Villanova Law School is part of a Catholic university, and the terms Catholic and university are both significant.
As a university, Villanova is absolutely committed to academic freedom. Our faculty and students are of many faiths and no faith at all. Some hold views antithetical to church teaching, including its teaching on abortion. They can (and do) express those views freely in the classroom, in print and elsewhere. Some students may take jobs before or after graduation that involve positions opposed to church teaching, but they nonetheless remain valued colleagues.
Villanova also is committed to being Roman Catholic. Our Catholic identity is not casual, sentimental or merely historical. It is a living, positive presence. Because the law school is Catholic, it does certain things. Inspired by our patron, St. Thomas of Villanova, who said that “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” we educate our students in the value of service to the poor. We thus have created four new clinical law programs and a state-of-the-art pro bono program. Our Public Interest Fellowship Program is part of that initiative. We do these things in part because we are Catholic.
…A Villanova program obviously cannot be associated with advocacy for abortion rights. Though many individual Catholics believe that there should be some legal right to abortion, the church’s teaching on the topic is fundamental and unambiguous. We have no choice but to ask program fellows working in our name to agree not to engage in such advocacy. They are, of course, free to take jobs outside the program doing whatever they want. But as program fellows they represent us, and they cannot represent us in advocacy for abortion rights.
Some might accuse us of hypocrisy in not banning the program work with advocates of capital punishment and other causes that they believe have the same status as abortion in Catholic teaching. What they do not understand is that the status of these issues in Catholic teaching is very different from that of abortion. Take capital punishment, for example. The Pope has asked Catholics to conclude that capital punishment is insupportable. I agree with him completely. But his statements on the issue were not made with the authority that requires the faithful obedience of all Catholics and Catholic institutions, unlike the church’s position on abortion. Indeed, many orthodox supporters of the Pope have disagreed with him on this issue and argued that the Catholic tradition does not support abolition of capital punishment.
Bravo to Mark A. Sargent dean of Villanova Law School. It is nice to see an article where “Acadamic Freedom” is not used as a cudgel against truth.