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What part of ‘Catholic’ don’t they understand?

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:May 20, 2010; Section:Opinion; Page Number:10A

What part of ‘Catholic’ don’t they understand?

MU stays true to beliefs in dean non-hiring

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

What is it about any Catholic institution that when it remembers its Catholic identity and acts accordingly it attracts such hatred and vitriol?

Marquette University has been at the center of an unceasing storm of criticism since its decision to withdraw an offer of employment to Jodi O’Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University, a Jesuit university. Listening to Marquette’s critics, one would think that the Inquisition had been re-imposed in southeastern Wisconsin.

For those late to the controversy, O’Brien’s research is on various sexual practices and mores and is not really suitable for discussion in a family newspaper. It’s fair to say her writings on human sexuality are certainly contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Given her work, it’s fair to wonder at the quality of peer review at her current position.

O’Brien also happens to be a lesbian, and much of the hubbub surrounding the decision not to hire her has centered on that detail. Welcome to identity politics, which not only informs her academic work but also inflames her supporters to cry bigotry and “homophobia.”

Marquette offered her the position as the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, a very important role at a university and certainly a role with wide-ranging influence. The members of the search committee knew the hiring would be controversial, as they asked the administration not to make the offer unless it was prepared to defend her.

The letter was sent, and O’Brien was about to join the Marquette faculty except for the timely intervention of Archbishop Joseph Listecki. Listecki expressed his concerns, and Marquette University President the Rev. Robert Wild withdrew the offer to O’Brien.

This was hardly shocking. Before Listecki came to Milwaukee, he was one of the bishops who expressed disapproval of Notre Dame University’s decision to grant an honorary degree to President Barack Obama and invite him to be the commencement speaker last year.

We can reasonably expect Listecki to have more to say about situations where Catholic doctrine is challenged. After all, that is what bishops normally do.

The reaction to Wild’s decision was, well, nuts. It’s one thing when the media finds professor Dan Maguire over at the theology department to give his pronouncements. He’s in all of the media Rolodexes; even as the previous Archbishop Timothy Dolan made it clear Maguire is a teacher of false church doctrine. Every Catholic institution should have a crank in the bell tower.

But the reaction by the majority of the faculty is certainly cause for alarm to those parents that spend good tuition money expecting their children to receive a good Catholic education. The faculty condemned Wild’s decision and even threatened to undermine his authority in the coming academic year.

The sophomoric behavior, too, of some students when Wild appeared before them to explain his decision was yet another reminder that children should be seen and not heard. What Catholic value were they emulating when they presented their petitions for Wild’s resignation and stormed out?

The question that should be posed to both groups is simple: If the Catholic part of a Catholic university is so offensive to your sensibilities, why are you at Marquette? Is it because you like the basketball program?

But their behavior merely echoed those outside of the church who took one more chance to take more cheap shots. Fine, they brought up the priests that were sexual predators. I wonder how many of them are alarmed at the number of public school teachers engaged in similar activity.

Even the odious Scot Ross of the fanatically leftist organization One Wisconsin Now could not resist taking a shot at the church using vile language unsuitable for a family newspaper. I suggested to him that perhaps O’Brien could use his comment as the subject of her future research.

And on it goes, until renewed again the next time a church leader actually defends the Catholic faith. Rather than screaming and foaming at the mouth, it would be nice if, for once, the critics stopped to consider the institution they’re vilifying and said, “Wow, is that school Catholic.” Nicer still if the rest of us could agree.

JAMES WIGDERSON

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