a baseball bat.”
When signs of trouble quickly appeared, the student cartoonists tried to explain that they were aiming at anti-gay thugs, not at gays, but to no avail. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Violence (GLADD) charged the Observer with “advocacy of violence,” and there ensued a tsunami of protests in letters to the Observer and particularly from homosexual groups and publications (for example, see Gaynz.com, Metro Weekly, Towleroad, Gladd Blog).
Notre Dame’s remorseful response was immediate and broad.
The editor who neglected to review the cartoon before publication resigned.
Father Jenkins denounced the cartoon and declared that in the future “Notre Dame administrators will work with the Observer staff.”
Given this striking response, one might have expected a similar reaction to a caricature of the Pope as a dissembling protector of sexual abusers, a fascist, and even a sexual abuser himself. (And what, one wonders, happened to that assigned administrator?)
But there was nothing of the sort. Rather, the University responded to our protests to both the University’s principal spokesman and the President’s office with a benign absolution of the cartoon and the editors.
While the University spokesman acknowledged that “some people have understandably misinterpreted” the cartoon, he expressed no regret. It was enough that the University was satisfied that the students meant no harm.
The students, he said, shared the innocent “true intent” of the creator of the reproduced cartoon. The cartoonist, the spokesman claimed, had explained on his website that the cartoon “was not an attack on the pope” but rather “an attempt to satirize his own profession by mocking the cheap shots directed at the pope by cartoonists who are lacking in originality.”
But that is demonstrably wrong. There is not a word in the cartoonist’s explanation suggesting solicitude for the Pope. His sole purpose was to ridicule a “lack of originality” in anti-Papal cartoons. His own more “original” cartoon is just as malevolent as the others:
To say that the students shared the cartoonist’s purpose, then, is to condemn, not to exculpate.
In any case, as we wrote in reply, whatever the students’ intent, the cartoon was bound to be as deeply offensive to many Catholics as would be “comparably vile portrayals of Mohammed or Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa” to Muslims or Indians or blacks or Catholics. Or the earlier cartoon to gays.
The Administration’s indifference, especially in contrast to the eruption of disclaimers and apologies during the gay cartoon commotion, is scarcely what one would expect from a vibrantly Catholic institution. It stands alongside others that we have described in recent bulletins: The University’s silence, for example, in the face of the Observer’s refusal to publish Dr. Rice’s explanation of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, and its favoring of pro-gay and anti-militarydemonstrators over the ND88 pro-life demonstrators.
Finally, there has been a related recent disclosure that is especially worrisome because it relates to the composition of the faculty.
In an interesting article describing the pro-homosexual intimidation prevalent on American campuses, R.R. Reno, a noted biblical scholar and professor, reported, “Graduate students have told me that being labeled as ‘anti-gay’ means getting blackballed when entering the job market.”
And not just at secular schools. A whisper campaign (‘he’s anti-gay’) against a recent candidate for a job in the Notre Dame philosophy department apparently succeeded.
A former chair of the department, Dr. Paul Weithman, assailed the statement as “innuendo” lacking substantiation, though he did not explicitly deny that the episode occurred.
Another highly respected and long-time member of the department, Dr. Alfred Freddoso, thereupon replied that he knew “exactly the case [Reno] is talking about” and outlined what had happened. He concluded:
The incident has, rightly or wrongly, led a few of us in the department to warn other Catholic philosophers – i.e., the sort who assent to everything the Church teaches – to be, at the very least, extremely careful if they wish to apply for a job in our department.
As we have repeatedly emphasized and as the University acknowledges in its Mission Statement, the Catholic identity of the university “depends upon” a faculty in which Catholics “predominate.” As we have shown, they no longer do. This incident both supports this conclusion and illustrates the daunting obstacles to restoration of Catholic faculty predominance.