Bill of Particulars articles

Thoughts on Schindler's List

When I saw "Schindler's List" I left the theater, as I suspect most people do, wondering if I would be as quick to give up my fortune in order to save the lives of people whose only claim was that they were innocent victims of a barbarous society. I wonder how many other people felt, as I did, that the society we now live in is also barbarous, and stands by while innocent children are torn apart, both emotionally and literally, by "parents" or a society that glorifies individual choice at the expense of innocent children. Perhaps the sense of urgency that Schindler felt should apply to us; will we look back at our possessions as Schindler did at his car, and say, "With this I could have saved 10 lives. Why did I think I needed a car?"

Many people look at universities, even Catholic universities, as a place of unfettered self-indulgence, where students and faculty members are free to choose whatever intellectual fashion suits them, and are accountable to no one for the moral content of what they study or profess. Instead, the riches of the university environment are like Schindler's fortune; we can either spend them indulgently upon ourselves, or commit them to the cause of liberating the innocent under threat of death. We are not obligated to assume a position of neutrality on issues that are morally charged; indeed, we are obligated to practice the "faith that does justice."

The specific question posed in the debate was whether or not the law school should recognize a student group whose purpose was to promote a change in the Church's fundamental moral teaching (e.g., toward homosexual acts). While everyone recognized that any group of students would be free to meet, the issue was whether the law school was obligated to provide equal support, on the theory that this group would deserve funding as much as any other. At the risk of being offensive, let me reiterate that we do not live in a morally neutral world. The greatest source of misery and injustice in our society today is our abandonment of children. Each child has a right to a nurturing family by which the child can experience the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Instead of protecting the family, our legal system has systematically protected the right of the individual to follow his or her own inclinations. We have dismantled those legal structures (restrictions on the right to divorce, legal prohibition of sex outside of marriage) that used to represent society's commitment to the family. If we are open to this new way of thinking, what about reexamining our commitment to racial tolerance, or to the rule of law? At what point will the slide toward moral anarchy be arrested?

David K. DeWolf, Bill of Particulars, September 28, 1995

Should the Law School Be Value-Neutral?

The student handbook states that the law school "is committed to the philosophy that the full development of the human personality can occur only by acknowledgement of a transcendent and objective moral order--that individual human beings and civil societies are bound in conscience to shape their destinies in accordance with that moral order." (Policy Statement, p. 14) This philosphy puts us at odds with much that is fashionable in today's culture.

To many people, an academic institution isn't really authentic unless it holds itself open to all views. To such people, an institution like ours can encourage discussion of moral issues, but ought not to assert that any position is actually true. Individual professors may express their own opinions on various subjects, but they shouldn't impede the student's right to form his or her own judgment. A similar philosophy is applied to the hiring of faculty members: law faculty should be skilled in presenting their views and in generating thoughtful reflection by students on moral issues, but no one should dictate the views that a faculty member should or should not hold; the law school should be "content-neutral" as regards values and beliefs.

This approach is consistent with a philosophy animating much of our culture today. For example, a letter in the Spokesman-Review on September 18 criticized Hillary Clinton's presentation to the Women's Conference in China as being ethnocentric. While the First Lady was expressing sentiments that were right for her culture, she shouldn't pretend to judge what was right for China. That view is widely held in our culture. One often hears the phrase, "Well, that might be true for you, but it's not true for me." Of course, with respect to matters of taste or preference--"Green is a color that looks good on me"--or where individual characteristics are at stake--"I need a size 42 jacket"--it is appropriate to qualify the truth of a statement by saying that it applies only to me. However, when one asserts that a woman should not be forced to have an abortion, or for that matter, a child in its mother's womb should be protected from harm, it makes no sense to say, "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not true for me." Unless there is a moral order, and unless it is the same for you and for me (in other words, that it is objective rather than subjective), then assertions about human rights are meaningless.

In three relatively recent documents Pope John Paul II has explained why moral relativism is unacceptable. First, in Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("On Catholic Universities"--literally, "From the Heart of the Church"), he identified the mission of Catholic universities as bearing witness to the redemptive work of Christ in the world, and set forth certain conditions upon which a university could call itself Catholic. Second, in Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth"), he demonstrated that the search for truth, if it is to be successful, must embrace faith as a means of remaining in contact with the source of truth itself. Finally, in Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), he identified a "culture of death," in which human rights are not considered fundamental, but rather are subjected to utilitarian calculation, and called for fidelity to the Gospel of Life, which stands in solidarity with the defenseless, particularly the unborn. As to those who are teachers, and those responsible for the formation of consciences, he pleaded that "they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the <Gospel of life>; as faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium."

In other words, Catholic universities, of which the law school is a part, have an obligation to be more than a supermarket or cafeteria of ideas. They have a message to impart, and a solemn obligation not to abandon those whom the Gospel calls them to serve. In a recent address to the faculty, Fr. Coughlin quoted extensively from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about an anthropologist whose specialty was the study of cultures that practiced genital mutilation of girls. She was torn between her desire to avoid "cultural imperialism," to study culture without imposing her own values, and a sense that it was her duty to speak out in opposition to a profoundly disturbing practice. She finally concluded that, contrary to much of what had been taken for granted in her academic discipline, human nature must be the standard by which human culture is judged, not the other way around.

Like anthropology, law is heavily influenced by a philosophy that preference of one set of values over another is a matter for the individual, and that it is bad manners, intolerance or bigotry to act as though a particular set of values is right and another is wrong. But such an attitude fails to give an adequate foundation for the protection of human rights, and it sells short the tradition we have committed ourselves to.

Students who attend Gonzaga Law School are entitled, both because of the statements in our various publications and the very nature of a law school that is part of a Catholic university, to a curriculum that is premised on an acknowledgement of a transcendent and objective moral order. We have to candidly acknowledge that those students who came here with that expectation have been disappointed. We need to do better.


The Clinton Administration has recently proposed legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. As many students are aware, this topic aroused some controversy last year at the time that a university student group supporting gay and lesbian students sought (and was denied) recognition as an official student group. Because of confusion about the various terms that are employed, I thought some general overview of the subject would be helpful.

For a starting point it is hard to improve upon the recently published Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose relevant sections ( 2357-59, footnotes omitted) are worth quoting in their entirety:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The Catechism departs from current social attitudes in two important respects: first, it condemns the disrespect that is commonly directed at persons who suffer from a homosexual orientation. Most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex and they can be very cruel in their treatment of those who are different. (Anyone who doubts the prevalence of this phenomenon should spend time listening to the conversations of adolescents as they struggle to define themselves.) In this respect the potential for discrimination exists on the same basis as discrimination based upon differences caused by gender, race, age, handicapping condition, etc.

At the same time (and here is where the potential for confusion exists) there is another aspect to homosexual orientation that makes it different from other immutable characteristics: the individual who has this characteristic has to decide what to do about it. On this point the Catechism finds itself at odds with a commonly held assumption that if you have an urge you have the right to gratify it. The Catechism declares that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, and therefore calls the homosexual to chastity. Many find this cruel, in light of the fact that heterosexuals, though subject to the temptation to misuse their own sexuality for the exploitation of others, are given the opportunity through marriage that their desires can be fulfilled. But to surrender on this point--to concede that homosexuals are as much entitled to the gratification of their desires as are heterosexuals--would have dire consequences for society, not to mention for the individuals involved. [It should be noted that the phrase "discrimination based upon sexual orientation" is not always clearly explained as protection of the homosexual acts rather than of the orientation itself. At one time I tried in vain to obtain clarification from the Executive Director of the AALS (an accrediting body similar to the ABA) as to whether proposed rules with similar wording extended simply to the orientation itself (an immutable characteristic properly included in such a list) or to acts based upon that orientation (which would make it inconsistent with a list of immutable characteristics). I was left with the impression that the language was deliberately vague, so as to make it hard for people to oppose the language itself (lest they appear to fall under the condemnation even of passages like the one in the Catechism quoted above.) On the other hand, once the language was accepted, many assumed that the language prohibiting discrimination would have no meaning.]

What business does society have with what a person does in his or her own bedroom? Plenty. Our society has a strong interest in maximizing the chances that children are born into families in which a man and a woman, married for life, commit themselves to the welfare of their children even at substantial cost to themselves. Fortunately, most parents do just that. However, weak creatures that we are, we often need some encouragement to stick through the tough periods in which being responsible isn't much fun. Waiting until marriage to become sexually active and remaining faithful during marriage have a dramatic effect on the likelihood that a couple will remain married and continue to be supportive of their children. A law that penalizes employers (or landlords) who recognize the importance of marriage sends a very damaging message about whether sexually responsible behavior matters.

Of course, to be consistent, a policy along the lines I have described would have implications for the heterosexual majority as well as the homosexual minority. The Bible warns us about trying to remove the splinter from our brother's eye while we have a beam in our own own. Several conservative commentators have warned that the impact of homosexual behavior on society is minor compared with the devastation caused by divorce. Yet we are only beginning to reconsider the notion that divorce ought to be obtainable as a matter of right whenever a partner in the marriage wants to end it. One of the reasons it is hard to even talk about it is that it suggests moral condemnation of those who are our parents, siblings, friends and coworkers. In preference to strolling into that minefield, we prefer a polite silence. But the implications for our society of continuing on this trajectory are devastating. Similarly, if we accept as a general principle that it is really none of our business what other people do in their bedrooms, then we surrender an important principle that helps to protect the chance of children to grow up in a family committed to their welfare. Do we really want to go down that road?