15 May 2010

(Arch-) Bishop in checkmate? Marquette hiring drama continues

A ha!

I've been puzzled for the last week how Father Wild, Marquette University president, could have blundered so badly in the Jodi O'Brien case. Dr. O'Brien was offered a job, signed a contract, turned it in, and then had the offer rescinded - but NOT because she is Lesbian, according to the President's office, but because she'd conducted some research that was "anti-family".

I've been puzzled in part because Fr. Wild has been a strong leader for inclusivity and the educative value of diversity at Marquette. According to the Journal Sentinel, when asked about diversity of thought on a Jesuit campus in 2006, he wrote:

The presence of these men and women enriches us as a university, helps us to consider questions that we might otherwise not consider, gives the university community a wider perspective. In turn, we try to assist these individuals to engage more deeply with their own particular faith tradition.

The leader of the faculty search committee, Dr. Franzoi, said that he told Fr. Wild not to pick Dr. O'Brien if the University wasn't prepared to defend their position given that she was an out lesbian who conducted research about same gender relationships. If that's the case, and it sounds more than plausible, then Fr. Wild and the Board had ample "warning" to review the hire and make sure Dr. O'Brien would be a good fit as dean of Arts and Sciences. Why make the hire unless you were sure?

The offer was extended, contract provided, signed and returned. And then last Friday, May 7, the offer was rescinded.

What happened? No one but Bob Wild knows, and he's not telling. When asked by a student in a listening session on the matter if the Archbishop of Milwaukee applied pressure, Fr. Wild responded with an "I can't comment on that." Translation: yes.

Another salvo in the wars between Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy and university leadership, and it bodes ill. In the past, Catholic Universities could do pretty much whatever they wanted on campus. Local bishops could scold or fret, but that was the extent of it - most universities had lay boards and made hiring and policy decisions based on what was best for the university while maintaining a public posture in support of Catholic doctrine.

In the (surprisingly thorough) "Scholarship, mission collide" in the Journal Sentinel on May 14 there is a good summary of the recent history of these relationships in the US.

What's changed is the new pope. The last one was bad enough on matters of doctrine, but really the terrier behind the stool was the current Pope, Ratzinger. He is an arch conservative enforcer who wants a smaller, more "Catholic" church - no more smorgasbording, you have to believe it all. He has continued naming bishops who share his beliefs, so that the church has lurched rightward over the last two decades.

And he is very, very obsessed with groinal issues. Condoms cause AIDS, homosexuality is a sin, women are tainted, you can only fully participate in the hierarchy if you're a man, baby.

Listecki, the new archbishop of Milwaukee, has been in office 6 months. Fr. Wild has six months to go.

The O'Brien case makes sense if it is seen as a pissing match between an incoming archbishop looking to enforce a certain orthodoxy on the largest institution in his see - with the full backing of sex-obsessed Vatican higher-ups - and a lame duck University President. It's a shame that this good man, Fr. Wild, will leave on such a sour note. He was good for MU. But he co-signed the rescission, for whatever reason, so he made his bed.

But more of a shame than that is the personal toll this has taken on Dr. O'Brien; the toll this has taken on Marquette as an institution of serious scholarship; the likely long-term chilling effects this will have on academic freedom at MU and other Catholic universities in the US; the recalibration of the relationship between university and bishop in the US decidedly in the bishop's favor (and Listecki, like Clarence Thomas, is unlikely to have divine recall anytime soon - he is only 61).

What of the Church? Hopeless. All those who have stayed in it for decades saying things like "If we all leave, who will be left to change it?" or "eventually women will be ordained" or "eventually, priests will be able to marry, like in the early church" can throw in the towel. With our current Prada-wearing Papa Nazi there's no change a-comin'. No roles for women, except to have babies - and its corollary, of course, no hope for those who think maybe birth control is a good idea.

Ossified, bitter, fearful but orthodox. Good luck with that. And good luck to Catholic universities being taken seriously, if this trend continues with other presidents and bishops. A pillar of the American middle class and of Catholic immigrant integration into the mainstream is being marginalized for the sake of doctrinal purity.

And for those who need a made up belief system to get them through life, there's always the Episcopalians - they just ordained another lesbian bishop. If you don't need the songs, doctrine, history or garments, though, I recommend FSM.

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