Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Decay of Marquette’s Catholic Identity: Dean Search Brought the Reality Home

From Marquette theologian Mark Johnson, and essay that explains the debacle that was the blundered deanship search that led to Jodi O’Brien (a lesbian whose opinions are sharply at odds with Catholic teaching) being offered the job.

It wasn’t, Johnson explains, a fluke of events that descended on Marquette suddenly and without warning. Rather, it was the culmination of trends going back decades.
As Catholics became more part of mainstream America—more assimilating themselves to it, perhaps, than changing it—their practices and thinking became more like it, too. As the upper-echelons of American intellectual life—the universities—gained influence in public discourse, their application of their spoken and unspoken principles had greater effect. Catholic universities, too, increasingly staffed by faculty trained elsewhere, began to speak with the dialect of secular or non-Catholic religious universities. And Catholic theologians and philosophers were eager to abandon tired scholasticism and think in new ways, which generally required them to leave the Catholic university scene and be trained elsewhere—it didn’t help that official Catholic teaching labored to sustain unpopular, if traditional, teachings, such as the indissolubility of marriage, opposition to abortion, and the primacy of children in marriage with its attendant doctrine of the integrity of the sex act. So the result was that, with the singular and important exception of Catholic social doctrine (read in terms of the distribution of wealth, perhaps, where that teaching resonates well with those who have socialist or statist leanings), much distinctively Catholic teaching, even in Catholic colleges and universities, was either disputed outright or politely just dropped.
And futher:
. . . the notion of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation evolved to mean “not different in moral legitimacy,” with the result that the variety of sexual orientations that people have are thought to be like the unobjectionable variations of eye-color; we don’t fault or praise someone for the color of their eyes, and neither should we fault or praise someone for living in accord with their sexual orientation.

Seen against this backdrop, what is so notable about the Jodi O’Brien case is not that in originally offering to her the Deanship the University was making new and brave intellectual commitments that launched it into a leadership role for the rest of contemporary American academe. Quite the contrary. Because homosexual orientation, activity, and scholarship is now so normalized in the Academy and indeed in the culture, the pursuing, interviewing and hiring of a scholar-advocate of homosexuality for an academic position, even a visible upper-administration position, is a daily occurrence. Marquette did not lead, it followed. In this sense, the original decision was so usual as to be boring: a duly appointed committee of a Catholic, Jesuit university, searching for a Dean for its College of Arts and Sciences, submits for consideration to the Provost and President a scholar in sociology whose writings entertain as liberating a wide-range of LGBT behaviors, support homosexual marriage—if there has to be marriage at all; the candidate isn’t sure—with the Provost and then the President considering then approving that submission.
We are not so sure the original decision was “boring.”

The hiring had all the earmarks of an enterprise in which certain faculty and administrators thought themselves doing something bold for “diversity,” which has now become a word that, in true Orwellian fashion, means that everybody must think the same and no dissent is allowed.

Still, says Johnson, the corruption (he doesn’t use that precise word) has proceeded so far that “people are surprised that some people were surprised” that anybody could object to the hiring of an outspoken lesbian and advocate of what the Church views as sinful behavior as a (necessarily) high-profile representative of the institution.

Johnson promises two more essays on this issue. We will most certainly watch for them on his blog.

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