Status Quo at USF: Another Outrage

George Marlin’s series on the Catholic vote in key swing states continues today at our other site Complete Catholicism with an analysis of Florida. You can also find there his previously posted studies of Wisconsin and Ohio. – Robert Royal

Save the date! On November 9th, the University of San Francisco School of Law will be hosting an award ceremony. USF is a Jesuit institution with a “tradition” to uphold. They can’t just stand idly by and let Georgetown do all the heavy lifting. The ball is now in their court – the ante raised – after Georgetown saw fit to invite HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to address its graduates earlier this year.

You get my drift: yet another outrage is on tap. Diametrically opposing basic Church teaching in the pursuit of avant-gardism remains a relentlessly self-congratulatory exercise in some Catholic quarters.         

Sometimes we greet opportunities for indignation with a certain pleasure because it feeds our own sense of righteousness and, even if only temporarily, offers the illusion of covering a multitude of sins. Whenever untempered pride or anger predominates, we should see red flags.  

Yet real outrages and falsehoods should spur us on to productive action. Michael Jordan is legendary for inflating in his own mind merely perceived slights; adding fuel to the fire this way was a manufactured technique, but he put it to good use.  

USF’s “award ceremony,” explicitly intended to bestow an honor – not to have an earnest exchange of ideas or, say, a light-hearted exercise in “civility” – doesn’t fit neatly into either one of these categories. It is something that must be absorbed in silent stupefaction, as there is very little we can do about it. It is just dispiriting, even creepy.

In years past (this event dates back to 2004), USF’s honorees have had an uncanny tendency to actively support that fashionable oxy-moron: “same-sex marriage.”  It has been such a recurring theme you might conclude that university officials don’t just have a peculiarly abiding interest in “same-sex marriage,” but are deeply invested in advancing the cause. This disturbing, chronological overview points to more than you’d ordinarily care to know – except how such persistently flagrant abuses are persistently tolerated in the first place.

So who better for USF to honor this year than David Boies, the nationally recognized attorney who led the fight to overturn, in court, the successful passage of California’s proposition 8, which reiterated that marriage is inherently heterosexual.  

If this were an inconsequential and unintended blunder, we might laugh it off like those guys who present NFL highlights on ESPN: “Come on, Man!” is what they exclaim to rib players who make boneheaded errors that cost their team dearly.

Seriously, if you tried to pull a similar stunt in the world of sports or the workforce, you’d be off the team or out of a job in a heartbeat. I mean, talk about actually hijacking one’s own religion – jihadists only allegedly do so – to say nothing of being radically intolerant of nature itself.

            Archbishop Niederauer celebrates Mass in San Francisco, 2011 

Thank goodness the Church is far more patient and merciful than institutions that operate in other spheres of life. The grace by which she exists and the grace she exists to dispense is amazing because it saves us undeserving wretches;  “when we were lost and could not find the way to you,” one Eucharistic liturgy reminds us, “you loved us more than ever.”

But leniency in the face of ongoing abuse is not mercy; deferring obviously needed discipline is not grace. How easily a healthy insistence upon patience and dialogue, when exalted in isolation, mutates into a kind of sentimentalism or paralytic non-judgmentalism – itself a step away from a cocoon of cowardice.

When retiring SF Archbishop George Niederauer has taken clear stands – by denying permission for a homosexualist propaganda play to be performed or for an unorthodox Australian bishop to speak in the diocese – USF openly defied him and hosted both these events anyway.

Such puerile egotism is never an attractive quality, but it seems especially incongruent with freely chosen religious life.   

This situation is not so sticky or intractable that it needs to be indefinitely countenanced. Canon law is clear that the local bishop has many options at his disposal. Even though the school belongs to the Jesuits, the relevant canons make it plain that the diocesan bishop has the authority to take the matter into his own hands, assuming the religious superior is unresponsive after having been warned (canon 683).

Niederauer could remove the president of USF from his diocese (and/or whomever is obstinately implicated), after informing the provincial. See in particular canon 806 and 679. If sufficient cause exists, he could even evict the entire order from the diocese altogether (which would be a pity for faithful Jesuits). Thereare precedents.

The matter in question involves an element of judgment. But C’mon Man! – John the Baptist lost his head testifying about whom one could rightly marry. Even Herod found his truth-telling attractive. Why should any cleric feel entitled to preside impudently over a little fiefdom where gay marriage is held sacrosanct?

Judging from Niederauer’s approach with Nancy Pelosi – whatever came of their meeting years ago? – reticence or inaction in this sphere of ecclesial life appears to be his modus operandi. I’m sure he has his reasons. It doesn’t seem to be his strong suit, but perhaps he is acting with prudence and wisdom that outsiders lack.

Presuming, as I do, that he is motivated by charity, he might nonetheless consider initiating the type of disciplinary action he might be personally disinclined to take – out of charity for his brother bishop, Salvador Cordileone, who is set to replace him in October. Known for his vigor in defending marriage, Cordileone admits to very understandable frustration: “I wish I didn’t have to expend so much time and energy on something that should be self-evident.”

Niederauer knows better than anyone the kinds of stresses and conflict that come with the territory. So why not lighten his successor’s load? Cordileone will be a much bigger bull’s-eye, and his opponents will be loaded for bear. That the Church doesn’t rush things is generally wise, but there’s always time for just such a bold – and charitable – gesture.  


Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.