Before I wade in too deep here, just know that I am a product of a state college, not a Catholic one. All the same, there are Catholic professors in state supported schools, and in non-Catholic private colleges as well, whom I believe our culture could benefit from if they spoke up like Dr. David DeWolf did recently.
Now, DeWolf is a professor at Gonzaga University’s School of Law, and unlike UCLA, or Baylor, Gonzaga is at least titularly a Catholic university. Recall that about a year ago, in November of 2012, Gonzaga was one of the first Catholic schools to knuckle-under to the HHS Mandate and its lame accommodation.
In a letter published recently by a group of concerned alumni calling themselves The 1887 Trust, Professor DeWolfe asks the question, “Why?” Why when other Catholic schools, like Notre Dame for instance, took the opposite tack? What follows is an excerpt of his letter titled, Gonzaga and the HHS Mandate.
Did Gonzaga Surrender Religious Freedom?
Why was Gonzaga University one of the first colleges in the country to reverse its longstanding policy of excluding coverage for contraception and sterilization from its health care policy? On November 20, 2012, President Thayne McCulloh sent a memo to Gonzaga faculty and staff informing them of this policy change. It was explained as being compelled by the HHS mandate issued by the Obama Administration, which requires employers, even those with long-held beliefs objecting to such coverage, to pay for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs as part of the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare). Gonzaga made this choice at the same time that many other Catholic institutions, including EWTN and Notre Dame, filed suit to have the regulations issued by the Administration struck down as violating either the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or both.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York City and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said this about the mandate: “Critics charge that this is an attack on the cornerstone First Amendment freedom that is the very foundation of our democracy. It is. Others assert that it threatens a violation of conscience for millions of Americans. It does. And still others insist it will force an unprecedented choice for many employers to either subsidize what they believe to be immoral, or withdraw health care coverage for their own families and those of their employees. It will.”
In harmony with his brother bishops, Bishop Cupich wrote a letter to the Spokane Diocese on February 7, 2012, in which he identified the three options open to Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations in response to the HHS mandate: “1) violate our beliefs by providing insurance coverage for medications and procedures we believe are immoral, 2) withdraw insurance coverage for all of our employees and face fines that will put our operations at risk of shutting down altogether, or 3) hire and serve only Catholics in the hope that then we will qualify for the exemption.” Gonzaga continues to offer insurance coverage to its employees, and it continues to hire and serve non-Catholics. So it has apparently chosen option #1 – to violate its beliefs. Why did Gonzaga University choose to do so? Let us examine the actions of Gonzaga University and the reasons given for those actions.
Gonzaga’s statement on the policy change says that “it is incumbent upon us as a Catholic Jesuit institution to ensure that the position of the Roman Catholic Church on the specific issue of contraception is clearly communicated, even as we are compelled by the federal government to fulfill our legal obligation under the mandate.” What is the “position of the Catholic Church” that Gonzaga University is “clearly communicating”?
One of the premier responsibilities of an educational institution like Gonzaga is to provide leadership on ethical issues so that other Catholics, faced with similar ethical dilemmas, will have an example to follow. To do the opposite – to set a poor example – is to become a stumbling block for others. Hence the etymology of the word “scandal” – to hinder rather than help others in their spiritual journey.
Reread that last paragraph.
Now in the case of a state college, this responsibility would be rendered void. But in the case of a Catholic college, the professor has a point. Given that many other Catholic schools have decided to disregard holding to Catholic teachings on the matter, the problem is compounded by the fact that some Archdioceses don’t adhere to it either. And the fact that Gonzaga folded its hand so early in the process smacks of capitulation on a teaching that should be non negotiable if we Catholics really believe in it.
Which sort of takes me back to the idea from Joseph Bottum’s essay that has stuck with me the most: the idea of re-enchanting the culture. Though Bottum opined that fighting the battle of defining marriage is unwinnable, the same “lay down our arms” approach would be disastrous if it was utilized anytime the teachings of the Church ran counter to the beliefs of the culture at large. Besides, how does the Church go about the arduous task of reintroducing the world to the truth, beauty, and goodness which her teachings bring mankind? Teachings revealed that instruct us to live in the manner in which we ought.
One would think that one of the best ways to do this would be through the actions taken by the Catholic universities, if not by our Archdioceses, yes? The faith, if it’s worth it’s salt, needs to be lived. Lived because it is true, good, and beautiful. Not tossed aside because it is inconvenient, but embraced because it contains the fullness of truth.
My hat is off to Professor DeWolfe for saying what needs to be said to institutions that are already besmirched for being seen as saying “do as I say, but not as I do.” I’m no expert, but such behavior seems to be akin to giving scandal, as Professor Wolfe suggests.
If the Church is to be successful in re-enchanting the culture, she needs to do so as the sign of contradiction that she naturally is.
For true and false will in no better way be revealed and uncovered than in resistance to a contradiction, according to the saying: ‘Iron is sharpened by iron.’ (Prov. 27: 17). —St. Thomas Aquinas
Bishop Olmstead, “…not an elective of a Catholic university.”