RIGHT-TO-LIFE "LITE" AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
Last Wednesday, April 25, at a dinner attended by hundreds of pro-life advocates from across the United States, the second annual Evangelium Vitae medal, recognizing outstanding service in the defense of human life, was awarded to Helen Alvare, an internationally recognized and acclaimed right-to-life activist. The dinner was held at the University of Notre Dame, following a Mass celebrated in the Sacred Heart Basilica by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend. In only its second year, the Evangelium Vitae medal has gained national recognition at least on a par with the Laetare medal.
Sadly (and tellingly), not a single representative of the Notre Dame administration or the board of trustees attended the event, although all had been invited. Most ignored the invitation, not even offering the courtesy of a reply. Those that replied offered no reason for declining the invitation. The Notre Dame publicity machine carefully sidestepped the event, both on the ND website and in its daily news bulletins.
This reaction is symptomatic of the state of pro-life affairs at Notre Dame. There is a core of militant right-to-life activism at Notre Dame, sustained largely in the Student RTL club, the Center for Ethics and Culture, the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life, and certain individuals who have the courage to swim upstream in the river of popular culture. To the greatest degree, however, any pro-life mantle which the administration may claim can be characterized as “pro-life lite”, a position that professes belief in the sacredness and value of all born and unborn life, but which avoids evangelizing that belief, and does not framework daily decisions against that belief. “Pro-life lite” advocates are unwilling to make the cultural tradeoffs that militancy demands, or to risk their standing (in the case of ND, read U.S. News and World Report rankings) in the eyes of the secular world. At Notre Dame, it seems that the real University position on right-to-life activism is one of tolerance, not support, and one of “whole cloth” (corporal works of mercy, etc.) rather than a particular concern for the unborn. Certain minimal University manifestations of right-to-life support seem therefore to be born mainly of public relations interests. If right-to-life affairs received a tenth of the focus and funding that gender and sexual identity matters get at Notre Dame, the University could perhaps assert some sort of leadership role in pro-life activism that would justify a claim of thriving Catholic Character. Instead, right to life activism has been largely marginalized, even to the point of withdrawing funding from the Center for Ethics and Culture.
In the final analysis, the core of Catholic identity must be a brave and unwavering commitment to the defense of all human life, and especially the unborn and newly born, who are uniquely defenseless. Currently, there are many descriptive phrases that come to mind when Notre Dame is mentioned, but “pro-life” is not one of them. The pro-life student leaders on campus arrive at Notre Dame already formed that way, by their families, parish life, and prior schools. Few “conversions” to right-to-life activism occur at Notre Dame.
This will all change when the leadership at Notre Dame decides to become militantly pro-life, not just benignly pro life. Is there not a single trustee or fellow who sees this, and will speak up? So far, it appears not.
Were the Notre Dame administration to step up and adopt a militant and evangelistic right-to-life character which backdropped all its daily decisions, including those involving the composition of the faculty, questions about the declining Catholic character of Notre Dame would soon disappear. Use of the bully pulpit of the Notre Dame presidency to publicly and consistently advocate for the protection of the unborn would be the most Catholic thing the University could do, and would be recognized as such by the public, thereby validating any administration claim to a position of national Catholic leadership.
Daniel M. Boland, PhD