In a Wall Street Journal feature opinion essay titled “The Weekend Interview: Rev. John I. Jenkins, Catholicism, Inc., deputy editor Naomi Schaefer Riley provides an illuminating description of her interview with Father Jenkins in anticipation of the Pope’s address to college and university presidents.
It should be noted preliminarily that, as may be evident from the article, Ms. Riley knows a good deal about Notre Dame. She devoted an entire chapter to the University in her well-received book, God on the Quad.
Ms. Riley opens with Father Jenkins’s account of Father Hesburgh’s offer of a teaching position to the young Father Joseph Ratzinger, but she then wonders “whether such an offer would be made today [and] more significantly, whether someone with the Pope’s beliefs about Catholic higher education could accept.”
Noting a “slow drift toward secularism” in Catholic higher education, Ms. Riley writes, “Catholic colleges are on the front lines of a battle for the soul of the church.” She reports that, though Father Jenkins calls Ex Corde Ecclesiae — Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education — a “superb document,” “most Catholic college leaders, including Father Jenkins, have not implemented it to the extent that they expected they would have to.”
Thus, for example, “Father Jenkins can claim total ignorance about which members of his own theology department are approved by the church.”
Again, Ms. Riley reports, “Despite the Vatican’s clear condemnation of liberation theology, a Marxist approach to Christianity, the doctrine is still proudly taught at Notre Dame” — though Father Jenkins says that “the situation is not so clear cut.”
Ms. Riley pays special attention to Father Jenkins’s decision to approve the student on-campus performance of The Vagina Monologues. That decision, she reports, “made headlines;” and while a few other Catholic college presidents have taken the same action, Father Jenkins’s “nod of approval is deeply symbolic.” She notes the student protests and says that “people familiar with the university are not surprised that it was the kids, not the grown-ups, who registered the strongest objection.”
Observing that “only half the faculty is Catholic now,” Ms. Riley offers this bleak conclusion: “The students are probably the most religious part of Notre Dame.”