The Corner

A Second Legal Opinion on Notre Dame’s Move Today

The University of Notre Dame today announced that the school will now extend benefits to all legally married couples, including same-sex spouses.

In an e-mail statement the school explained: “Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

Gerard V. Bradley, a longtime law professor at the University of Notre Dame, responds:

Notre Dame has not identified the “relevant civil law,” much less has it explained its decision to comply with it — whatever it is. Beyond that, Notre Dame appears to this point not to realize that it possesses ample legal and constitutional rights to continue give witness to the truth about marriage, which Notre Dame could and should do. The University could and should do so by treating a same-sex “married” persons as they truly are: persons who have unfortunately committed themselves to a sinful sexual relationship, and who have organized their domestic lives, and perhaps their “identities,” precisely around sin. Among these legal protections for Notre Dame are the many exemptions for religious employers to our employment non-discrimination laws, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the protections for all employees who have a hand in maintaining and transmitting the university’s Catholic mission, as the Supreme Court made clear two years ago in the Hosanna-Tabor case.

Sadly, Notre Dame seems to have forgotten, or ignored, the solemn warning of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which wrote (with Pope John Paul II’s express approval) in 2003:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right of conscientious objection.”

It is especially tragic that Notre Dame, which occupies a unique place as a flagship of American Catholicism, should so nonchalantly, and without a whisper of resistance or even protest, rush to comply with such an unjust law. Notre Dame’s easy compliance will scandalize many Catholics and demoralize even more. Those who are fighting to evict the truth about marriage from our country’s laws are no doubt celebrating Notre Dame’s action this morning.

Fr. Wilson Miscamble, a beloved history professor at Notre Dame, will be speaking about his recent book on the school in Washington, D.C., at the Catholic Information Center there, next week. I’d expect this to come up. Today he says:

This is a very sad development for Notre Dame. The haste with which it was done and its being announced without serious consideration of the legal implications is not only deeply troubling but also revelatory of the direction of the current Notre Dame administration. Notre Dame has made no effort to stand for the truth about marriage but has supinely conformed to a deeply flawed understanding of this crucial institution.

Here is an interview he includes in his new book we did about the future of Notre Dame.

Early this year, Pope Francis encouraged leaders from the school to “defend,” “preserve,” and “advance” the faith. There are some beacons doing just that there. This quickness to comply here doesn’t smell of uncompromising witness and unambiguous testimony.

The vision which guided Father Edward Sorin and the first religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross in establishing the University of Notre Dame du Lac remains, in the changed circumstances of the twenty-first century, central to the University’s distinctive identity and its service to the Church and American society. In my Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope 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. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!

These are confusing demoralizing times for some and this, as Gerry suggests, will only add to that. That said, however, as with the news earlier this week, and the ongoing synod in Rome convened to address the crisis surrounding men and women and children and marriage and family life, we knew there was work to do. Maybe we’ll go about it in much more serious, dedicated, constructive, truthful, compelling, and charitable ways. And despite Notre Dame’s move today, support and encourage those who are working to renew a culture that embraces and supports and strengthens love and marriage in the context for which have long believed we have been made — some of them who are even in South Bend!

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