My thoughts on the UD Commencement Speaker

My alma mater has had quite the hullabaloo lately for a variety of things. In the long line of UD mishaps, the commencement address at this year's graduation doesn't even make the top 10 in my opinion.*

For those who haven't read this speech, here's the link:

The thing about Mr. Brent Bozell's address is that on the surface, especially at the beginning, it sounds like a UD commencement speech. He starts out with the mandatory memories of famous and beloved UD profs, mentions several books in the core, and honestly seems quite charming. I appreciate the humor and the stories about Novinsky and Wilhelmsen (because who doesn't love a Novinsky or Wilhelmsen story?).

But then, then it turns into a conservative political speech that has little to do with Catholicism and nothing to do with graduation.

The problem with Mr. Bozell's address is that it is merely a symptom of another problem, one that all too many UD alumnae have noted recently. My comments below, reposted from a facebook post I made earlier today, are not a complete argument, but merely my contribution to a much larger conversation about the weaknesses of the version of Catholicism that we have embraced at the University of Dallas as well as the weakness present in Mr. Bozell's speech.


My perpetual frustration while a student at the University of Dallas was that the version of Catholicism presented by the student body and some members of the faculty is one that is not in communion with the real Catholic Church. While the orthodox teaching on LGBT issues is complicated and, for some of us, frustrating all on its own (there are many notes and comments elsewhere about the homophobic comments made by Mr. Bozell, but that is not what I am focusing on here), what students at UD so often represent themselves as believing in relation to this and other issues is heretical at best. We seem to have forgotten that Jesus was a homeless man who wandered from town to town, preaching in what was probably the only clothing he owned. We ignore the fact that early Christians lived in a community that modern politics would call socialist (something Mr. Bozell completely ignored in his story about how Brownson went from being an atheist socialist to being a staunch Roman Catholic, as if being socialist were directly against Christianity). At UD, we pretend that the Republican Party is the home of all good Christians, when in fact the only real orthodox Catholic view presented by that political party is the view on abortion--not even all pro-life issues are represented, much less other teachings!

I would like to say to both Mr. Bozell and to the student body that they should have listened to a much better speaker than Mr. Bozell who came for a panel when I was at UD, John Allen. Mr. Allen said to all of us that "Any Catholic who feels at home in either political party is due for an examination of conscience." He also talked about charity and generosity. As a reporter who has had a close relationship now with three different popes, I should think his remarks more weighted than that of some UD alumnus who not only lacked in charity towards others that he deems as lesser than he is, but displayed a lack of understanding of both the Catholic Church he claims to uphold and the modern world he criticizes. Mr. Bozell is, in fact, the very worst example of a UD History major that I can imagine. He fails to think independently from party lines and refuses to comprehend both Church and national history.

His desire to uphold Duck Dynasty as a prime example of Christianity is nonsense. Although I’ve never watched the show, I grew up in rural Missouri and know more about that southern-minded culture than I would ever want to if I had grown up elsewhere. I can tell you, the version of Christianity rampant in that culture is riddled with racism and sometimes contains little charity (yet, every Sunday we sing, "They'll know we are Christians by our love"). There are so many others he could tout as the end-all-be-all of Christianity or Catholicism that would be better than the people of Duck Dynasty. He could have embraced the kairotic example of Blessed Oscar Romero, just beatified. He could have mentioned the nun recently released from prison for defending pro-life and anti-war ideals. He could have spoke about the hundreds of martyrs from THIS century, fifteen years old, who have lived out the call of the Church to love the other more than themselves. No, instead he says some nonsense about how reverence for Gaia is taking over the world. If that were true, of course, we would not be experiencing the catastrophic rain that we have had this week because global warming wouldn’t exist because if the whole of the US worshipped Gaia, we wouldn’t be poisoning the planet at the alarming rate we have picked up since Medieval Catholicism embraced Aristotle and started the heretical idea of dominion theology.

I am reminded of a church leader who said that if people are upset about the sex abuse scandal, just wait until they find out about the other one (the financial situation in the Church). Mr. Bozell could have mentioned the true threat to young Catholics, the presence of so much corruption in the church, but instead he makes comments on movies like Dogma (a movie I often say was written by Catholics and for Catholics, because we’re the only ones who get the jokes) and comedy tv shows.

Mr. Bozell speaks of an existential crisis in America, but I would say we face one in our own Church. And perhaps instead of rallying our impressionable undergrads as they go out into the world, telling them that they have to cure the American culture, maybe he could have challenged them to be the ones to cure Catholic culture, the ones to bring our Church into the new world in a way that both embraces orthodoxy and acts in love and charity of the other. Of course, his speech will all be lost from those graduates the second that they step out into that world outside the bubble and meet people who believe things differently from them. Then they will come to love those people and realize that, in spite of everything that is different, the heart remains the same. God dwells in every human soul.

The best lesson I ever learned as a campus minister was that you can’t love and minister to someone while judging and condemning them. I grew a lot from my work with college students and young adults and learned to think more clearly and charitably than we ever did at the Catholic University for Independent Thinkers. Maybe Mr. Bozell should take time away from speaking to work in real one-on-one ministry so he can learn that same lesson.


*In spite of all this, I want to assure readers that I love the University of Dallas. I deeply love the faculty and staff who formed me when I was there, the friends I made who have loved me through heartbreak, and the education I received that did allow me to learn to think independently, question teachings, and eventually help me grow both as a person and as a Catholic. I will always stand by UD and that is why I write things like this. I know what we are capable of and we are capable of far more than this. 

veritatem justitiam diligite. Seek ye truth and justice.