I have been approached by many students who have questions and concerns about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the accusations directed at the pope.
The scandals in the Church can be gut-wrenching for all of us. The essence of scandal is that it disheartens the good. When we see evil where we expected good, when we see weakness where we have been taught to turn for strength, we are scandalized — saddened into a state of apathy, horror, and paralysis. Scandal saddens unto exhaustion.
Like Jesus Christ’s apostles in the Agony in the Garden who fell asleep because they were saddened to see the apparent victory of evil, the danger of scandal is that those who should be apostles are saddened, disheartened and exhausted in their efforts to achieve the good.
It should therefore hearten us — re-hearten us — when good and courageous shepherds step forward to speak the truth with clarity. Calling evil by its proper name is always a victory for the Truth. Veritatis Splendor reigns again.
We should be grateful to Bishop Robert Morlino of the diocese of Madison, Wis., for clearly naming the “homosexual subculture” that is at the root of so much of the sex abuse crisis. And we should be grateful, too, to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, the former United States papal nuncio, for making it clear that there has been a network of complicity and silence and inaction in the hierarchy.
I would like to say that I think that the University of Dallas is in a privileged position with regard to having an intelligent, mature discussion on these matters.
We are, for starters, very fortunate to have a student body educated by our rich liberal arts Core curriculum, which gives students a historic grasp of the reality of the Catholic Church throughout the ages — a real sense of the theological, philosophical, liturgical, spiritual, artistic and cultural heritage which is ours as Catholics.
We are also fully aware of the controversies, agonies and struggles of the Catholic Church throughout history — in the 200s — see the feast day of Sts. Hippolytus and Pontian, for example — the 1300s, the 1500s and the 1970s. Students study Western Civilization, Western Theological Tradition, Art and Architecture, Sacred Music and American Catholic History.
Therefore, they are not left without a historical and intellectual foundation for understanding what the Church is going through today. Thus, we are not reduced to dealing only with the “soup du jour,” the news at the pace of the latest journalistic revelation, tweet, or of social media furor.
Students and faculty of UD ought to recognize that they have a great deal to bring to the public discourse surrounding the Church today, and they should exercise their right to freedom of speech with maturity, prudence, thoughtfulness, and charity. We do not believe in guilt by association; we believe in innocence until proven guilty. Reserve judgement; demand facts.
We are also very fortunate to have so many thoughtful, orthodox, concerned members of the UD community to whom we can turn with our questions. Fr. Thomas More Barba, who has recently joined us as chaplain, is wise beyond his years. Fr. Maguire, a UD alumnus, Cistercian and long time English professor, knows that there is real evil and will not offer mere platitudes. Fr. James Lehrberger, another UD alumnus and Cistercian and longtime philosophy professor, has been teaching Thomas Aquinas in season and out of season for decades and fearlessly defended the Church’s teaching on Humanae Vitae.
The seminarians on campus are also a resource for us, a reminder of hope in the future and a call to fellowship. After 20 years at UD I have seen the seminary improve steadily. The seminarians in the classes are remarkable for their diligence, intelligence and healthy camaraderie. We ought to give them our support during this difficult time, when shame can smear equally the innocent and the guilty.
Dr. Matthew Walz of the Philosophy Department is also the director of studies for the seminarians and can share his wisdom about the priestly vocation for anyone who has questions and concerns.
Moreover, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit that began the academic year, celebrated by Bishop Burns, I was moved to realize how many mothers and fathers of large families we have on our faculty.
These are couples to whom we can turn with questions about the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality — Lance Simmons who teaches Ethics, Irene Alexander who teaches Moral Theology, David Upham who is the faculty advisor for the Anscombe Society, our campus chapter of the Love and Fidelity Network, Ron and Kathryn Rombs who jointly teach the UD Summer Undergraduate Program in Rome, and Tom and Janet Jodziewicz who have known generations of UD families.
Many of our faculty signed a recent statement re-affirming the Church’s teaching on Humanae Vitae, promoted by UD mother Mary Hasson of the Catholic Women’s Forum.
It has been a difficult summer for Catholics. I know that many, many students have put forward intense prayer initiatives for all the victims of sexual abuse as well as for Pope Francis, the bishops, priests and seminarians. It is heartening rather than disheartening to be surrounded by the UD community during this difficult time.