The University of Notre Dame is a U.S. Catholic success story. Through a mixture of romance and reality, myth and fact, football glory and Catholic identity, Notre Dame, for many, occupies a special place in the cultural imagination. One can understand, then, how much incentive exists to protect the institution, the brand, the value of the name.
But when does acting to protect the institution begin to erode the institution’s integrity and thus the very reputation that’s being protected?
The disturbing question is powerfully raised by Notre Dame alum and Politics Daily Editor in Chief Melinda Henneberger in a succession of essays, the latest of which can be found here, regarding the case of Lizzy Seeberg, the ND freshman who committed suicide a week and a half after accusing an ND football player of molesting her in his dorm room.
In today’s piece, questioning the pace of the investigation into Seeberg’s charges and the recent explanation by university president Fr. John Jenkins, Henneberger writes:
“Since my earlier pieces -- here and here -- criticizing my alma mater's handling of the case, I've gotten a lot of mail from my fellow alums, most of them as heartsick as I am over the leisurely and lawyerly way this matter was handled -- and since actions do speak louder than words, the terrible message the university's response sends Notre Dame and Saint Mary's women. The circle-the-wagons and blame-the-victim reaction is so reminiscent of the official response at the height of the clerical sex abuse scandal it's painful. Back then, Vatican officials referred to the scandals as the handiwork of the enemies of Holy Mother Church; now, the party line is that to expect better of Our Lady's University is to be in league with its ‘haters.’ Did we really not learn that problems do not die of neglect, but only multiply when ignored? Or that it's the see-no-evil kind of love for an institution that can hurt it the most?
“Whatever happened in that dorm room can never now be proven or prosecuted, and it's far from clear that it would have been even if Lizzy had lived. Yet even if Lizzy's account is 1000 percent accurate, she has arguably been treated even more shabbily by Notre Dame than by the football player, and in plain sight.”
Read the full column here.