The Pope Francis Challenge to Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees is meeting this week in Rome, and of course the university’s senior leadership is there too. The first bit of Notre Dame news from Rome yesterday was the announcement of a 400 million dollar campus building project. The heart of the new project is luxury accommodations for football fans, including indoor seating for those willing to pay a thousand dollars to stay warm on chill November afternoons. The other bit of news was Pope Francis’ brief remarks to the Notre Dame party, which visited him at the Vatican. This pope, already celebrated for his simplicity and poverty of life, praised the university’s historic role in fostering the Catholic faith in America. But then he issued an unvarnished moral challenge to the assembled leaders of this nation’s most prominent Catholic institution. Pope Francis told the Notre Dame group that the “commitment to ‘missionary discipleship’ ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities.” An “essential” (the pope’s word) part of this commitment “is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching.” ”It is my hope,” the Holy Father added, “that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.”
One such “quarter” is surely the Obama administration, which has required the university to trigger free distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients to all Notre Dame women (employees, spouses, dependents) of reproductive age. Notre Dame continues to seek judicial relief from this requirement, but has chosen to comply with it in the meantime. The mandated “preventive services” (as the University’s own HR department describes them) are being delivered to those who ask for them by a Saint Louis-based pharmaceutical giant called “Express Scripts.” This mega-firm’s relationship to Notre Dame and/or to its third-party provider (Meritain) is not yet apparent. Nor is the funding source behind these mandated free “services” apparent from the federal regulations, which assert that the objecting religious employer is not to be that source without making clear who is.
Notre Dame could contribute to its “unambiguous” witness against these immoralities by answering these questions, to the very best of its ability.
Gerard V. Bradley is professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.