St. Norbert College and the Catholic vision of life


Bishop Ricken

Several months ago, I received many letters, emails, calls and complaints about St. Norbert College’s invitation to Gloria Steinem to give a presentation on their campus. The reason for inviting her, I have been told by college leadership, is to assist them in the discussion of the history of the women’s movement, especially as it may be understood in the context of domestic violence. Domestic violence is becoming a huge problem and, according to research, is almost an epidemic in the United States.  I agree that domestic violence is an extremely important topic.

Bishop David L. Ricken

Bishop David L. Ricken

Many of you asked me if I knew of the invitation to Steinem or if I approved of the invitation. I want to let you know that not only did I not approve of such a decision, I did not know about it. As bishop, I have the responsibility to ensure the Catholic identity of the Catholic colleges in our diocese. Even though Gloria Steinem has appeared at St. Norbert College before my time as the bishop of this diocese, and acknowledging that she has appeared at other Catholic colleges and universities, I do not approve of the appearance of Gloria Steinem at St. Norbert College. I have conveyed my strong disapproval to the abbot, the president of the college and the chair of the Board of Trustees.

That St. Norbert College wants to look into the causes and contexts for a huge societal problem is laudable and needs consideration and attention by society and church. However, I find the invitation of Steinem to be quite mystifying. Given the historical escalation of domestic violence in the United States, and the fact that the “tried and true methods” of the past 40 years do not work, a question arises in my mind: why would St. Norbert, a Catholic college, invite someone who is such a high profile and well-known protagonist and activist of abortion rights to weigh in on the causes and contexts of a dramatic increase in domestic violence in the United States?

Unless she has radically changed her position on abortion, which I hope she has, the connection of abortion rights to the feminist agenda is a sad one and calls into question the logic of such an enterprise. The reason her position ought to be called into question is that it is an internal self-contradiction. One cannot build one’s claim to a right based upon the denial of another’s fundamental right to life. One cannot really advance the rights of women while taking the life of an innocent child in the womb. One cannot protest domestic violence outside the womb and be in favor of violence and denial of life in the home of the womb. Therefore, the good she might be doing is seriously compromised by her own positions and actions. Her positions are self-contradictory. For some reason, the SNC leadership community cannot see or does not want to admit this internal contradiction.

I understand that Gloria Steinem will not speak about abortion. Really, she doesn’t need to. Her whole career and life is a grand affirmation of the pro-abortion movement. These types of approaches are outdated, tired and confusing ways to approach these issues, especially given the fact that the Catholic Church has new approaches to women’s issues that are fresh, life-giving and highly respectful of the human person. It would be so refreshing if we heard the leadership and faculty use these new voices to help our young people live a life of integrity and holiness and to truly embrace life and peace for the most innocent of all.

I want to make it abundantly clear to those who have gotten trapped in the maelstrom of an unexpected pregnancy and have made the choice to abort under the duress of great pressure: the mercy of Jesus is super abundant for you. If you ask for forgiveness of God, His divine mercy will be given to you superabundantly.

Over the 35 years of my priesthood, I have heard the confessions of women and men involved with abortions directly or indirectly. The devastation that an abortion inflicts on a mother and/or father and the family and family system is considerable.

Catholic vision and teaching are truly liberating if they are integrated into the life of a college campus. How refreshing it would be if St. Norbert College were to decide to be a vibrant Catholic College that embraces the church and her teaching in its entirety, not just the social justice teachings (which SNC does so well), but also the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Gospel and the church. Rather than excusing it by finding ways to reason around it or to argue against it, why not embrace it with a real and comprehensive intentionality?

The invitation of Ms. Steinem gives the impression that the college may be merely giving lip service to the fundamental value of every human life instead of embracing the “Gospel of Life” with a clear intentionality.

When it comes to protecting life in all of its stages, from conception to natural death, including the horror of domestic abuse, the secret desire of all of our hearts is to build a “civilization of love.” Such a civilization can only be built on fundamentals, especially that every human being ought to have a chance at life. The right to life is not a Catholic right; it is a human right given by the Creator which the church wholeheartedly defends and celebrates.

Long live the “Gospel of Life” and those who defend it unapologetically!

  • Badger Catholic †

    Thank you Bishop Ricken for your clear teaching and support of the Gospel of Life!

  • Joseph Reidy

    Thank you, Bishop Ricken, for this clear statement and defense of life. You are in my prayers.

    • Sean Hallfrisch

      how is this clear.. its adamant, but far from clear

  • Richard

    The discussion is going to be about domestic abuse. I applaud the college for inviting Ms. Steinem to bring more attention to this issue. I’m confident she will have some important things to say on the subject that will cause some of us to pause and ponder. Why did you change the subject to abortion? Many feminists, myself included, are pro-life.

    “Given the historical escalation of domestic violence in the United States, and the fact that the ‘tried and true methods’ of the past 40 years do not work, a question arises in my mind: why would St. Norbert, a Catholic college, invite someone who is such a high profile and well-known protagonist and activist of abortion rights to weigh in on the causes and contexts of a dramatic increase in domestic violence in the United States?” Without the words “of abortion rights”, this might sound like your blaming feminists for the increase.

    • Pro_aris_et_focis

      To the degree that feminists have promoted a culture of violence in one are of life (the mother who has the womb and the baby in it), they WOULD bear responsibility for numbing the culture to violence that could occur in other areas of life. He’s merely pointing out the cognitive dissonance that exists in her movement’s rationale. Most “pro-choicers” would agree that a young girl dumping her newborn in a dumpster is wrong, yet would also not see the connection to the fact that the young woman has been conditioned all her life (by pseudo-feminist philosophies) that “a baby is only a baby if i want to keep it, therefore what’s the difference if that decision is made in a clinic or in my home”.

      • Sean Hallfrisch

        abortion isn’t violent… it may be morally wrong but it is not violent since it has been made legal and accessible. it is actually more violent when it is illeagel. eg coat hanger abortions. she does not share in your cognitive dissonance since it is not an individual that does not have the right to life. A baby is a baby but does a zygote have the right to life that is the debate in that regards. but to the point of the discussion even with cognitive dissonance does that make her discussion about domestic violence any more or less truthful? Ad hominen attacks are false and wrong.

        • cynthian

          A surgical abortion involves ripping the arms, legs and head off the baby in the womb. That is extreme violence to a person. Then the doctor has to put the pieces back together so be sure the whole baby was all removed. Imagine having to do that for your job… As a former fetus, I am glad I was not aborted, and I’m sure you are, too.

        • Eileen

          How do you figure that abortion is not violent simply because it is legal? While the dr at the abortion clinic doesn’t use a coat hanger, he still uses sharp instruments to dismember the baby! Please educate yourself on this one!
          A zygote is a developing human being. We all started off that way. No one remains the same from day to day. We experience cellular changes all our life. Are you the same as you were on the day you were born? Of course not!

    • Eileen

      If an unborn baby isn’t even safe in its own mother’s womb then what makes you think that women are going to be safe from violence? It isn’t a coincidence that domestic violence has increased over the past 40 yrs that abortion has been legal. Are you aware that child abuse has also increased significantly since abortion has been legalized? Violence begets more violence. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stated that the fruit of abortion is nuclear war and that certainly seems to be where we are headed given all of the violence that is occurring around the world. When men stop using women and start protecting them and their unborn children then everyone will be safer.

      • Richard

        I agree, Eileen. Domestic abuse will decrease when men and women respect each other, and when we all see the dignity and sacred in each other. I pray for that every day. As for increased domestic abuse, I would say that is an increase in reporting, not instances of abuse. I believe the women’s movement has heightened the awareness of the issue and made it safer to report. As a victim of child abuse over 40 years ago, I can tell you that it was something not discussed in public.

        • Eileen

          I realize that abuse was not discussed but it is not as simple as that. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in sexual and physical abuse of children and women beyond the notion that it simply wasn’t reported as widely until more recently. It shouldn’t be surprising that once babies may be disposed of at will then all life is cheap. We are reaping what we have sown through the sexual revolution, no fault divorce, and the legalization of abortion.

          But the main issue here, Richard, is that a Catholic college is giving a platform to a woman who espouses beliefs that are antithetical to the Truth that is Jesus Christ and the Church that He founded. If it isn’t apparent to St. Norbert’s that one can not be for the protection of women from abuse yet be for the killing of an innocent, helpless unborn baby then they are no longer Catholic. They have become spiritually blind.

          • Richard

            Thanks, Eileen. Can you site the studies you mentioned? I’d like to read them. It’s difficult to prove a negative like non-reporting. Generally speaking studies can be found to prove or disprove most theories. Here’s one that shows a decline in child abuse:

            This is a complicated issue and requires meaningful input from many sources.

          • Eileen

            It is something that I had read or heard in discussion in the past but here is a link to one article: (scroll down about two-thirds)

            Richard, St. Norbert’s can do much better than to provide an angry feminist a platform who espouses killing innocent human beings if they are deemed inconvenient to enlighten the public on the evils of domestic abuse.

    • Rose Ertl Lamers

      Yes the discussion is on domestic abuse, but how can one talk about domestic abuse, when one abused an unborn child herself…..that child had no say, that child could not defend itself…that child might have had the cure for cancer …I’m with Bishop Rickens on this one, shame on SNC…

    • Rose Ertl Lamers

      Yes the discussion is about domestic abuse, but how can one talk about domestic abuse, when she abused an unborn child herself…that child had no say, that child could not defend himself, that child might have been the one to cure cancer. When you sleep with a man, you know the consequences. To me she is an abuses, and someone like her is going to tell a college kid about abuse, shame on SNC

  • Craig030

    I agree with Bishop Ricken. Why would the college invite someone like Gloria Steinem to speak on domestic violence when she condones the use of violence and murder in the womb? Thank you Bishop Ricken for clarification.

  • cynthian

    Thank you, Bishop Ricken for leading your flock to have well formed consciences, happy to do God’s will with hearts of love.

    A Catholic college should only have speakers who believe in following God’s laws, and care about the eternal souls of all, to lead people in the proper direction.

    • Sean Hallfrisch

      So don’t invite Obama or if Ghandi was alive don’t invite him?? sounds a bit to simple to me.

      • Eileen

        Sean, if St. Norbert’s was hosting a debate then by all means invite her but they are not. By inviting her to speak they are giving the impression that her other views (which are gravely immoral) may be overlooked or may even be acceptable.

  • Sean Hallfrisch

    Yup I still don’t get it. Maybe im missing something.

    Just because she fundamentally disagrees with the Church on Abortion how does that stop he from having valid and important discussions on domestic violence. He simple uses a Ad hominen attack in order to dismiss her and SNC. He seems to disaporves a lot. I disaporve of his ability to give me a real reason that Gloria shouldn’t be included in the discussion. Under his same arguments we should never invite Obama Mr. or Mrs. to SNC. Never invite Bill gate either.

    Don’t dismiss people because you disagree on one issue. He claims that The Church has great approaches and voices yet does not discuss who or what these are.

    He uses anecdotal evidence against abortion and mental health yet science does not show this correlation.

    ALL in all i don’t disprove of the bishop im just disappointed for his lack of addressing the issue at hand. If anyone is doing lip service it looks like him giving into pressure to the influx of complaints.

    Also he isn’t responsible for maintain the Catholic integrity of St. Norbert college they are part of the Norbertine order and don’t answer to Bishop Ricken.

    His article can be summarized as following

    He was not addressed by St. Norbert about the speaker and only knew of her after her invitation by means of concerns and complaints.

    She was invited to discuss domestic violence.

    domestic violence is a major issue for the Church and society at large.

    Claims he is responsible for St. Norbert’s Catholic Identity.

    Acknowledges Steinem’s situation is not unprecedented.

    Disproves Steinem’s appearance at St. Norbert.

    Disproves of the abbot

    Disproves of the president

    Disproves of the chair of board of trustees

    Approves St. Norbert addressing the issue.

    Does not understand why she would be invited to discuss domestic violence when she is a well known pro choice advocate

    Disproves her position on abortion

    Disproves feminist movement’s stance on abortion and due to this questions the movement in its entirety.

    Claims it is an internal self contradiction to have a positive stance on domestic violence and a stance that conflicts with the Churches understanding.

    Her good is compromised by the evil she promotes.

    Calls out SNC leadership being either intentionally or unintentionally blind to this contradiction.

    Acknowledges that Gloria will not be discussing Abortion

    Claims Gloria’s life work culminates to a message of pro-abortion

    Claims Gloria’s approaches are outdated and confusing but he does not say is specific on which points.

    Claims the Church has new and fresh approaches

    He would like to see SNC Use these new approaches

    discusses how Jesus can help you choose life

    Give anecdotal evidence that abortion is bad because some felt deep life altering guilt.

    Wishes SNC was a vibrant Catholic College that embraced catholic teaching completely.

    Says SNC uses excuses and rationalizes with arguments to not completely embrace Catholicism.

    Calls the invitation probable lip service rather than living the gospel of life.

    says in order to protect all life we must build a civilization of love that must be built on fundamentals including the right of life.

    • Ryan

      A couple things to consider…

      The fact that she supports abortion should be enough to disqualify her from speaking on domestic violence. Killing a pre-born baby is not only “domestic violence” but plain murder. To have someone speak on the topic of domestic violence and yet support the murder of pre-born babies is insane.

      Regarding the Norbertines not having to “answer” to the bishop – that’s partly true, but not entirely. A bishop can ask religious orders/communities in his diocese to do certain things, such as implement a certain liturgical practice for example. He can also ask a community to leave the diocese if he feels they are doing harm to the souls he is tasked to shepherd.

    • Eileen

      Sean, how anyone take Gloria Steinem seriously on her views of domestic violence when she believes that unborn babies may be killed because they are deemed inconvenient? St. Norbert’s has a moral obligation to present speakers who have a consistent life ethic. All of her other work in regard to domestic violence is undercut and meaningless because she is pro-abortion and is only perpetuating the culture of death.

  • 26,000 students and parents are calling on St. Norbert College to cancel this un-Catholic invitation to Ms Steinem. You can sign too, right here:

    Another problem is St Norbert’s friendship will another radical pro-abortion promoter who goes by the name of Bell Hooks. Hooks is both anti-Catholic and pro-abortion, yet she has been invited to spend a whole period of time at St. Norbert, spreading her feminist falsehood. More here:

  • Tony de New York


  • Christopher Gustafson

    This is an outstanding article, Bishop Ricken! Thank you so much for the courage to address this issue as well as the pastoral wisdom with which you did so. Dr. Christopher Gustafson, STD

  • Leme Ly

    First if all, I am very proud of SNCs ability to be welcoming to ALL people. The college prides itself on “cummio” and works hard to achieve this practice with their factuality and students. Stien was invited to come to SNC for domestic abuse, and not her views on abortion. College students can understand the difference and can still have a civil conversation regarding the topic. This article is suggesting that anybody who has any liberal beliefs or have sinned or has a disagreement with the church cannot speak about non related topics to further educate students. If that’s the case then about 40% of the population wouldn’t be able to attend an events or be active in any school activities because that percentage is non Catholic. This is assuming all the Catholics follow canon to the letter of the law, which is unlikely.

    People are more than a political position. Christ himself sat with the worst of the sinners and still managed to get along with them, so why can’t we follow the same teachings in 2015? It so okay to disagree, but to listen shows you have integrity. I was an organist at the SNC Parish for two years and while I have some liberal beliefs, I did not force my ideas into others, despite it was quite well known in the SNC Community where I stood. Not once did a person come up and critique me for my political views because they were unrelated to my ability to work. It is called professionalism. I can imagine Gloria Stienem feels the same way and appreciates us giving her the same radical hospitality SNC promises every guest of the university.

    • Leme Ly

      I also apologize for spelling Gloria Stienem’s name wrong as well as the word faculty. My iPad won’t allow me to edit it.

    • Eileen

      Ms Steinem not only represents a political position but a moral position (being pro-abortion) as well. A moral position that is radically opposed to that of the Church. When the college invites someone who holds views that are opposed to the Church’s then they are giving the impression that all of her views are credible or have some kind of validity. If they had invited her to a debate then that would have been fine and I would have enthusiastically encouraged it. But they didn’t. They are giving her a public platform in which I am willing to bet money that she will end up criticizing the Church and promoting her immoral views on other issues. St. Norbert’s can do better than to invite someone who may oppose domestic violence but is supportive of ending the life of the most helpless and innocent among us — unborn babies.
      Jesus did seek out sinners but He called them to repent and sin no more. He didn’t compromise the Truth.

      • Leme Ly

        SNC is all about welcoming ALL. If they rejected every single person who slightly disagreed with the church teachings, the college would not have any body, we all come a standpoint of sin. Allow the students to hear and reflect on these so called teachings.

        • Eileen

          St. Norbert College has a responsibility to teach moral truths as put forth by the Church. By giving Ms Steinem a public platform they are in effect endorsing all of her moral views, some of which are in direct opposition to the Church’s teachings. This isn’t about rejecting any sinner who shows up on campus. We are all sinners, as you correctly implied. This is about a Catholic institution *inviting* a woman who is a very vocal opponent to the right to life.

          The “so called teachings”, as you refer to them, are absolute moral truths. Either one assents to them, attempts to live them and hopefully gain eternal life or one rejects them at the peril of losing their soul. Catholic colleges and universities mislead the faithful when they invite people like Gloria Steinem unless it is for an honest debate but as I have said in other posts, she is not going to be debating her views.

          • Leme Ly

            So let’s not invite all the pro choice college students and the LGBT And while were at it, let’s not teach about evolution or allow the Fundamental Christians to have a club on campus either. That would be giving them a platform for their “impure moral teachings.” That’s what you’re saying. Nobody’s perfect. God loved is all and God can judge is at the gates. I fully am comfortable with a pro choice individual coming to have an intelligent conversation with the students. It beats the “Lent is for Catholics to go on diet,” lectures I had in one of my Ed classes, by a self proclaimed Catholic herself.

            This lady is more than her ONE political view. We don’t slam doors on others. It is a okay to disagree, but we need opportunities to share ideas in a safe environment. Not everybody you listen to in education is going to be valid, but it will help you develop your beliefs and even strengthen your faith.

            I stand by SNC.

          • Leme Ly

            Infact, let’s scan and make sure every person that comes to partake at SNC match your standards….this is what you are implying. Nobody can disagree with the church to the tiniest bit. Disgusting and not Christ-like. So sad.

          • Eileen

            You seem to be confusing the enrollment of a student who may not espouse Catholic beliefs with inviting a well-known feminist who opposes the right to life of the unborn. I am all for allowing the former to receive an education at St. Norbert’s. I am also for providing a forum for an honest debate. Unfortunately that is not what is scheduled. What I object to is extending an invitation to a woman who supports the taking of innocent human life. She speaks out against violence done to women yet is very supportive of violence done to the unborn (some of which are females!!!) It doesn’t even make sense.
            A Catholic school should present speakers who are consistently pro-life and pro-woman. Gloria Steinem sadly does not represent these. St. Norbert’s can do better than that. If a public university wants to give her a platform then fine. Catholic education has a responsibility to teach the TRUTH not “diverse opinions” (unless it is to illustrate the errors in them).

  • kirstizoe

    I am ver proud of my alma mater right now. Domestic violence is at epidemic levels not just in our country but worldwide. One of the things I loved most about attending St Norbert College was the fresh and diverse opinions that were taught amongst old traditions. Furthermore, to be truly ‘pro-life’ one must consider first the lives of women and children in great need. If we as a society are not serving those in greatest need we are failing, and my college experience taught me that. So if you wish to remove abortion from the equation, work first towards ensuring that working mothers, those in poverty, and children born without significant advantages like food on their table and a roof over their head have what they need in order to survive and thrive. Remove the Catholic ban on birth control to ensure the agency of young mothers and fathers to decide when having a child is right for their family. Only then will you see the decrease in abortion that you so desperately desire.

    • Pro_aris_et_focis

      That’s great to hear of your pride in your alma mater – there is much good to say about St. Norbert College as an institution of higher learning. Just need some clarification on some of your points. “If we as a society are not serving those in the greatest need we are failing” – a hungry child, a women without a job, a woman suffering domestic abuse, a pre-born child about to be killed – how many of those would make your list of those with “the greatest need”? And since most Catholics already don’t heed the Church’s teaching on birth control, what percentage of Catholics would actually change their behavior if the Church changed its teaching on contraception? Final question (this time with the answer): using real data, how often has the introduction of contraceptives resulted in a lower abortion rate? Answer: never, in fact new or increased use of contraceptives always leads to higher rates of abortion because it’s the ultimate “emergency contraception”, the only one GUARRANTEED to end a pregnancy (meaning dead human).

    • Eileen

      kirstizoe, to be pro-life does mean to take care of the poor but Saint John Paul II put it very succinctly that the right to life is the very foundation of all other rights. If one does not have the right to life then no other rights matter. One can not take care of the poor at the expense of the unborn.
      While the Church condemns the use of artificial birth control for very sound moral reasons and for the physical safety of the woman, it does permit the use of natural family planning when there is a serious reason for postponing a pregnancy. NFP is very effective and safe as well.

  • fred

    Thank you and God bless you Bishop Ricken for defending God’s laws. It seems that so many have gone against God’s teachings today. It is particularly difficult to understand how people who head up and teach in a Catholic college could allow a person who is an abortion advocate and who supports Planned Parenthood to appear to be a role model for young students. It is no wonder so many of our young people are so confused and believing the lies.
    Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for
    light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for

  • Christine Whipp

    Thank you, Bishop Ricken, for speaking out clearly and charitably.

  • Georgia

    Gloria Steinem is not promoting abortion. It is interesting to hear words of someone who has listened to many women’s confessions and compare that to Gloria Steinem’s motives.
    She has not been invited to come to St. Norbert’s to promote abortion. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to make these claims. What is being done here is really promoting the Catholic Church and basically calling Gloria Steinem a sinner. How Christian is that? Would the Green Bay diocese forbid other women to speak because they might know their personal business of abortion? Who is anyone to point fingers?

    • Eileen

      This is the point, Georgia: Ms Steinem advocates the taking of innocent human life through abortion. The fact that it is legal to do so does not make it moral. By inviting a well-known feminist who very pointedly makes her views on abortion publicly known, St. Norbert’s is giving scandal because they represent the Church. Whether it is their intention or not, they give the impression that it is acceptable that she supports abortion rights. Frankly, St. Norbert’s looks silly at the minimum because how can one reconcile that while she is speaking on the topic of domestic violence, she advocates violence toward the unborn — some of whom are females!! Only those who are spiritually blind can not see the ill-logic of this situation.

      If she were to change her heart and mind regarding abortion then she would be welcome to speak.

  • Arcturus

    Why don’t you pay attention to your pope and move into the 21st century?