Notre Dame: Is It Still Catholic?

A professor at Notre Dame recently has offered and promoted abortion access to Notre Dame students, despite university policy and Indiana law. Will the university do anything about it?

In a perhaps little noticed recent scandal from the University of Notre Dame, and no, I’m not talking about the football team’s loss to Marshall, the Irish Rover revealed a professor of the Keough School of Global Affairs has offered and promoted abortion access to Notre Dame students, despite university policy and Indiana law. This includes helping students procure Plan B aborticide pills and referring students to other abortion services. Professor Tamara Kay bragged about her efforts to refer Notre Dame students to abortion resources at an event called “Post-Roe America: Making Intersectional Feminist Sense of Abortion Bans.” 

Professor Kay defends her abortion advocacy at the most prominent purportedly Catholic university in the country by arguing that she does this as a private citizen as opposed to a university representative. Though she is presumably well educated, Kay fails to understand, or perhaps conveniently ignores, the fact that advocating for such things on her office door and at university events is clearly a public action. Particularly while on campus and working with students, she is acting as a representative of the university whether or not she likes to think so. 

The word politics comes to us from the Greek “polis,” meaning the city-state. Professor Kay’s actions, which she carries out in public, are clearly political by the traditional understanding. She is indisputably acting as more than a “private citizen.”

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Professor Kay also acknowledges that while her views on abortion do not align with those of the Catholic Church (one has to ask, if these views were public at the time of her hiring, why was she hired in the first place?), some of her other views align with Church teaching rather well. However, this line of defense is about as effective as saying that in some regards one has been unfaithful to one’s spouse, but in other regards one has perfectly kept their marital vows. 

Many an article can be written about how Notre Dame is no longer truly a Catholic university. This kind of stunt would get many teachers fired from a diocesan Catholic high school. Seeing as Notre Dame is the best-known Catholic university in the country, the administration should have an easy decision in summarily firing this woman. 

However, a more interesting and perhaps more productive question to ask is: How did we get to the point where the most prominent Catholic university in the United States employs, and probably will not fire, such a person? It is no secret that other universities, such as Steubenville, Ave Maria, and others have taken up the mantle as great Catholic universities in the United States. While American Catholics certainly welcome their rise, one has to ask, why was that needed at all?

The answer seems a simple one. Notre Dame cares more about being just another elite university as opposed to being an elite Catholic university. The administration at Notre Dame is far more concerned with receiving compliments from The New York Times than receiving compliments from Catholic families who sacrificed to send their children there. 

Some defenders of Notre Dame will cite the activity of “peer institutions,” such as Georgetown, to justify the university’s scandalous behavior in such situations. Firstly, the fact that the “peer institutions” cited sometimes include Georgetown is laughable. As if anyone should take cues from a Jesuit university on how to build a Catholic institution. Secondly, Georgetown, though considered a prestigious school by some, is nowhere near the level of prominence of Notre Dame. If anything, Georgetown should follow the lead of Notre Dame, not the other way around. 

If Notre Dame did care about being an elite Catholic university, they would reflect that in their hiring practices. Instead, as we see with Professor Kay, that is far from the case. Many people within academia will acknowledge that Notre Dame will not even hire their own Ph.D. graduates, much less graduates from so-called “lower-level schools.” Instead, they primarily look to Ivy League Ph.D.s to fill open positions. 

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to find the best potential faculty members, a Catholic university ought to seek the best Catholic professors, which may sometimes mean not hiring from the most elite schools in the country. Sure, secular groups that rate universities might rank Notre Dame lower for hiring a St. Louis University Ph.D. instead of a Yale Ph.D., but those are not the people to seek favor with. 

Notre Dame could also show a commitment to being an elite Catholic university in their selection of students. Certainly, many Catholics in recent years have known studious and well-rounded Catholic young men and women who never got into Notre Dame, and the response is usually, “if so and so didn’t get in, I don’t know who could!” The answer again seems to be that Notre Dame would rather select students of the elite variety without any consideration of the applicant’s religious background. 

If anything, diversity is more of a consideration to acceptance than faith ever is. Though this may surprise some people these days, Catholic schools are meant to serve Catholic students. While, again, high academic achievement is a fine consideration, it ought not trump the Catholic mission of the school. And while the world certainly knows Catholics of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, one seriously doubts whether the admissions department really considers a student’s race and faith as opposed to just their race. 

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

  • Thomas Shaffern

    Thomas Shaffern studied history, philosophy, and theology at the University of Scranton. He is now a high school teacher in Pennsylvania.

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