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.
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!