Skip to comments.An open letter to Fr. Jenkins [Notre Dame Controversy]
Posted on 04/11/2006 7:23:31 AM PDT by Unam Sanctam
No, not from me. It's passed on by a reader who introduces it:
I wanted to share with you a copy of an open letter about Notre Dames decision to allow the Vagina Monologues from a good and holy priest I know at Notre Dame, Father Bill Miscamble, CSC. Father Miscamble is an associate professor of history at Notre Dame. He addressed this open letter to his brother in Holy Cross, Fr. John Jenkins (Notre Dames president), and it is a forceful, articulate and profound. I hope that you will read it and post it on your blog.
OPEN LETTER TO FR. JOHN JENKINS, C.S.C.
I write to object to your decision to permit the continued regular production of The Vagina Monologues on our campus. I write in this public manner to alert our faculty colleagues and our treasured students that not all members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, to which we belong, endorse your decision. Speaking for myself, I find the decision deeply damaging to Notre Dame and its mission as a Catholic university. It is a decision that I beg you to reconsider and to reverse.
When you were appointed President of Notre Dame there was hope that you might address and reverse the attenuation and drift in our Catholic mission that characterized our recent past. My own hope was that you would address urgently such crucial issues as faculty hiring, the development of a curriculum that truly conveys the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition to our students, and the insidious effects on teaching and learning of the increasing corporate ethos at Notre Dame. For whatever reasons you chose to place your initial emphasis on the regular production and sponsorship by elements of the university of The Vagina Monologues and The Queer Film Festival. You put forth the position that an event which has the implicit or explicit sponsorship of the university as a whole, or one of its units, or a university recognized organization, and which either is or appears to be in name or content clearly and egregiously contrary to or inconsistent with the fundamental values of a Catholic university, should not be allowed at Notre Dame. This was a position of such obvious good sense that I never considered that you would retreat from it. Sadly, you have done precisely that.
In asking why you would reverse a sound position, which you obviously had reached after much thought and prayer, one must conclude that you were influenced by those contributors to the debate who favored the continued production of The Vagina Monologues. Presumably, you were influenced by the young women who produce this play and somehow see it as a contribution to the prevention of violence against women. Undoubtedly, you were influenced by the convictions of certain senior Arts and Letters faculty that any restriction on this play would damage our academic reputationand especially among those preferred peer schools whose regard we crave. Whatever the reasons, I must tell you, that your decision is being portrayed as involving your backing down. Indeed, it is hard to understand it in any other terms.
You must know that in taking this decision you have brought most joy to those who care least about Notre Dames Catholic mission. You have won for yourself a certain short-term popularity with some students and certain faculty but have done real damage to our beloved school and its distinct place in American higher education. By your decision you move us further along the dangerous path where we ape our secular peers and take all our signals from them.
Knowing you and having conversed with you on matters relating to Notre Dames Catholic mission in the past, I suspect that you recognize this in your own heart. Yet, you seemingly have let the possibility of some protest cause you to back off your own stated position. You were called to be courageous and you settled for being popular. This is not your best self. This is not genuine leadership.
In your recent Closing Statement you reveal a level of naiveté about the process of a Catholic university engaging the broad culture that is striking and deeply harmful to our purpose as a Catholic university. We live at a time, as the Yale Law Schoo professor Stephen Carter pointed out some years ago, when the elite culture is programmed to trivialize religion. Furthermore, much of popular culture is deeply antithetical to religious conviction and practice. It offers a worldview completely at odds with any Catholic vision. It is a worldview from which none of us can be sequestered and, indeed, many of our students arrive here far more deeply influenced by the reigning culture than by faith convictions.
Amidst this larger context you are ready to permit the continued production and promotion of a play which, as our colleague Paolo Carroza rightly put it, seems to reduce the meaning and value of womens lives to their sexual experiences and organs, reinforcing a perspective on the human person that is itself fundamentally a form of violence. Dialogue with this point of view is ridiculous. It should be contested and resisted at Notre Dame, but never promoted. Notre Dame must hold to a higher view of the dignity of women and men. Might I ask that if this play does not meet your criteria of an _expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this university, then what would?
My fear is that you have been spooked by the fear of negative publicity if you were to suppress speech on this campus. Here, it seems, you have a special opportunity to rethink your position. Know well that there is much hypocrisy abroad in the American academy on the issue of academic freedom. Note that NYU had no difficulty recently in suppressing the free speech rights of the students who wanted to discuss and display the Danish cartoons. Note that folk at Brown University get by with a speech code that bans all verbal behavior that may cause feelings of impotence, anger or disenfranchisement. In the American academy it is only certain kinds of speech that gets protected. And, as Professor Gary Anderson pointed out in his constructive contribution to this debate, a rather narrow range of politically correct views tends to prevail in the faculties of many institutions which influences what that speech is.
Notre Dame presently has a wider range of perspectives represented than most institutions who are forever prattling on about their diversity. (They are all diverse in the same predictable way!)
Please have the confidence to shape Notre Dame into a truly distinct institution. Take up the challenge to clarify for our secular peers that Notre Dame allowsas they do notclassroom engagement with religious beliefs precisely as religious (as Brad Gregory put it so well.) Reveal to them with the eloquence of which you are capable that the very values and convictions which allow us to consider a whole range of questions that they cannot also necessitate us to restrict the repeated public performance and promotion of works which are deeply offensive to our values.
John, let me commend you for your admirable goal of seeking to find ways to prevent violence against women. Over my years of teaching and pastoral service at Notre Dame I have sought to encourage my female students to appreciate their innate dignity and to truly respect themselves. I have been blessed to come to know some amazing women whom I now count as dear friends.
Drawing on conversations with such women about the circumstances that they find at Notre Dame leads me to suggest that your rather elaborate committee formed to pursue this goal has the whiff of a public relations exercise about it. The painful reality is that much of the violence against women in our society results from a sick view that separates sex from love and genuine relationship, from the commodification of sex, from the portrayal of women as objects, from the blatant refusal of some men to treat women with dignity and respect. Yet how will the committee be able seriously to address such issues when you have approved the continued production of a play that reduces women to body parts? Surely you see the contradiction here? Could I request that this be an early item for consideration by this committee.
What I ask of you in this letter will require you to dig deep into your heart and soul and to re-open a matter of which I am sure you want to be well rid. I suspect you have had moments when you wished never to hear of The Vagina Monologues again, and we both know that there are many other important matters to which you must attend. But careful readers of works like George Marsdens The Soul of the
American University know that similar decisions to yours which conformed religious schools to their secular peers inexorably led them down a dangerous path to the full surrender of their religious mission and identity. Regrettably places like Georgetown University are well advanced on this course. Dont let us merely follow them. To do so you would be a betrayal of our forebears in Holy Cross. Instead, Notre Dame must lead the way in American Catholic higher education. Please go back to your best self and to your original instincts and position on this matter. Dont embarrass those of us who want to work with you to build a great Catholic university. Lead us!
Know of my prayers for you during this holiest of weeks.
Fraternally in Holy Cross
Bill Miscamble, C.S.C.
Associate Professor of History
"... whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Wow! Now that's what I call "speaking truth to power". Not exactly what the libs who coined that phrase had in mind though. I hope Fr. Jenkins takes Fr. Miscambles arguments to heart!
God bless Fr. Miscamble.
It's heartening that there are priests like this teaching at Notre Dame. I've been told by others in the know that there are now substantial numbers of faculty at Notre Dame like this priest, and that there is real hope that the university could again be a Catholic standard-bearer.
We should pray for Fr. Miscamble and Fr. Jenkins.
An excellent letter, clearly addresses many salient points, with no waffling.
One word immediately leaps into my head when thinking of so many in positions of power in the US Catholic Church and academia in particular; "compromise". They have turned Jesus from a sign of contradiction into a sign of compromise. Compromise with the world.
As Fr. Miscamble intimates, Jenkins has simply sold out. The temperature became a little to hot for him and he melted. Period.
Pray for these men that they may have the courage to withstand peer pressure, scorn and the contempt of the world.
Outstanding! Note to Benedict XVI: There will soon be a man dispossessed of his teaching position at a well-known university in Indiana, USA. I believe he will make *excellent* bishop material! May I suggest his installation in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after your inevitable removal of the Cardinal-Archbishop currently ensconced there? The American Church needs this man to be elevated to a place of prominence!
>> You put forth the position that an event which has the implicit or explicit sponsorship of the university as a whole, or one of its units, or a university recognized organization, and which either is or appears to be in name or content clearly and egregiously contrary to or inconsistent with the fundamental values of a Catholic university, should not be allowed at Notre Dame. <<
Too bad; this was a brilliant position statement on ncensorship, as it parallel's the left's arguments on why religion must be banned from the public square (with the exception being that the public square was never intended to have an anti-religious purpose as Notre Dame has a religious purpose.)
Heh. "Speaking truth to power" pretty much means poking the eyes of anyone who is in position to help the people they claim to care about so much, and advancing every sort of social arsonist and power-obsessed freak.
Too many priests, not enough men. No men with "chests", at least.
Excellent letter, which I predict, will have absolutely no positive effect on Jenkins. I hope I'm wrong.
Notre Dame is getting better, just not all at once. The best news I've heard is that the Theology department came out against the VM.
Nonsense. Miscamble's positions are well known. He has tenure. He is respected. He's not going to be fired. He has been a voice for restoration and renewal at Notre Dame for 15 years or more.
And he is not alone at Notre Dame. He has allies and they are well known there. I get tired of uninformed traditional Catholics making blanket statements about Notre Dame based on the Dick McBrien they see on TV. Notre Dame never went the route of Boston College, Georgetown, DePaul or Loyola Chicago or Loyola LA etc. where there simply has not been a real alternate voice, no real discussion of what it means to be a Catholic university because the very scant numbers of traditional faculty have been totally silenced.
Notre Dame always had enough dissenters (McInerny, Jenkins himself, Cavadini, Charles Rice and Gerard Bradley in the law school and a number of others) against the false Catholicism to keep the issues alive. Notre Dame had an alternative conservative Catholic newspaper that raised these issues. That's why Jenkins could initially raise hopes so high.
You have totally misread the Miscamble letter. He addresses Jenkins as a friend and co-combatant in the battle to restore Notre Dame to real Catholicism. He faults Jenkins for wimping out. He does not anathematize Jenkins. He was disappointed but he believes Jenkins could still be won for a course reversal.
When you snottily and breezily affirm that Miscamble will soon be exiled and Jenkins is another wolf in sheep's clothing you can have no basis in knowledge about the school to go on.
Miscamble may be disappointed yet again and Notre Dame may never really return to authentic Catholic university life. But the battle over that is not yet over there, whereas it is over, essentially, at BC and Loyola Chicago and elsewhere.
You would further your cause and the cause of the recovery of authentic Catholicism in Catholic universities greatly if you actually informed yourself and made distinctions between the truly lost Catholic schools, the startups that are faithful, and the small ones in the middle who are either already well on their way to recovery (Benedictine in Kansas) or have announced an intent to recover (St. Franics in Fort Wayne, St. Joseph's in Maine) or the large ones in the middle who are at least recoverable, though at very great effort and with no guarantee of success--which is where Notre Dame belongs.
Pray for the schools like Notre Dame whose cause is not yet lost rather than anathematize them. Anathematze the ones that deserve it--BC, Georgetown etc.
My goodness! Calm down, already! Look, there is such a thing as tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. I believe I understand the concept of tenure. But it *is* possible that, friendly appeal or no, Fr. Jenkins can most assuredly make Fr. Miscamble's life sufficiently miserable as to force him to "decide" to leave. It's been done before.
As for tendencies toward "misreading" texts, you do a good job of that with mine. Certainly, you project *far* more into my comments than I myself intended to convey, and extrapolate from my remarks all sorts of things about my frame of mind than you could possibly know from the content. I take an obviously hyperbolic (bishops aren't generally nominated in the fashion I "proposed") stance siding with Fr. Miscamble against an institution that has a long way to go in its fidelity to Catholic teaching, and the next thing I know, you decide that this is some sort of prima facie evidence that confirms the (universally known?) impression you have that it typifies "uninformed traditional Catholics making uninformed blanket statements about Notre Dame." I'll thank you, sir, to keep such "blanket statements" about the motives of *this* "traditionalist" to yourself, instead of condemning yourself with the same "charge" that you so "snottily and breezily" lob against me. You don't *know* me well enough to hurl such accusations in public, sir! You "misread" *me*!
Notre Dame may not be Georgetown, but it certainly isn't Thomas Aquinas College, either. It has a deserved reputation for sliding-scale orthodoxy, and it will be years before the school fully restores religious and moral fidelity to the Catholic Faith. To say otherwise fully insults the intelligence of any knowledgeable Catholic. One does not need to be a mere "uninformed traditionalist" to understand ND's current situation in this regard. Ralph McInerny himself felt sufficiently alarmed by Notre Dame's lack of fidelity that he commented on it more than once in his own Crisis Magazine, and full-length exposes concerning the issue have appeared since he left the helm, but maintained a toe-hold with the magazine. Notre Dame is *not* the "Catholic" institution it gives itself out to be. That's common knowledge, and *no* relative comparison was intended by myself with any other college, nominally Catholic or otherwise.
It's too bad when people similarly minded about so many things have to blow up at each other in a public forum like this one. I've admired your scholarship many times; you display amazing knowledge of so many facets of the Faith and history. But this doesn't qualify you to read hearts and minds as you did here, particularly when you thereby engage in the same things ("blanket statements," "snottiness," "breeziness," "misreading" written words, presumption of motives, presumption of ignorance without warrant from the text, and defamation) that you decry.
Some of our FRiends among the "separated brethren" here eat this stuff up. That's too bad. "With friends like you..." Creating that type of potential "scandal" is not my doing here. Perhaps you just need to lighten up a bit, and see an attempt at humorous wishful thinking for what it is, even if you *don't* think it's very funny - that's *certainly* your preogative! :-O
You still don't get it. Jenkins has no wish to make Miscamble's life difficult. They are on the same side. They are friends and allies. Miscamble thinks Jenkins made an unwise, imprudent decision. He hopes Jenkins will change his mind.
I didn't say Notre Dame was a Thomas Aquinas College. You write as if there are only two categories. I was distinguishing four, so that you could be properly incensed at the ones who are beyond the pale and properly supportive of the forces within the ones in the middle who are trying to turn them around. Notre Dame is in the middle. It cannot ever be a Thomas Aquinas College. The pedagogy and mission of the two are very different. But Notre Dame could become a good Catholic college again. I'm not holding my breath, indeed, I don't hold out a lot of hope. But I do have some hope. Jenkins is on our side but he made a very bad decision. He is in a damned if I do, damned if I don't situation. If he moves too far too fast and the majority of the faculty who are not Catholic or are CINOs simply revolt, he would be forced out as president--faculty can do that (witness Harvard) and then he does the cause of restoring Catholicism at Notre Dame no good. But Miscamble thinks that he could have decided the VM matter in the opposite manner and not have risked losing all credibility even with the anti-Catholic/CINO/non-Catholic elements at Notre Dame.
It's a dispute over strategy in a huge chess game that, if not played properly, will end in a disaster for the goal you and I share--a Catholic revitalization. I think Miscamble is right in his strategy on this point and Jenkins wrong but I don't conclude that Jenkins is a tool of the Devil and will have to make Miscamble's life difficult. When you write that sort thing you show no understanding whatsoever of the battle that has been joined for decades now and of the risks and opportunities available to our side.
If you were writing tongue-in-cheek you should have said so. My generalizations were reasonable because you did not indicate that you did not mean what you wrote. I can't see your wink over cyberspace. Surely you know that it is your obligation, Sir, to indicate sarcasm when you mean sarcasm, hyperbole when you intend hyperbole. You indicated nothing of the sort.
Now was your "make his life difficult" in your reply to me also hyperbole? If you didn't mean it, why did you write it? If you meant it (and the context implies you did, which is why you have to indicate you did not if you did not) then it betrays continued failure to understand who Miscamble is, who Jenkins is, where the fault lines are.
And you don't have to be a ND insider to know that. Miscamble's letter was utterly clear. He addressed Jenkins as an ally, named other allies, and appealed to Jenkins as his friend and ally to change is mind. That's what I mean by your misreading of a text--Miscamble's own letter makes your interpretation impossible--unless, of course, you mean the opposite of what you write.
But if you mean the opposite of what you write, then write that as well. Until you do, you deserve to be taken at your word.
Tuesday of Holy Week
"We have grown accustomed to make a clear distinction between Peter the rock and Peter the denier of Christ - the denier of Christ: that is Peter as he was before Easter; the rock: that is Peter as he was after Pentecost, the Peter of whom we have constructed a singularly idealistic image. But, in reality, he was at both times both of these... Has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at once Petra and Skandalon - both the rock of God and a stumbling-block? In fact, the faithful will always have to reckon with this paradox of the divine dispensation that shames their pride again and again." (Pope Eenedict XVI)
Magnificat; Holy Week 2006 - Vol.8, No. 2; pg 65
"When you snottily and breezily affirm that Miscamble will soon be exiled and Jenkins is another wolf in sheep's clothing you can have no basis in knowledge about the school to go on."
Um, excuse me, but we do. While I wouldn't make the first charge regarding Miscamble, we have ample evidence Jenkins is, in fact, a wolf in sheeps clothing. Sorry, DI, but this is a no-brainer. If the guy can't stand up and say, "Uh, we're a Catholic institution so we won't be promoting the V Monologues and we're not going to be promoting homosexuality either," well, then, if he's not a wolf he's at least a coward acting no different than a wolf.
In fact, one of the more disheartening things to me is that I think you're right. I think Miscamble IS writing just as a disappointed friend, indicating that while he may wish the outcome were different, its really not that big of a deal. He'd just like his friend to reconsider.
Meanwhile, thousands of parents will ship their kids off to ND this year mistakenly believing their kids will get a Catholic education.
Frankly, Georgetown, BC, Loyola, etc., don't bother me as much as Notre Dame. Most everyone knows they're not Catholic anymore. But things like this letter are just enough to keep some people believing that ND still is. Hence, it is ND, not these other institutions, which perpetrate the biggest fraud. You yourself indicate ND has a ways to go before it can truly be considered "Catholic," again. But what percentage of this year's incoming freshman families do you think realize this?
Let's look at this Cavadini you mention as being one of those who is fighting the good fight, one of the 'allies' of those who wish to restore ND to catholicity. Is this the same Cavadini who called the Cardinal Newman Society, "a militant right-wing Catholic interest group lobbying for the most stringent standards of orthodoxy to be used in courses and curricula at Catholic colleges and universities, when defending McBrien against charges of plageurism?
Don't get me wrong, I thought Cavadini was correct in his decision at the time. And I thought he made good points in defense of McBrien. McBrien's an outright heretic, not a plageursit. But the gratutous swipe at the Cardinal Newman Society? Granted, the CNS IS militant, and it is right-wing, (thank goodness) but you and I both know he used those terms to smear the people making the allegation and curry favor with the liberal press. Again, his concern was far more for protecting the image of ND than it was for advancing any restoration of catholicity. So while I might not have 'inside information' on the politics at ND. It seems fairly clear even a country bumpkin like me can conclude that even some of the so-called 'orhtodox' at ND aren't really all that concerned with orthodoxy if orthodoxy bumps up against popularity.
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