Not only did Bill Clinton deliver the commencement address, but he also received an honorary doctorate from LMU. Fr. Allan Deck, S.J., rector of the LMU Jesuit Community defends this decision as follows, “LMU, precisely because it is a Catholic and Jesuit University, seeks to follow the inspirational leadership of Pope Francis in promoting a culture of encounter that requires an openness to meet people cordially where they are rather than negatively in a judgmental way.”
Fr. Deck’s defense of violating the teaching of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, as noted earlier, attacks a straw man. While it is true that a culture of encounter requires an openness to meet people cordially where they are, it does not require inviting them to give a commencement address nor does it require giving them an honorary doctorate. Indeed, Pope Francis’s particular emphasis on the authority of local conferences of bishops does not exonerate but exacerbates LMU’s action. If Pope Francis is right that abortion is a “crime” and an “absolute evil,” surely we must, with respect, disagree with Fr. Deck.
Encountering and dialoguing with those who facilitate serious injustices is one thing.
Celebrating and honoring them, in the highest manner institutionally possible, is quite another.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops teach, “Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. … Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” A politician’s extraordinary service does not constitute an exception to this principle, since any politician who is being considered for an honor presumably has exemplary service in at least some respects.
In the Loyolan, Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, the rector of the Jesuit Community at LMU and a trustee, defends giving President Clinton an honorary doctorate. “In conferring this honor LMU does not endorse all of Mr. Clinton’s past or current policies nor condone all his actions,” Deck told the Loyolan, “Rather, the University recognizes the extraordinary service he has given to civil society and his lifetime connection to Catholic and Jesuit higher education as a Georgetown University alumnus.”
Fr. Deck’s response to RenewLMU’s criticism attacks a straw man. No one thinks that to grant an honorary doctorate is to endorse all of a politician’s policies or to condone all the politician’s actions. Nor is the question whether the politician provided extraordinary service or attended a Jesuit university. The question is whether President Clinton’s policies and actions violate fundamental Catholic moral principles about partial birth abortion, perjury, obstruction of justice, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Among the most notable recent retirements at LMU, Dr. James Hanink stepped down after decades of service. A faculty colleague had this to say about him:
Professor James Hanink served since the 1970s at LMU, excelling especially in the classroom. He assigned numerous essays for students to write and returned them promptly with oceans of red ink as suggested improvements for the next round. His students reported that they were both challenged and edified by his teaching which stretched them to think more concretely about questions both metaphysical and practical. His stories and jokes lightened the philosophical load. Jim’s scholarly productivity was steady and focused on questions interesting to philosophers in the analytic tradition (such as Elizabeth Anscombe) and the continental tradition (such as Edith Stein). With his colleagues, he generously read and commented on drafts of papers as well as seminar presentations. Jim was well known, on campus and off, for his concern for the Catholic identity of LMU, especially as it related to issues of justice for human beings waiting to be born. This concern for the most weak and vulnerable in the human family also manifested itself in terms of Jim’s personal involvement with the Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement.
John Allen, Jr. is one of the most respected reporters on matters Catholic in the English speaking world. Formerly of the National Catholic Reporter and more recently of the Boston Globe, Allen’s reporting is acclaimed, by liberals and conservatives alike, for its balance, objectivity, and fairness. In the middle of a recent essay, Allen offered these words about LMU:
A widely read recent piece in Catholic World Report …raised sobering questions about whether LMU can, or will, remain “Catholic” in anything but name. … [O]nly 24 percent of faculty at LMU are now Catholic, and they tend to be the oldest members of the faculty. The increasingly non-Catholic ethos on campus, [the author] argued, shows up in a variety of ways, and he predicted that if things continue unchecked, “the process of secularization will be completed within a generation.” To be clear, the essay was neither alarmist nor antagonistic, but a rather straight-forward reading of the situation.
The Cardinal Newman Society ran an article entitled, “Catholic Professors Claim Hostile Environment at Loyola Marymount.” This article draws on a Faculty Climate Survey which reports, “Conservative Catholics feel they are in an environment that is hostile to what they feel are true Catholic values.” We have also heard from several former, current, and prospective LMU professors who believe that de facto litmus tests are used at LMU to exclude professors with Catholic religious beliefs. In some cases, these professors had the ‘wrong’ view (a Catholic view) on marriage. In other cases, they encountered a ‘red flag’ because of their opposition to abortion or because they were perceived as ‘too conservative’ in their religious beliefs. Catholics like these are warmly welcomed into the LMU community as donors, trustees, or parents paying tuition, but these Catholics experience a rather cool reception or outright rejection as professors. We believe that professors with Catholic religious beliefs should be treated fairly in recruitment, hiring, as well as in appointment to committees, directorships, and endowed chairs at Loyola Marymount University.
So, we encourage Catholics who believe they have been subject to unfair treatment to come forward and, confidentially or publicly, to make their voices heard. Tell us about your personal experience. Catholics should not face discrimination, exclusion, or adverse treatment at any university, let alone at a Catholic university funded by many Catholic donors and Catholic parents.
During the month of October, Catholics in the United States celebrate Respect Life Month. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez called it a time of prayer and action to “defend the dignity of every human person, from conception until natural death.”
Recent news made this October an especially important time to educate the campus about the intrinsic value of every single human being. The undercover videos made by The Center for Medical Progress exposed the selling of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood. On October 5th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill legalizing physician assisted suicide.
So, with all these life issues in the news, how did LMU celebrate Respect Life Month? Did they have pro-life lectures, a film series, or perhaps make extra efforts to help women with crisis pregnancies or to reverse the legalization of physician assisted suicide? Did they attempt to influence campus opinion on these topics, perhaps by a debate, or posting pro-life quotations from Pope Francis around campus, or hosting reading groups for the Jesuit statement “Standing for the Unborn”?
LMU observed Respect Life Month in exactly the same way in which they celebrated the Year of Faith which Pope Francis brought to a close. LMU did nothing. Not one lecture, not one retreat, not one banner. Doing absolutely nothing for Respect Life Month is a longstanding tradition at LMU, but some traditions are worth changing and worth challenging.
To paraphrase, “Standing for the Unborn,” it is our desire that our Jesuit university begins to offer a consistent message of respect for life, especially for unborn children.
Will LMU do anything to promote the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis starting December 8, 2015?
Will LMU do anything to promote Respect Life Month in October 2016?
We’ll let you know. We are hopeful.