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Holy Moley, Holy Cross By: Ryan O’Donnell
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 19, 2002


Front Page Magazine has reported on how the political domination of America’s colleges by the far Left deprives students to hear both sides of crucial issues. Let’s take a look at how this played out at one small American Catholic college. Early this past October, the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, sponsored a lecture by Thomas J. Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit. The gist of the speech by the bishop, who was one of only a few bishops to have dissented from the American Bishops’ vote of support for American military action against Al Qaeda in 2001, was predictable:

"there will be a price… we will pay morally and spiritually if we go against the teachings of God and faith [and attack Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq],"

At least the bishop didn’t mince words: if the Roman Catholic students at Holy Cross embrace the use of military force to unseat Saddam, they jeopardize their souls.

It would be one thing if the Bishop’s incendiary rhetoric had been balanced by a speaker representing an alternative theological view. But none was provided. Rather, Bishop Gumbleton cited the Church’s traditional just war doctrine only to dismiss it as irrelevant. While it was refreshing to hear just war theory even mentioned on campus, Bishop Gumbleton disqualified it from the present debate, arguing that the only just war is a defensive one, and denying that a preemptive military strike designed to prevent the use of a tyrant’s biological and chemical weapons, or the completion of his already well-advanced pursuit of nuclear weapons, can be categorized as defensive.

In fact, Bishop Gumbleton’s is a quite idiosyncratic reading of the just war tradition, as well as an idiosyncratically narrow definition of "defense." But because the College of the Holy Cross has so far provided no outside speakers to provide an alternative view, for the time being this is precisely how defense, and by extension, the just war issue, is defined in the campus debate. Indeed, the bishop concluded his speech by reaffirming his hope that all those "who believe in Jesus" would choose non-violence. Without any dissenting voices, the message conveyed to the student body was clear: serving Christ and defending your country are mutually exclusive.

In view of Bishop Gumbleton’s eccentric position when it came to the bishops’ vote on Al Qaeda, he is hardly representative of mainstream Catholic thought in regard to the country’s war on terror. But by selecting Bishop Gumbleton, and no other clergyman with differing views, to speak on the subject of America’s response to Saddam Hussein, Holy Cross’ Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture was clearly trying to portray an extreme, partisan position as if it represented the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is wrong, and is a perfect example of how left-wing extremists try to use established, respectable institutions like the Catholic Church to press their views on others and lend the spurious credibility these institutions can provide. Call it hijacking the pulpit if you like.

The Bishop’s appearance before the Holy Cross student body is just one example of the growing ideologization of programming at the college. The College’s Jesuit motto "Men and Women for Others" expresses a philosophy that has in the past helped to distinguish the school from the multitude of other small New England liberal arts colleges. In recent months, however, this statement has apparently been read to mean "Men and Women chiefly for violent groups whose virtues have been overlooked, such as the PLO, the Taliban, and the fascist rulers of Iraq."

The powers that be at the college seem unwilling to acknowledge that there are some, such as Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Adolf Hitler, whose crimes against humanity are so great that in order to truly be men and women for others, we must destroy them and the threat they represent. According to today’s Catholic Left, decisive military action (of the sort that for example saved millions of European Jews from death in Nazi gas chambers and if taken sooner would have saved far more) is inherently un-Christian.

The distortion of the College’s mission represents a new ethic implying that only pacifists can be truly ethical Catholics. Those who dissent are portrayed as pragmatic realists at best, bloodthirsty sinners at worst, thereby stifling intellectual debate at the College.

Holy Cross’ present troubles begin at or near the top. It is certainly not the students, nor (for the most part) the faculty, who have sought to channel debate on America’s response to Saddam Hussein and Islamic terror in a one-sided direction. Rather, it is the administration, whose continued support for the groups leading the charge into this brave new philosophy, i.e. college-funded organizations such as Pax Christi, the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture and the Peace and Conflict Studies program, that is poisoning the climate of intellectual debate at Holy Cross.

The administration’s encouragement of this environment of intolerance has been subtle yet effective. While the institution of a Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture (established in the fall of 2001) is certainly a worthy undertaking, as is the College’s program on peace and conflict, the manner in which these programs have been administered in recent months leaves much to be desired. Under the guise of providing educational dialogue and reflection on issues surrounding the War on Terror, these groups have adopted on a consistently partisan stance. When interviewed for this article, Professor David Schaefer of the College’s political science department observed, "Since the 2002-03 academic year began, there has been non-stop progression of almost weekly programs denouncing military action against Iraq and advocating pacifism." Such programs included a presentation by aging leftist Howard Zinn, which was co-sponsored by the College’s "First-Year Program," and an "educational dialogue" with former Ambassador to Yemen George Lane and Iraqi Professor Shakir Mustafa of Boston University. Zinn’s unusual program for promoting America’s "security" in the wake of 9/11 consists of (1) cutting the country’s defense budget by at least several hundred billion dollars; (2) adopting a program of national insurance, and (3) instituting a more steeply graduated progressive income tax. An unusual notion of defense, to say the least.

Similarly, the Lane/Mustafa panel, sponsored by Pax Christi, a notoriously left-wing Catholic "peace" group, lacked any pretense of being an actual dialogue. Instead, both speakers agreed in opposing military action to depose Saddam Hussein. The Holy Cross student newspaper The Crusader reports that Mustafa began the "conversation" by outlining why military action against Iraq would further destabilize the region, while Lane’s contribution to the debate included warnings of the potentially ruinous consequences of war for the United States and the world, including economic as well as political and international disaster. Apparently, Pax Christi’s idea of a balanced debate is arguing over what alarmist predictions regarding military conflict in Iraq warrant wasting the most oxygen.

Such lopsided political debate has not gone unremarked on campus. One student, David Picotte, voiced the concern of many students over the College’s selection of speakers, observing:

"The goal of a college like Holy Cross should be to educate the students on both sides of any issue. In regard to the issues of America’s response to terrorism, the school is forcing the viewpoint of a few on the entire community. As a student, I am disappointed with the behavior of the Holy Cross administration."

Likewise, Joseph Nawrocki, like Picotte a member of the class of 2005, commented that Zinn’s event amounted simply to "pacifists patting themselves on the back," rather than an educational dialogue. In fact, the school-sponsored imbalance has been so blatant, and apparently has aroused so much complaint on campus, that even the Director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture, Professor David J. O’Brien, nearly apologized for it in a recent letter to The Crusader. O’Brien wrote that while the recent run of school-sponsored speakers "honored the college with their presence and help stir our conscience," "the accidents of special events perhaps tilted the balance a bit towards non-violence, but students and friends of the college can rest assured that advocates of just war and backers of military action will be heard again in these halls in the months to come." Tilted the balance only a bit, Dr. O’Brien? An alternative student newspaper, the Fenwick Review, published a scorecard documenting five recent campus presentations opposing the use of force against Saddam, and none favoring it, to show just how unbalanced the programming has been.

Yet even after admitting that the College’s programming thus far has been lopsided, Director O’Brien’s letter goes on to provide "clarification of the ethical balance question." He asserts that given the terrible effects of war, it should be "avoided at almost any cost." He suggests that this orientation be viewed as "an obligation so powerful that it should be a part of the definition of those which form our College of the Holy Cross: Catholic, Jesuit, liberal arts." So long as the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture is run by individuals who believe that being Catholic entails supporting the sort of policies of appeasement that have encouraged murderous and expansionary tyrants like Hitler and Saddam Hussein, it would be unrealistic to expect any genuine balance in its program.

Any account of the College’s programming on world affairs over the past six months would be incomplete without mentioning two presentations by the self-styled "radical" (and Holy Cross alumnus) Scott Schaefer-Duffy. Last May, at the behest of the Center, Schaefer-Duffy gave an appallingly one-sided presentation on Arab terrorism in Israel, in which he blamed the conflict almost entirely on Israeli policies. Although many in the Holy Cross community were outraged by Schaefer-Duffy’s seemingly little regard for the many Israeli civilian deaths caused by Arab terrorists, the Center invited him back in November to give a slide show on "the horrors of war." While emphasizing that wars typically entail extensive suffering and casualties on the part of noncombatants (not exactly breaking news), Schaeffer-Duffy denounced the present U.N. sanctions on Iraq, despite the fact Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance of U.N. inspectors is responsible for the existence of these sanctions in the first place. One can only conclude that Schaeffer-Duffy exhibits far more "patience" with the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, (whose channeling of revenues from smuggled oil into propping up his regime and the construction of more presidential "palaces" is the primary cause of his people’s present plight) than with the democratic government of Israel, which has continued to work towards a peace settlement with the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza despite continued terrorist attacks whose victims far outnumber those of the recently jailed snipers in the United States.

Contrary to Professor O’Brien and Bishop Gumbleton, the equation of Catholicism with pacifism couldn’t be farther from the truth. The dominant Catholic view of war, the Just war teaching, as developed by the Church’s greatest theologians, including St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and their successors, evinces an awareness of precisely the critical moral distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate uses of force that a blanket doctrine of pacifism obscures.

O’Brien and the speakers he and the College invite to campus are clearly attempting to reinterpret the College’s mission statement in a manner conducive to the ideology of appeasement championed by the contemporary Left. While such attempts by the academic Left to hijack educational institutions are nothing new, the problem is exacerbated at a religious institution like Holy Cross, where, ultimately, O’Brien and his like-minded colleagues place students who favor a strong military response to Iraq or Al-Qaeda in a very uncomfortable position, the same political positioning employed by Bishop Gumbleton: choose your faith or defend your country. Such a simplistic and partisan approach to politics, and to Christianity, is favorable neither to the advancement of justice in the world, to genuinely liberal education, or to faith.

Some 167 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America that the Catholic faith flourished under American democracy precisely because its clergy distinguished between the realm of theological truth, to which believers are obligated to assent, and that of politics, which God has left to human beings to address on the basis of free will and rational inquiry. Without question, religious faith should help motivate us to try to secure peace and justice in the world. This faith, however, should not be reduced to the dogmatic assumption that only some means to those goals are worthy of consideration, let alone be interpreted as advocating passivity in the face of tyrants and terrorism. Holy Cross students, and students similarly situated across American academia, deserve better than the political "education" that their College’s extracurricular programming has been providing.

This one issue, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg.


Ryan O’Donnell is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross. He currently resides in Washington DC, where he is at work on his first novel. Please visit him at http://www.RyanODonnell.com or email him at raodonne@hotmail.com.


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