Sins Committed in Mary's Name: Two Books by Professor Charles E. Rice


Professor Emeritus Charles E. Rice is the rare orthodox Catholic notable who believes that the rules of right and wrong apply to everybody, including orthodox Catholic notables. After a long career at Notre Dame University's law school, Rice became a founding governor and Visiting Professor of Jurisprudence at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria School of Law (AMSL).

Like most faculty who were drawn to Ave Maria schools in their early days, Rice believed that he was signing on to a collegial effort to build a great institution according to the best of Catholic and academic models. However what he and other employees soon discovered was that Ave Maria is run as the "sole proprietorship" of undegreed Monaghan with top administrators acting as the Pizza Ponderevo's "resident agents" (I1).

When the AMSL board, heavy with Catholic notables, declined to oppose Monaghan's whimsical transplant of the law school from Michigan to his real estate development/university in a Florida swamp, Rice objected, later writing that the "Ave Maria Town venture is a speculative and eccentric medley of the academic, the religious, the municipal and the corporate in which the bottom-line corporate interest will predictably dominate."(I2)

For this and other compaints about the treatment of Ave Maria employees, Rice ended up playing Thomas More to Monaghan's Henry VIII. The professor was ejected from the AMSL board through a change of membership rules and was later fired from his Visiting Professor position (I3). The late word from Ave Maria, Florida is that the "resident agents" are touting the economic benefits that will be brought by AM's new neighbor, Jackson Laboratories which does research in male contraception and human embryonic stem cells (I4). It appears as if the bottom-line corporate interest is dominating.

Below are reviewed two of Professor Rice's books, both the work of a great contemporary Thomist who believes that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is the only hope for universities and for human society itself. Each volume contains an education.

The Way They Do It At Princeton

What Happened to Notre Dame?
Charles E. Rice, Introduction by Alfred J. Freddoso
St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, IN, 2009, 192 pages

The celebration of pro-abortion public figures by so-called "Catholic" institutions has been a problem for decades. However the bestowal of honors--along with the production of obscene plays--has only been reported and discussed in obscure Catholic organs which most Catholics never come close to reading. The bishop-controlled Catholic press, i.e. the typical diocesan newspaper, does not report on intramural problems or controversy.

Case in point and a never-before-told story: Years ago I worked in public relations at a private Catholic secondary school which had a long tradition of honoring prominent public figures. As the school was located in the Washington, DC area, it was easy to get such honorees to appear and speak at the fundraising banquets. One year, my superiors, members of a religious order, decided that the invitee and recipient of "the medal" should be retired Speaker of The House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill.

Upon hearing this nomination, my co-staffer, a saintly man now in heaven named Joseph Charles Gennett, and I objected, arguing that O'Neill was an abortion advocate. Certainly the Massachusetts congressman was not an opponent. No way should a Catholic school honor such a guy. The response was in effect: Tut. tut. O'Neill's a big name. We need a big name at the banquet to receive the award (Now you know why some people get awards). Not even Joe's fixing his iron-eyed Indian glare on them changed their minds.

Fortunately, before an invitation could be issued, Tip kicked the bucket and went to his particular judgment. A scandal, and also a PR disaster, was averted. It was an education for me then, seeing that the issue of abortion did not seem to matter much to Catholics who were moreover members of a religious order. Working at other Catholic institutions, I encountered similar EEG flat-lines when it came to abortion, ephebophilia and the treatment of workers. I am currently discovering that many Catholics don't get what the big deal is about human embryonic stem cell research.

It seems to me that the seriousess of abortion etc. simply does not compute with many older Catholics whose faith was shaped before now- looming life issues first appeared as blips on the screen in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As I wrote at the outset, the scandal of honoring and giving fora to abortion advocates has been going on for years. The rank-and-file faithful weren't aware of it. Then, at its 2009 commencement, Notre Dame University, presented Culture-of-Death-freight-carrier Barack Obama as a role model. This is what a commencement speaker is held up as, after all.

What many conceive of as the "flagship" Catholic university in the U.S.(1) further gave the president an honorary degree. Peaceful protestors, old priests and nuns in religious garb, were treated harshly by campus security and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There was no intervention on their behalf from the ND administration. The event opened many a Catholic eye, including not a few episcopal eyes.

In this excellent book, which is really about contemporary Catholic higher education, not merely about the state of Notre Dame University in 2009, Professor Rice notes that church-affiliated universities of all sects tend to shed their religious identities when money gets tight.

Notre Dame, he writes, first took the wrong turn in the 1960s when long-time president, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, hosted at the university conferences on population control attended by such black holes as Alan Guttmacher. For these Notre Dame got grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Then came the age of government student aid and research grants. There was apprehension that schools with strong Catholic identities would be ineligible for these. Time and case law have proven that fear to be unfounded, but the march toward autonomy from the church went forward.

Now there is a long list of "Catholic" colleges and universities with trustees, administrators and faculty who, if they are even Catholic at all, are certainly not sympathetic to the mission of the Catholic Church or to the mission of a Catholic University as defined in Ex Corde Ecclesiae.(2)

Add to this the quest for prestige (which leads to more money). What Happened introduction author and Philosophy professor, Alfred J. Freddoso writes about university policies being adopted because "this is the way they do it at Princeton."

I can offer examples of "prestige"-seeking from my alma mater, The Catholic University of America. Before the now-sadly-concluded term of president, Bishop David M. O'Connell, Catholic U.'s Office of Public Affairs never missed an opportunity to remind the world that the university's alumnae include movie actress Susan Sarandon. Never mind that Sarandon has long used her celebrity to promote abortion. I hope that Susan doesn't make a comeback now that O'Connell is gone and a guy from Boston College with Harvard on his CV is in charge.

A few years back and in spite of the U.S. Bishops' statement, Catholics in Political Life, the public affairs office eagerly got behind a plan to have a pro-abortion "Catholic" senator speak on the CU campus. The rationalization was: the senator is not going to speak about abortion. Notre Dame used the other rationalization with Obama: He's not Catholic and therefore the bishops' instructions about not honoring pro-abortion public figures do not apply. Anyway, and probably as a result of O'Connell's veto, the senator's visit was called off.

I found myself standing up and cheering when, in Chapter 9, Professor Rice declares that "the Catholic faith of a Notre Dame faculty applicant...ought to be a professional qualification." This logically follows from Ex Corde Ecclesiae's prescriptions, but it is a bold statement to make in America in the age of equal opportunity employment. Also The Establishment loves to hire gentiles to demonstrate how ecumenical and enlightened progressive Catholics are.

It'seasier said than done, but preference for Catholics should be the hiring policy in all Catholic institutions including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. You don't want some Presbyterian MBA chainsawing the mission. With regard to universities, I would go further and say that the Catholic faith of student-applicants' should also be considered in the admissions process. The student body contributes as much to a university's atmosphere as the faculty and administration, if not moreso.

I never met a Notre Dame alumni or faculty member -- and I've met both Professor Rice and the late Dr. Ralph McInerny -- who did not love the Indiana university to the point of thinking that it is the center of the universe. NDU appears to be not as far gone as Georgetown, Trinity and other formerly Catholic colleges who threw off heeding the Magisterium for money, prestige and political correctness. Citing its numerous Catholic action and support organizations, Professor Rice writes that Notre Dame is still a "sound choice" for a student who chooses, among other things, to "live a sound spiritual and moral life."

Student-led ND Response prayerfully protested Obama's celebration and Project Sycamore, a mobilization of ND alumni, has been formed to steer NDU back to its mission. Would anything like these arise to address serious institutional lapses at Catholic U., the church's actual flagship university in the U.S.? I have to wonder.


(1)The Catholic University of America in Washington DC is actually the only "official" Catholic university in the U.S. All others may only describe themselves as "universities in the Catholic tradition."

(2) Apostolic Constitution of The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on Catholic Universites, "Born From The Heart..."

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Law at "The Fag End of The Enlightenment"

50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is & Why We Need It
Charles E. Rice
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993, 335 pages

"It would be a strange motorist who would resent the existence of the owner's manual of his car and refuse to look at it," writes Professor Rice in this book.(1)

Yet we live in times of strange motorists. Some of them not only resent the owner's manual and refuse to look at it, they also deliberately put sand in gas tanks just to spite those who read, follow and recommend the manual. Jesuit Francis Canavan, perhaps very appropriately, defined our age as "the fag end of The Enlightenment"(2).

Although it was written in the early 1990s, Rice's 50 Questions on the Natural Law has been made very timely by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker's August 2010 ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger overturning California's Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

The jurisprudence exhibited in Perry is exactly the kind that Professor Rice contrasts with natural law jurisprudence in 50 Questions. In nullifying the popularly enacted proposition, Judge Walker looked to a law that is all Man-made. It includes the U.S. Constitution and courts' interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of The Fourteenth Amendment. The only tradition that Walker considered was the tradition of American law wherein he found no principle that marriage exists for procreation and would therefore be exclusively a union between a man and a woman.

Regarding human law as supreme is what makes Judge Walker a legal positivist. In general, lawyer-theorists are of that ilk and lean toward secular liberal notions of keeping religion and res publica separated. The most hard-core believers are the oft-derided "Ivy-League elites" whose curricula vitae lead them to the federal district and appeals benches.

No natural-law arguments were advanced by the defendants in Perry and had they been, the judge would probably have dismissed them as a "religious component of bigotry" or as "private moral views."

A natural-law theorist believes that there is a law, higher than human law, rooted simply in nature or in nature and in divine law with divine law being knowable through revelation. Thomas Jefferson certainly expressed belief in natural law when he wrote of men having "inalienable rights" "endowed by their Creator" in The Declaration of Independence.(3) Abraham Lincoln travelled to the American presidency, repeating Jefferson's philosophy at a time when most Americans favored the continuation of slavery, the expulsion of Native Americans from their ancient lands and the scotching of Mormons.

American voters have historically tended to come down against respect for the inalienable rights of persons. Most citizens are too busy seeking their advantage or tea-partying to care much about moral issues.

"Pro-life" and "pro-family" people who bristle at an "undemocratic" system wherein a single judge can strike down the will of 5.5 million voters, as happened in Perry, should understand that it will likely be a tiny portion of an independent, unelected judiciary that achieves the realistic pro-life goal of restoring the several states' right to regulate and prohibit abortion. It was a single judge(4) who lately put a dent in the murderous business of human embryonic stem cell research.

For Professor Rice, natural law "makes no ultimate sense without God as its author" and the journey on which he leads his readers takes them through Thomas Aquinas' reasonings on law. Surprise: The Thirteenth-Century philosopher said that human law can't regulate every moral evil.

The author then proceeds to the necessity of revelation, the centrality of Christ and the Magisterium of The Catholic Church as indispensible arbiter for the common good. Minds that don't slam shut after Question 17, or even upon hearing the title of this book, will read answers to questions such as "Do you really claim that we can prove from reason alone that God exists?" "Why bring revelation or 'religion' into all of this? All you will do is turn people off."

The professor knows what he's up against.

The last twelve questions deal with how the Magisterium applies natural law to various issues of contemporary interest including "gay rights" (Question 44). Rice makes a distinction between "social teaching" and "policy statements" that bishops' might make. Most amusing is an old Washington Post editorial which criticized the Anglican communion's 1930 Lambeth Conference for approving the use of birth control and therefore sounding "the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution." (5)

50 Questions on the Natural Law is a book that I can recommend to a wide readership, particularly to Catholics who have missed out on exposure to Catholic reasoning and philosophy. In a time when political discussion consists of jeering from behind closed minds and Catholic higher thought is captivated by barely comprehensible profundities that have gushed forth from contemporary theologians, it is refreshing to read recent writing which relies on the eternal and common-sense wisdom of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Both remain two giant boulders who stand immobile in the midst of the rushing rapids.

(1) 50 Questions, p. 29

(2) 50 Questions, p. 36, quote from Canavan's commentary in 12/10/87 Catholic Eye

(3) I recently found myself explaining to a new American citizen that the DOI has no force of law; unlike the Constititution it is merely a statement of political philosophy that it not universally believed in the U.S.

(4) U.S. District Court, DC Judge Royce C. Lamberth, in August 2010, issued a temporary injunction in Sherley, et al. v. Sebelius, et al., Civ. No. 1:09-cv-1575 (RCL) against Obama's 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem cell research.

(5) 50 Questions, p. 255

Introduction Footnotes

(I1) The terms in quotes are Rice's as written in a 2006 letter to Monaghan and then-AMSL Dean Bernard Dobranski

(I2) March 6, 2006 Letter from Charles E. Rice to Dean Bernard Dobranski

(I3) Goodbye, Good Man, Fumare, August 14, 2006
See also
Statement from Professor Charles E. Rice, August 15, 2007

(I4) Screen shot of Jackson Flyer "Resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research"
Mice are used as hosts in which human embryonic stem cells are implanted so that they will develop. Immunodeficient mice are used in the research because their immune systems are too weak to reject the human cells.

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