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If earning formal rebukes from one's own local bishop were a competition, the University of Notre Dame would be a formidable powerhouse. The Fighting Irish have managed to accomplish that particular feat several times since only 2009.
The most recent case happened this month when the school, in what has come to be an unsurprising decision, opted for scandalous prestige at the expense of Catholic principle. Each year, the university awards its Laetare Medal to a self-professed Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity." This year, beating what had to be millions of better candidates for that honor, was the left-wing, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex "marriage" vice president of the United States, Joseph Biden.
His Excellency Kevin Rhoades, the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend — that is, the spiritual leader with authority over Notre Dame — actually had to step in and remind the school that there's a grave duty to uphold Catholic teaching at an institution ostensibly designed for Catholic teaching.
"I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any pro-choice public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service," Bp. Rhoades gently stated. "I also question the propriety of honoring a public official who was a major spokesman for the redefinition of marriage."
And that came after he had already warned the school's president, Fr. John Jenkins, that such a move would be a mistake. Apparently, Fr. Jenkins has a different understanding of the Faith and its attendant moral obligations.
That disparate conception of Catholicism was perhaps also on display when Notre Dame, just last year — after video upon video had explicitly depicted Planned Parenthood's involvement in illegal organ harvesting — held a prominent display of support for the abortion giant on campus.
As usual, Bp. Rhoades had to clear up the confusion by publicly correcting the university's ill-considered activity. "I was very saddened to learn that this show of support for an organization that is the largest abortion provider in our country occurred at a Catholic college in our diocese," said Bp. Rhoades.
His Excellency then proceeded to identify and criticize the false idol of "academic freedom," arguably at the root of Notre Dame's fall from grace as a once-respectable bastion of the Faith in America.
Catholic identity is not only about what we stand for; it is also about what we will not stand for. Just as we would be rightly scandalized to see a public display portraying a racist organization like the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light, so too, we expect Catholic colleges to refuse to lend any kind of respectability to organizations like Planned Parenthood that play such a significant role in the culture of death. Authentic freedom, academic or otherwise, is always linked to the service of truth and love. It is also ordered to the formation of the human person in truth and love, formation in which Catholic colleges and universities play a critical role.
Rhoades then took the time to spell out exactly what's disturbing and unacceptable about the corporation that profits off slaughtering preborn babies and dutifully perverted (i.e., contracepted) sexual activity.
The year before that, Bp. Rhoades was busy giving Notre Dame's esteemed educators some education on the rudiments of marriage, after the administration decided it would be a prudent idea to extend marital benefits to so-called spouses of any gay university employees as long as they have a certificate from the state calling their shameless sodomy "marriage." Nevertheless, the school endorsed "a Catholic view of marriage."
His Excellency commended the school for claiming to hold, in its words, "a Catholic view of marriage," but he was careful to insist "that Catholic teaching on the heterosexual nature of marriage is more than 'a view' ... . [It] is an objective truth known by (right) reason and revelation."
Further, Bp. Rhoades explained, Notre Dame's self-proclaimed adherence to Catholic marriage "should also include efforts to defend the religious liberty of our religious institutions that is threatened in potentially numerous ways by the legal redefinition of marriage, including the government forcing our Catholic institutions to extend any special benefits we afford to actual marriage to same-sex 'marriage' as well."
Finally, there's Notre Dame's infamous, inexplicable bow to President Barack Obama, the unabashedly abortion-friendly head of State who's since become both a leading champion of "gay marriage" and the primary reason Catholics in the United States are now frequently forced either to bankroll "birth control" or else face heavy fines. In 2009, the school invited the president to give its commencement speech, which he gladly accepted.
The bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend at the time, John M. D'Arcy, refused to attend the honorific event for the first time in his 25 years of leading the diocese. He said he couldn't in good conscience be present at such a scandal because of President Obama's "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred." To make matters worse, Bp. D'Arcy hadn't even been consulted or informed of the invitation until after it had already been accepted. Father Jenkins apparently reserved his decision-making process to asking a few other Catholic university presidents to talk to their bishops about the idea.
As Bp. D'Arcy put it, the head of Notre Dame "chose not to consult his own bishop who, as I made clear, is the teacher and lawgiver in his own diocese."
"I reminded Father Jenkins that I was not informed of the invitation until after it was accepted by the president," he added. "The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake."
The highly publicized blow to pro-life Catholicism betrayed, in the words of Bp. D'Arcy, a "terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the Church." And as the school's future tensions with Bp. Rhoades have made tragically clear, that breach only widens with time.
Watch an analysis of the state of the Faith at Notre Dame on "The Download—Notre Dame Deceit."