©South Bend Tribune -- 4/07/97

N.D. faculty hiring prompts questions on religion, ethics

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- A controversy has been brewing this school year within the faculty and administrative ranks at the University of Notre Dame that to some hits at the very heart of Notre Dame's mission as a leading Catholic institution of higher education.

Theology Professor Jean Porter believes this issue, which has sparked much on-campus debate, could threaten Notre Dame's national academic standing and reputation.

"It will lead people, both inside and outside Notre Dame, to question the seriousness of the administration's commitment to fostering the growth of the university as an academic institution," said Porter.

It already has received attention outside the university in stories in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The National Catholic Reporter and The Houston Catholic Worker.

Others, like Rev. Richard McBrien, say the Congregation of Holy Cross is waging a power struggle as it tries to maintain its presence and authority at the university it founded more than a century and a half ago.

In short, the debate concerns a faculty appointment that Notre Dame President Rev. Edward A. Malloy made in the spring of 1996.

He installed a fellow Holy Cross priest as a visiting theology professor in Christian ethics and moral theology at Notre Dame. The professor began teaching classes here this past fall.

But the theology department appointments committee twice had voted against hiring that priest, according to Porter. Theology Chairman Lawrence Cunningham concurred with the committee in both cases.

Neither the priest in question nor Malloy would comment for this story.

McBrien, also a Notre Dame theology professor, and Porter contend that the hiring was influenced by the fact that it involved a Holy Cross priest.

"Is there a separate set of rules now for Holy Cross priests?" asked McBrien, who is chair of the Notre Dame Faculty Senate and is not a Holy Cross priest himself . "Yes."

Earlier this school year, that senate body voiced opposition to the hiring process and criticized Malloy for overriding the judgment of the theology appointments committee.

Yet Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Moore said Malloy, as university chief, was well within his rights to make that decision, as he could theoretically appoint the entire Notre Dame faculty.

"As far as Father Malloy was concerned, he believed the candidate eminently qualified to be a member of the faculty here," said Moore. "Certainly the fact that he is a Holy Cross priest strengthens that."

While Notre Dame includes Holy Cross priests, along with minorities, women and Catholics, in its affirmative action hiring policy, that does not mean Holy Cross priests receive automatic faculty appointments, Moore said. Favoritism in this instance, he argued, would be an artificial claim.

"I think the opinion would emerge that this was a good appointment," Moore said. "The university has benefited by (the theology instructor's) presence."

G. Robert Blakey, Notre Dame professor of law, agrees.

"This is about the Catholic character of the university," he said. "There are people who think the Catholic character is inconsistent with excellence."

Blakey said such tensions have become more pronounced through the years.

He maintains that Notre Dame's Catholic character sets it apart from institutions like Harvard and Duke universities. Both started with strong ties to different religions but have since become increasingly secular.

"If we're going to be Catholic, we will have to have priests," Blakey said, adding that Notre Dame is integrally linked with the Holy Cross order of brothers and priests. "And one would hope we would have teaching priests and not just administrators."

McBrien said he also believes in Notre Dame's Catholic character and the continued presence of Holy Cross clergy here.

But with fewer new Catholic priests in all religious orders, he said Notre Dame leaders have to face the future and cease denying reality.

"You need committed Catholic laymen and laywomen," McBrien said. "Fifty years from now or 100 years from now, if there isn't a priest here, that doesn't mean it won't be Catholic. You don't need priests to have a Catholic institution."

Notre Dame, he said, should employ a "strong core of committed Catholics" to ensure its continuing religious ties.

Rev. Patrick Sullivan, who is a Holy Cross priest, agrees.

An adjunct associate professor of sociology and a member of Notre Dame's faculty senate, Sullivan sees a solution.

"There's a way to do this that is not being looked at," he said. Holy Cross priests could take administrative or staffing positions and still maintain a presence on campus.

Even so, Porter still questions the Notre Dame system.

"I think, at the very least, the administration has given the impression by their actions that they don't trust the judgment of one segment of the faculty, namely the theology department," she said. "And they are prepared to override the judgment of that faculty in a pretty blatant way."

Notre Dame leaders have to take the faculty seriously to retain a national academic reputation, according to Porter.

Finance Professor Richard Sheehan said Notre Dame should concentrate on individuals rather than religions. He helped draft the university's current affirmative action policy.

"If and when it comes to the point where the Catholic identity at Notre Dame is defined by the percentage of Catholics on campus . . . then the battle is lost," he said. "The question has to be a much deeper and a much harder question."


It was that order of Roman Catholic priests and brothers that founded the University of Notre Dame in 1842. Throughout the years, the number of new vocations in the church have declined steadily. As with almost every parish across the nation, that fact of life has impacted Notre Dame, where a Holy Cross presence still exists. What follows are the number of Holy Cross priests and brothers who have taught at Notre Dame:

1970 47
1980 44
1990 35
1997 35

Holy Cross priests and brothers also have been heavily involved in campus activities. Those numbers, which overlap with the
number of Notre Dame teaching clergy, are:

1970 74
1980 72
1990 73
1997 66