A Plea to Love my Alma Mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville

A Plea to Love my Alma Mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville December 17, 2014

On May 12, 2012, Fr. Terence Henry, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS), conferred an honorary degree to General Michael Hayden with these words:

General Hayden has devoted his life to keeping America safe, strong and free. In that work he has drawn time and again on his Catholic faith working to integrate a Catholic understanding of liberty, justice, and human dignity into the day to day operations of America’s military and intelligence operations. Because he has spend many sleepless nights Americans can sleep in their beds secure. For his faithful service to his country and his Church, Franciscan University is proud to declare General Michael V. Hayden Doctor of Public Administration honoris causa.

Watch it below, and hear Gen. Hayden’s acceptance address, too:

It is this conferral that several hundred people—most of them alumni of FUS—are petitioning FUS to rescind in light of the recently released Torture Report. I opposed the degree conferral in 2012.

Some have argued that this is too hasty, that the Torture Report is unreliable and that torture itself, as outlined in the report, is unclear. Senator John McCain wholly disagrees here:


The US Bishops agree with McCain.


Others have claimed that if FUS rescinded the degree, FUS would risk committing the sin of calumny against Gen. Hayden. The problem is that there is ample evidence, as there was in 2012, to see why Fr. Henry’s conferral remarks are at odds with Gen. Hayden’s public record, as we will see in the recent videos of Hayden hyperlinked below.

Some have claimed that the report does not concern Gen. Hayden because his tenure is not coextensive with the timeline of the report. This shows a general ignorance of the report itself, that clearly covers the time of Hayden’s tenure from 2006 to 2009, and especially raises questions about his honesty in a 2007 Senate testimony about the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” program.  But even if this were true, if Gen. Hayden’s tenure with the CIA was irrelevant to this report, then it would be worth wondering why Gen. Hayden is one of the most sought-out sources by the press about it and why he accepts these invitations to speak out about it.

In the past few days, regardless of the previous speculative objections, Hayden’s multiple appearances on television have afforded him ample room to speak on his own behalf, to dispute the claims of the report, his involvement in it, and even to, like McCain, reject torture outright. He has not done this. In fact he has made things far worse, and brought shame upon FUS in the process.

Gen. Hayden’s primary public claim has been to dispute a different element of the report: Effectiveness. Gen. Hayden has many times asserted publically that the interrogation techniques (that McCain and many others consider to be torture) were effective. In this interview with Fox News, Gen. Hayden says that the techniques produced “Home Depot-like storage” about Al Quaida. In this interview with the BBC, Gen. Hayden claims, “I’m definitely saying that there was accurate evidence produced.” In that same interview, by the way, Gen. Hayden says that while the techniques (he directly refers to two of them: slamming people against walls and waterboarding) are “tortuous” they are outside the “legal definition of torture.”

This attempt to point out the effectiveness of the techniques only casts the Catholic argument into more doubt, since, to quote Fr. Henry, “a Catholic understanding of liberty, justice, and human dignity” teaches that effectiveness does not justify torture. That Hayden further appeals to the “legal definition of torture” to defend what he, in ordinary language, describes as being “torturous,” further grates against Fr. Henry’s 2012 description of Gen. Hayden as having “drawn time and again on his Catholic faith working to integrate a Catholic understanding of liberty, justice, and human dignity into the day to day operations of America’s military and intelligence operations.”

When asked in this NBC interview whether he would object to his family members being subjected to the treatment outlined in the report, Hayden replied, “my outrage, if that were ever done to any of my family members, would be fairly muted if my family members had just killed 3,000 of my citizens.”

At this point it is not hard to understand how and why Gen. Hayden’s position, in his own words, is scandalously out of step with the Catholic Church. These counterfactuals dismantle and discredit Fr. Henry’s words given on behalf of FUS.

Is it is calumny for FUS to rescind a degree from this man? A man who along with all the evidence above has publicly quibbled over whether rectal rehydration is torture or not?

I’m not so sure that it is. I do wonder why those who wring their hands about calumny are so cavalier, in light of such accessible and first-person evidence and testimony, about torture.


At First Things, my dear friend and FUS classmate, JD Flynn, has noted that despite his inclination to “counsel prudence,” FUS has an opportunity for what he calls “prophetic witness.”

I am not sure about that either. Prophets rarely—in fact they never—prophecy post facto. Anyone familiar with the spiritual gift of prophecy should know that prophecy is not retroactive.

There would be nothing particularly novel or groundbreaking about rescinding the degree: St. Francis College and Mount St. Mary’s rescinded degrees ten years ago, in 2004, over conflicts with recipients’ stances on abortion and capital punishment.

No, now is not the time for FUS to offer a prophetic witness, as it did in times past. That time has passed, for now. Now is, as I said before, a time for FUS to repent.

Those who today must offer a prophetic witness are the ones who truly love FUS.


When she strayed, the prophets witnessed to Israel, they called out to her, with fear and trembling. They called her to repentance.

Lovers of FUS: Call out to her.

Sons and daughters of FUS, my brother and sisters: Love your alma mater in the most difficult and rigorous way, by witnessing to her, by holding her close to the sacred and radical covenant of our Fathers: of Francis, Scanlan, and John Paul II.

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