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                                               L. Scott Smith
               When Heteronomy & Autonomy Collide

           he University of Notre Dame rolled out the red        plores the roots of this controversy. He traces them to a
          carpet for U.S. President Barack H. Obama at its       statement that emerged from a gathering of priests and
          May 2009 commencement ceremony. Notre Dame             academicians held in 1967 at a university-owned confer-
not only invited the President to address the attendees of       ence center in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. The event took
the event but bestowed upon him an honorary Doctor of            place under the auspices of the North American region of
Law degree as well. Administrators, upon first announcing        the International Federation of Catholic Universities,
these intentions, provoked indignant and furious protests        which was then led by none other than Fr. Theodore M.
from many Catholics and others who support the school.           Hesburgh, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame at the time.
Over 350,000 of them, in fact, petitioned the university’s       The “Land O’Lakes Statement,” as it was called, trum-
president, Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., to retract the invita-   peted the importance of “true autonomy and academic
tion, but he refused to do so. None of this kept the most        freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or
casual and neutral observer from readily grasping the            clerical, external to the academic community itself.” Might
anomaly. Could it really be that a U.S. President who unre-      this have heralded a crucial change at Notre Dame?
servedly supports the Freedom of Choice Act and, while an              A new institutional identity did indeed follow. The
Illinois state senator, was outspoken in his opposition to       university aggressively made the transition from a “teach-
the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, was to be honored at       ing” to a “research” institution. By 2009, 53 percent of its
America’s flagship Catholic university? Some onlookers           faculty described themselves as Catholic, compared to 80
wondered whether this turn of events signaled a fundamen-        percent in the 1970s.
tal change by the university in social and moral conscious-            In the process of assuming its new character, in 1984
ness. Those dedicated to the Church’s teaching on abortion       the university invited New York Governor Mario Cuomo
were also asking a question already reverberating through        to address the issue of abortion from the perspective of a
the sanctums of its hierarchy: “What gives?” or, as Charles      Catholic public official. In his address Cuomo boldly dis-
E. Rice entitled his recent book on the subject, What Hap-       tinguished between public and private morality. He took
pened to Notre Dame?                                             the position that one can be “personally opposed” to abor-
                                                                 tion and at the same time publicly support it as an option
The Origin of the Problem                                        for others. Illinois congressman Henry Hyde spoke at the
    Rice, Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame, ex-           university eleven days later, taking a position radically
                                                                 opposed to that of Gov. Cuomo. But Hyde’s address was
                                                                 relegated to the student lounge in the basement of the law
                                                                 school, while Cuomo’s took place in Washington Hall.
                                                                 The governor’s address was widely publicized whereas the
L. Scott Smith, a Texas attorney and an ordained Dis-            congressman’s passed by in virtual obscurity.
ciples of Christ clergyman, is the author of America Un-               Thereafter, the “autonomy” of the university con-
raveling: A Politically Incorrect Analysis of Public Faith       tinued to be reflected in the events it sponsored. There
and Culture (Father’s Press, 2008).                              was in 1989, for example, a public screening of The Last

20                                                                                        New Oxford Review
Temptation of Christ, an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s      external authority, restriction, and the imposi
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