Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Countering the Cardinal Newman Society

So much controversy has swirled around the Notre Dame campus lately, that the finger keeps pointing to the unrest from the Cardinal Newman Society - an advocacy group for more orthodoxy on Catholic college and university campuses. Their staunch stand against abortion rights focuses so tightly on our political process with single-issue political blinders that some question if they are consistent when the issues turn to war and capital punishment. This week they rise into the new headlines with their rabid opposition to President Obama's invitation to deliver the commencement address in May.

Academic debate is always the stripper of truth. Therefore, traditional liberal Catholics who are tolerant like our first martyrs were needed to create a counter-organization on Catholic campuses. Their purpose should be to let Caesar and politics have its place without summarily censoring and rejecting a political party or elected official. Our new Catholic organization's purpose will be to balance the rank-and-file's social outlook outside of the traditional Knights of Columbus events on campus.

The organization will need to be named after someone of high standing in the Church, but one who should be known more of as a Catholic free spirit and unorthodox theologian. After all, Church dogma must have a few holes which our members may expose. Several of the Middle Ages popes qualify as our namesake, but choosing one is a risky and complicated proposition. While none of them ever heard of stem cells, condoms or Democrats and Republicans, a few Pope Johns and Pope Alexander VI immediately come to mind as our candidates.

For longevity's sake, John XII (937-964) would be a good candidate because he became Pope in his late teens and remained the pontiff for his entire adult life. But appearances do matter, and he has a reputation for throwing wild orgies with both adults and children. His son, John XIII (965-972) unfortunately followed his father's hedonism, and his number turned out to be unlucky since he died just like his dad - at the hands of an angry husband.

To sound akin to the well-respected and longtime Knights of Columbus, maybe the pope at the time of Columbus should be considered, Alexander VI (1492-1503). Originally known as Cardinal Borgia of Spain, the Alexander VI claim to fame rose by conquering much of Italy by force with the help of his son, Cesare. He too had a reputation for throwing large parties, bordering on orgies, that at times reportedly culminated with naked boys jumping out of large cakes.

Alexander reportedly made a fortune selling indulgences, or free passes to heaven, along with selling Cardinal seats. He arranged for his daughter Lucrezia to be married three times, each time to a richer and more powerful aristocrat. When this pope died, everyone knew that he was rotten to the core. In fact, the college of Cardinals were so jubilant that they paid their respects by leaving Alexander to rot and turn purple in the Sistine Chapel, until his bloated corpse had to be stuffed into his coffin. Humor should be a core value of our new organization, and lending Alexander's name to it may inspire great social events. But he too does not quite fit as a model for today's Catholic campus counter-organization.

Many of the Renaissance Popes were generally another group who did not live up to the standards needed today. Since many of those papal elections were rigged for rich, powerful families, these papacies ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. If such abuse caused Christendom to split, naming our new campus organization for one of these popes would also certainly fail.

Ironically, not every pope - like every president - can be the perfect model we expect. The Catholic Church has had both virtuous and immoral leaders, some just recently involved with child abuse in the United States. After all, every human being has personal moral shortcomings and strengths. But policy issues that affect those who are not Catholic paint a gray area in our political system.

If our nation was bounded only within the Vatican, then it would be acceptable that our elected officials easily follow a single religion's agenda. But we do not elect a Jew or a Catholic or an Atheist to strenuously follow personal religious beliefs while in office. We elect representatives in our system to make judgments that are in the interest of their constituencies or the nation as a whole... - judgments that are mostly gray in complexity.

With our number of popes at 262 and counting, maybe we can find one whose name was "Gray," and therefore promote debate, inclusion and tolerance to our new Catholic campus organization. That should be our core value.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame '73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs

director in President Clinton's

administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be

contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.