A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Catholic Character

The concerns expressed by the Cardinal Newman Society and others regarding the Catholic character of Catholic colleges and universities in the United Sates is of personal interest to me. For the past four years at Notre Dame, where I'm a senior, the debate about Notre Dame's Catholic character or lack there of has focused squarely on the University's sponsorship of two events: the Vagina Monologues, and the Queer Film Festival.

In other words, Notre Dame's Catholic character, something inherently difficult to quantify or define, has been strictly defined, not in terms of church attendance or the seriousness with which the student body approaches their faith, but in terms of hot button issues involving sexual sins, and not, mind you, the sexual sins of heterosexual men and married people, but the sexual sins of single women and gay people.

Every year a men's dorm on campus puts on a comedy review full of raunchy straight guy sex jokes, certainly un-Catholic in their character, and yet the review is rarely mentioned in Notre Dame's "Catholic character" debate. It's not seen as any kind of threat, but rather, as free expression. In short, it's curious when and where a university's Catholic character is invoked. No one speaks of it when a university is building a business school or accepting money from the government that may go towards weapons research, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to feminists and dating.

Too often Catholics themselves define what Catholic is, in the same tired and reductive ways that non-Catholics do. That is, being Catholic is all about being against things, think, abortion, and gay marriage. Accepting such a limited definition we become caricatures of ourselves, and do violence to the mysteries and complexities of our faith. Catholic colleges and universities should not be safe havens from mainstream culture where students are never asked to encounter anything with which they do not already concur. Rather, they should be places where the ideas and tendencies of mainstream thought and culture are brought into conversation, perhaps correctively so, with the ideas and tendencies of the Roman Catholic Church.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I wonder what evidence you would offer that any serious critic of VM performances in Catholic venues actually condones the kind of lewd comedy review you cite? I am confident that if the latter were officially sanctioned, subsidized and publicized with the same zeal that VM performances are, the criticism would be identical. But even if your charge of a double standard were true, what is your point?Prophetically proclaiming the dignity and inviolability of the human person and family you find to be just a tired, limited caricature? Since defining an institution's Catholic character is "inherently difficult" for you, let me help you out: among other things, it means that a fourth-year student would not be capable of such a statement, nor would characterize the deposit of faith as mere "ideas and tendencies".Which Catholic universities are involved in weapons research?

Anna, your observations are so spot on. You remind me of another university student who well observed that the Creed is about the most disputed elements in christianity not an uplifting proclamation of our faith. To be aware of students like you one is assured of the prophetic voice remaining in the church. j.A.M certainly has the right to disagree with you. But I do find the lack of a last name nor a valid email as sheepish tactics indeed. I reckon s/he will serve us all well to place that clearly #1issue in the Creed.

Anna, I want to second Bill Mazzella's comments, both his compliment on the presence of your "prophet voice" and on his calling to account j.a.m.'s lack of respect to those of us who post to this blog using our full names by not using his/her name and e-mail. In a truly free and democratic society, especially one that perports to mirror the courage that Christ demonstrated to us in his short visit to this world, such actions are less than admirable and negate any validity the message may contain.

Anna, It was very heartening to read your insightful comments. In many ways American culture(religious and secular) continues to be a boys' club. For that to change and evolve into a more balanced equation, voices like yours are crucial. Thank you.

Nicely said, Anna, and good to hear from someone who is right in the middle of this discussion at ND.

Bravo! Thanks for saying exactly what many people should be shouting from the rooftops. Go Irish!

A Catholic College/ University needs to go by the teachings of the Magisterium and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In other words we do not use Liberal and Conservative labels as we are Catholic. That said , College students need to hear both sides and then learn why the Catholic Church teaches what they do. We can not pick and choose, if we have trouble with a particular teaching we then need to pray about it as God will help you with it. I understand this as I am convert to the Catholic Faith and teach a Confirmation class. We always need to teach truth not relativism and demand respect for the human person, no gaudy jokes etc. Remeber it not about me, myself and I, it's about Jesus! We can not be selfish!

Thank you for your comments, Anna. I graduated from ND ten years ago, and when I read Fr. Jenkins' speech, the first event that came to my mind was the same comedy review that you mentioned. I agree wholeheartedly that the Catholic character discussion needs to be applied more broadly, even and perhaps especially to some of those beloved good ol' boy traditions. The aforementioned comedy review's criticisms and petty put-downs leveled at the woman who was then VP of Student Affairs were far more damaging and offensive to the dignity of women than much of the VM content.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."There is a balancing point that Catholic colleges and universities need to find, and rediscover with each new generation, where to teach Catholics to be in the mainstream culture, but not be a slave to it.Sponsoring events like those mentioned in Anna's post seems to many Catholics that they push things "out of balance", nudging the Catholic identity (whatever that exactly is) too close into *being* the mainstream culture. For our age, that means over identification with sex, abortion, gay marriage, etc.--think "degrading slavery of being a child of [this] age."It is not about defining Catholics in "reductive" and reactionary ways, it is about retaining freedom *from* the mainstream culture.

I guess I'm getting too crotchety in my advanced years, but everytime I read the terms "Magisterium" and "Catechism" on these blogsites, I immediately wait for the the slam, the rigidity, the holier'-than-thou comments. I'm rarely left wanting for more.

Ahhh Jimmy, tis not the crotchetyness of advancing years but the nibbleness of an active mind that triggers the anticipation of such characteristics. One always sees it coming with such adjectives as actual, clear, definitive, constant ... teachings, aye!And Anna, as a footnote to my first note, I would suggest it is an action where Maritain & Alinsky might agree.

I resent being called holier than thou. My belief is if every thing is relative then why come to the Roman catholic Church, I should just have stayed a Protestant (take the word apart). On my journey to the Roman Catholic Church I wanted Truth and also when steeped in history one ceases to be Protestant. If the Roman Catholic Church in America becomes the Church of pick and choose of our own choice we cease to be Roman Cathoic and loose Truth! If any one is having trouble with any of the teachings of the Church pray and Jesus will help you come to Truth.

I think the point of the original post is that the Church is being relative by criticizing one thing and not the other. That is a form of picking and choosing, too.And I agree that the Church offers freedom from enslavement to the whims and illnesses of the age. But the point here seems to be that if the Church fails to criticize the good ol' boys culture that puts on the disrespectful comedy review that Anna mentioned, then the Church is showing too much respect to something in the spirit of the age that should hopefully pass away. I'm sure the Church would agree with the general proposition that the good ol' boys culture, because it discriminates against women and gays, should pass away.It is definitely true that praying can help you understand a teaching better. That has been my own experience. But the teachings need to be applied consistently.

The Church does not discriminate against gays or women. You need to read the CC and you will then understand, in the CC it explaines the ways of the teachings, your thinking is relative on this matter. Just because you believe something is true does not make it true. The Church believes in respect for all human persons no matter who we are, we just can not behave in any way we want to. We should respect every one.

Robin, 1. If you believe the Church does not discriminate against gays or woman do you believe that some of its members who claim to speak in its name do? If yes, can you provide an example.2. In a previous post you claim that you came to the Catholic Church because you determined it had "The Truth". In the recent incident in Afganistan a former Muslim claimed to convert from the Truth of Islam to that of Christianity (no where have I seen that termed Catholicism). For that apostacy he was to be executed. What if your former Protestant brothern had behaved with the same intent? They did at one time in the not so distant past. I can agree with your search for Truth but I also believe the journey is never finished. We are always compelled to probe more deeply into the mysteries of Truth. Once a person is so convinced theirs is the only truth the search is over and the compulsion is always to act on it with, as history has taught us, terrible results. Do you agree?

John, the way you speak is very relative. Yes the Cattholic Church has the Truth, it is the Church that our Lord Jesus Chirst started by telling Peter that his Church will be built upon this rock. Peter was the first Pope, as in the Chair of Peter. I really can't believe that you have never heard that the Roman Catholic Church has the Truth, have you read the teacings of the Magisteruim and the Catschism of the Catholic Church? When one continues to search for the Truth after you have found the Catholic Church it becomes relative it can not be what is good for me is not good for you. I will learn more as time goes on about my faith by taking classes as I am from Catholic Distance University. But the Truth is Jesus Christ and the Church he began!

Robin et al, I think these concerns about moral relativism are misplaced. Going back to the topic of the original post, lets say, for the sake of argument, that Notre Dame decides to sponsor a performance of Oedipus Rex in lieu of the VM next year, and lets say that I attend the performance and am moved by it. I pity the characters; I even sympathize with them, allowing myself to imagine life from their perspective. Does this mean that I condone all of their actions? Does this mean that I think killing ones father or marrying ones mother is morally okay? No it doesnt. But as a thoughtful person I am capable of entertaining lots of notions without necessarily subscribing them. You are too.If the truth is true then we should be all the more able to ask questions, and entertain divergent perspectives, as something is real and worth striving for and no amount of missteps on our part will hurt it. Maybe one can watch a performance of Oedipus Rex, or consider another persons point of view, without becoming an absolute moral relativist.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment