Point/Counterpoint: The Justice Breyer Award Debate


Published: December 11, 2008

As reported previously in The Observer, on Oct. 29 Fordham Law School awarded the Fordham-Stein Ethics Award to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Many prominent Catholic groups, as well as New York’s Cardinal Edward M. Egan, have protested the choice because of Breyer’s support for abortion rights. The Observer is pleased to present this special Point-Counterpoint on the controversy.

POINT: Deserted Soldiers of the Pope

HELEN LEE, Staff Writer

Jesuits take four vows: chastity, poverty, obedience and special obedience to the Pope. This fourth vow is unique to the Jesuits. According to the Formula of their Institute, the Society of Jesus was founded “for the defense and propagation of the faith.” However, in spite of this expected allegiance to the Pope and defense of the Catholic faith, the Jesuits have a reputation for being particularly liberal in some areas.

The Jesuits have a responsibility to be more than just supportive of the Pope and the faith. They have a responsibility to be vocal. Rather than disassociating themselves from the Church’s positions on difficult or controversial social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, they need to defend them. As long as the Church holds the positions they do, the Jesuits are obliged to explain the reasoning behind these positions and assure the world that they are morally correct and good. Without educators such as the Jesuits, the positions of the Church could seem arbitrary, stubborn and outdated.

However, it becomes unclear which side the Jesuits are on when they do things that can confuse the faithful and lead the unfaithful even further astray. This happened in October, when Fordham Law School, a Jesuit institution, awarded its Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. There are other instances, too; the law school at Georgetown University recently pledged funding for student internships at pro-abortion rights advocacy groups. Abortion is an indisputable wrong according to the Church. By behaving ambiguously in this area, not only are the Jesuits failing to fight for the dignity of the weakest persons, but they are providing a confusing path for the lay faithful who look to them for guidance.

Jesuits also often try to skirt around the issue of homosexuality. The Church does not claim that gay people are evil or even inherently sinful; however, it is clear that all forms of extra-marital sex are forbidden, including between members of the same gender. The Jesuits therefore have an obligation to assure gay people that there is a place for them in the Church, but they should also be vocal about the Church’s position. This obligation does not include endorsing drag shows like Santa Clara University did in 2005.

When Fr. Terrence Klein, an associate professor of theology at Fordham and not a Jesuit priest, was asked at a presentation why the Church maintains its particular position on homosexuality, he stressed the possibility of chaste love between members of the same sex and explained that active homosexuality goes against the Church’s current understanding of Natural Law. This properly fulfilled his obligation as a Catholic priest to inform the faithful and defend the faith, plain and simple.

Why is it that many Jesuits, especially in light of their special fourth vow of allegiance to the Pope, cannot be so supportive of Catholic doctrine on controversial issues? When the people who are supposed to be educating us about our faith are unclear, lay people can be misled and then often sin as a result. Jesuits who do not clearly explain and defend Church doctrine are, in my opinion, guilty of scandal and should seriously examine their consciences.


COUNTERPOINT: Jesuits Work at the Core of Each Person

BRENT NYCZ, Sports Co-Editor

In its long and storied history, Fordham University has taught, enlightened and honored many people throughout the years, sometimes amidst controversy. Though I understand Helen Lee’s concerns, I do not believe that the Jesuits have abandoned their alliegence to God and the Church. Rather, I see the Jesuits as adamantly fulfilling their God-given mission, while inspiring others to fulfill their own calling by assessing the whole person.

I believe Fordham recognizes that a Supreme Court justice’s views on abortion do not overshadow his or her full body of work. While some Catholic groups may believe or wish otherwise, the award was meant to honor an individual who advanced justice and brought more credit to the law profession, not someone who necessarily held to a specific political platform.

As a practicing non-Catholic Christian, I found that the Breyer award did not drastically change my opinion on the Catholic Church. I was not given the impression that the Church believes abortion is acceptable. I did think or expect that being anti-abortion was a prerequisite to be given an award by a Jesuit law school. On the contrary, the decision demonstrated to me that a Jesuit institution cared to evaluate a person’s full body of work, regardless of religion or creed.

I have seen the effects of the Jesuits at Fordham on a personal level. I have heard stories of Jesuits who have gone the extra mile. There are Jesuits who live to work for the dignity and rights of every person. We have many of those priests walking around campus every day. Their contribution to the Fordham community goes beyond simply promoting the Church’s stance on one or two issues.

This past November, I participated in the School of Americas (SOA) protest, founded and orchestrated by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois. Though not a Jesuit, Bouregois started the SOA protest in 1989 after six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter were killed by graduates of the SOA in El Salvador. From a humble protest of three men, the support to close this corrupt and destructive military institution at Fort Benning, Ga. has grown to over 20,000 protestors, including priests and students from numerous Jesuit universities. The Jesuits have taken on the SOA cause, inspiring countless people to fight for what is right. Doesn’t this outweigh any supposed ambiguity on abortion and homosexuality?

After I graduate from Fordham in May, I know I may not remember who won what award or why someone shouldn’t be honored, but I will remember the tireless passion modern-day Jesuits have for God’s mission to the poor and disenfranchised. I will also remember the periods at Fordham where I wrestled with my faith and beliefs on social justice issues. Now, however, I feel more connected with God as a result of the battles. These values I have gained are more important than any political stance.

If the Jesuits are truly straying away from their ideals and vows, millions like myself would be in trouble. I have seen the Jesuits foster the spirituality and intellect of many students, regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation. In the basic understanding of the Greatest Commandment, the Jesuits are still adamantly teaching us to “love God” and to “love one another.”