Ohio State vs. Notre Dame’s ‘damn Catholics’

Earlier this week, I saw someone tweet something about how the Republican Party “should never write off any block of voters. It’s horrible politics and it causes great damage.” I retweeted it with the note “Except Methodists.”

For some reason, I’ve long thought it funny to pretend I have something against Methodists.

When I first read the story about the president of The Ohio State University — Gordon Gee is his name — making derogatory remarks about Catholics, I thought it was more a story about religious humor. What do you think? The Associated Press got the story after a public records request:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The president of Ohio State University said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten because the university’s priests are not good partners, joking that “those damn Catholics” can’t be trusted, according to a recording of a meeting he attended late last year…

The university called the statements inappropriate and said Gee is undergoing a “remediation plan” because of the remarks…

“The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for,” he said. “They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate.”

The story then quotes a Notre Dame spokesman saying the university particularly didn’t like the comments regarding “Father Joyce.” Four paragraphs later, we learn what those remarks were, which is kind of an interesting way to order a story. More on the comments:

Gee, who has taken heat previously for uncouth remarks, told members of the council that he negotiated with Notre Dame officials during his first term at Ohio State, which began more than two decades ago.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by athletic director Gene Smith and several other athletic department members, along with professors and students.

“You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that,” said Gee, a Mormon.

What do you think about adding “a Mormon” in there at that moment?

I’d forgotten he was Mormon, but it’s hard for me to remember anything about him other than his pot-smoking wife. But is it relevant information? And, assuming it is, is that the right way to present it?

The story did a great job, I think, of showing that the comments were understood as being of a humorous nature:

Gee was introduced by athletic council then-chairman Charlie Wilson, and Gee’s name and introduction are included in written minutes of the meeting. Gee’s comments drew laughter, at times loud, occasionally nervous, but no rebukes, according to the audio.

And the story is chock full of information about Gee and his habit of making comments that get him in trouble. But the big thing I wondered about was whether the humorous remarks masked anything about the underlying sentiment.

I mean, was it entirely a joke? Was there discomfort of any kind with Notre Dame? Or, put another way, what was the real reason why Notre Dame wasn’t invited to join the Big Ten? Did religion have anything to do with it? If so, how?

Is this story done or is there more to consider?

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  • Darren Blair

    As someone who happens to be Mormon?

    If his bishop has heard about the matter, then odds are that Gee has either received a fire-and-brimstone lecture for his remarks or is going to be receiving one this Sunday.

    I’ve yet to meet a bishop who was willing to take things like this as “jokes”, no matter how bemused the potentially offended party happens to be about the matter.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The Atlantic ran an article where they tried to claim there is some sort of long-standing animosity between Mormons and Catholics that made it surprising and earth-shattering that Romney chose a Catholic running mate, and that this set back Mormon-Catholic relations.

    It is true that Mormons and Catholics disagree on key doctrines, but in my experience there is not as much anti-Mormon vitrole from Catholic leaders as from Evangelical Protestant ones. It would have been more a sign of religious divide crossing if Romney had chose a staunch evangelical Christian as his running mate.

    I mean, if you want to see Catholics and Mormons working together, Romney and Ryan, both acting on a secular stage is not where you look. You look at this [http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1888] which is a speech by Cardinal George to a BYU forum in February 2010. This is a campus wide meeting that every student is encouraged to attend, and no classes are scheduled during the mid-week time when it occurs. Or just this month the Becket Fund gave Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the 12 Mormon apostles, its Carterbury Award, and the award was presented by Cardinal George. For what it is worth, the Becket Fund was founded by a Catholic lawyer who had previously been the key counsel in defending The Catholic University of America’s right to ban Curran from teaching theology to comply with the orders of the Vatican. Of course, the Beckett Fund literally defends all religions, so it is not just pro-Catholic. They have defended everone from the Lutherans in Hosana-Tabor, to Sikhs in California seeking to build a place of worship, to the right of the Murphreesboro Mosque to be treated as a religious organization. They also went after Wayne, New Jersey for trying to stop a mosque there, a case that later saw New Jersey’s then US district attorney, Chris Chritie, file a suit against the township for their attempts to stop the building
    So calling the Beckett Fund Catholic is maybe a bit much, but still with the award being actually presented by a Cardinal to a Mormon apostle this is religious cooperation. That Gordon Gee is a Mormon does not make his statements against Catholics a reflection of Mormon views, and they should really not be viewed in that way.

    OK, the Becektt Fund is a lot more than just its founder, and even has Muslim members who are articulate in their views like Asma Uddin, but it clearly has Catholic roots.

  • John Pack Lambert

    For what it is worth, the pot smoker is actually Gee’s ex-wife. Although I am not sure their divorce and her pot smoking were related. Actually, after reading the linked article, it appears that at least Constance Gee wants us to think that Gordon Gee divorced her only because of the marijuana issue becoming public, but I still have doubts that that was the only issue.

    I think Gee’s religion was totally irrelevant to this discussion. He is speaking as the head of a secular institution, and does not inject his religion into how he runs the organization. If Gee was an Episcopalian, a Methodist, or even a Lutheran I highly doubt we would have learned what religion he was.

    If there is discomfort on the part of Ohio State people with Notre Dame, it is coming from a secular education perspective and not wanting to associate with a religious educational institution. Gee functions because people do not have to deal with him being a Mormon in any meaningful way.

    It was not Mormons laughing and finding Gee’s stupid comment hilarious, it was secularists, Protestants and maybe disgruntled Catholics. Of course Notre Dame has moved beyond its Catholicism in so many ways that if I remember correctly a majority of the faculty are not Catholic, a large portion of the student body is not Catholic, and it sponsors theatrical productions that outrage many Catholics, and gives awards to a president who has opened war on Catholic institutions, trying to force them to fund things they disagree with. True, most of that was after they gave the award, but they have not rescinded it, and the president’s political views were already out-of-line enough with Catholic teachings that his getting an award caused lots of protest.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com/ Joel

    Certainly it’s relevant that Gee is Mormon. His comments referred to
    religion, and it makes a difference what his own religious position is,
    if we’re to have any context for them at all.

    But I suspect he probably was joking, and his joke just came out lame. I’m a Catholic in a strongly LDS area, and I’ve never heard a Mormon speak of my church with anything but respect.

    • Darren Blair

      Sorry if he offended you or anything.

      I’ve never heard a Mormon speak like that, either.

      • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com/ Joel

        Darren, I’m not offended in the least. I probably wouldn’t be if he were serious. I cringe at some of the things Gentiles have to say about Mormons, things that make Gee’s words seem really tame.

        • Darren Blair

          Thanks.

  • Howard

    Yes, it was “just a joke.” So was Sergio Garcia’s comment about Tiger Woods and fried chicken. If Gee had made Garcia’s joke, how would the coverage have been different? Would he still be president of Ohio State? Does it make a difference that Catholics are not the only group about which he was speaking in a derogatory manner?

  • FW Ken

    I’ve been reading bits and pieces about this story around the Catholic blogs, and it was nice to have the information in one place. Apparently, Pres. Gee has some history trying to recruit Notre Dame for his football conference and might be a tad bitter that he couldn’t get them. And apparently the guy does have a mouth on him. :-)

    Catholics are not generally offended by Gee’s remarks, beyond a little eye-rolling. A few agree with him, at least regarding Notre Dame Catholics. One commenter expressed surprise that there were actual Catholics to mistrust at Notre Dame. But BIll Donohue isn’t offended, so that settles it for me.

    http://www.catholicleague.org/ohio-st-univ-prez-is-no-bigot/


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