No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. has been a champion of human life throughout his priestly career. Since he was appointed President of Gonzaga University in 1998, Spitzer, who is one of the most active, articulate and aggressive proponents of Catholic teaching on the value and sanctity of human life, has continued his long-standing national and international impact on the struggle to protect the life of every human being from conception to natural death. Fr. Frank Pavone, the National Director of Priests for Life, has said of him that, “[H]e is fully committed to the pro-life cause. In his priesthood, as well as in his position at the helm of Gonzaga University, he has advanced the Gospel of Life and the teachings of the Church on every moral issue. Both in his teachings as well as in his administrative decisions, he has been consistent and faithful, and deserves the esteem of everyone in the Church and in the wider pro-life movement. I am proud to call him both a colleague and a friend.”

So it is particularly strange to see pro-choice faculty and students at Gonzaga Law School, a few thin-skinned pro-life students, and one columnist make common cause in an attempt to casually destroy the reputation this man whose only crime is his failure to be omnipotent.

The Spark

A year and a half ago, two Gonzaga University law students wanted to start a pro-life club. Gonzaga University already has a recognized, campus-wide pro-life group, but these two students wanted to form a second one at the Law School. Unfortunately, in contradiction of the Student Bar Association’s published guidelines, which require open participation by any student in any Law School club, these two students wouldn’t allow non-Christian pro-life law students to hold leadership positions. So they were denied funding in keeping with SBA policy. This set off a year and a half of public attacks by some pro-lifers who accused Gonzaga and Fr. Spitzer of “discriminating against Christians.” Eventually, however, almost everyone had backed down from that charge for the simple reason that all clubs at the Law School operate by the same rules and Christians were not being singled out for anything.

Enter TownHall.com columnist Mike Adams, who resurrected the issue in a recent article.

Writing in the form of a letter to Fr. Spitzer, Adams declared: “Gonzaga University is committed to Catholic values like the KKK is committed to racial equality.” Adams asked Fr. Spitzer: “How long must your Christian students sit at the back of the bus? Have you considered separate water fountains for traditional Catholics?” The column concluded with: “Gonzaga Law School’s deplorable conduct towards its Christian students should serve as a warning to Catholic parents everywhere: avoid sending your Catholic children to GU.” Adams then added that he “recently learned that Gonzaga Law School has now recognized a pro-choice student organization. But they choose not to let the pro-life organization have the same status. Instead, they abort every attempt to give life to free expression at GU.”

Compounding Injustice

Shortly after this piece, Adams followed up with yet another attack on Spitzer which portrayed him, not so much as a persecutor as a coward. Adams has a penchant for fictional scenarios starring himself courageously speaking truth to power, so this column was written as a fictional address to the GU Christian Legal Society.

First, Adams portrays himself as “Dr. Obvious”, the Bold Crusading Voice of Truth and Fr. Spitzer as the cowardly ecclesiat scurrying from the Light of Justice: “I was shocked when the President of GU responded to readers of my article without responding to me directly by simply returning my phone calls.” It does not seem to occur to Adams that Fr. Spitzer might be inclined to doubt the objectivity and seriousness of a journalist who blithely accuses him of wanting “separate water fountains”.

The audience thus instructed to cheer and boo properly, Adams then levels his main charge:

So why can’t President Spitzer intervene and mandate the recognition of a Christian pro-life group and a Christian Legal Society at a Christian university?

The answer is simple: He spent his political capital last November and can’t face the militantly anti-Christian, pro-gay, and pro-abortion activists who have taken over Gonzaga Law School.

President Spitzer’s desire for the approval of others is evident in the form responses he sends to pro-lifers who criticize his refusal to intervene in the controversy at the law school. He tries to persuade them that he is a good man by reminding them that he is pro-life and always has been.

Translation: Spitzer blathers about fidelity to the Church while he capitulates, compromises, betrays, weasels and sucks up to apostates. His motivation is approval, not truth.

Adams concludes by comparing himself to Solzhenitsyn speaking out against “silence” in the face of injustice, only to be cut off by Fr. Spitzer sending in the GU Thought Police (I’m not making this up):Suddenly, members of the Gonzaga Police Unit (GPU) grabbed a hold of Dr. Obvious. They threw him to the ground and shouted “You are under arrest.” After replying, “Me? What for?” Dr. Obvious was taken to Room 107 to await interrogation. When he arrived in the interrogation room, he was promptly sent back to Room 107. This ritual was repeated for several days until Dr. Obvious went mad. He never collected his honorarium. He was also discharged from his job as a Wal-Mart greeter in Boise, Idaho. His whereabouts are presently unknown.

Spitzer’s Actual Record

Adams never addresses the point that Spitzer has addressed for two years: no organization seeking SBA funding can exclude any students. Whatever that is, it’s not “discrimination against Christians”. It’s “treating Christians like everybody else in the Law school”. Nor does Adams, in all of his accusations about Spitzer’s “silence” in the face of injustice, ever once address all the noise Spitzer has made both on behalf of Catholic teaching, on behalf of the unborn, and in cleaning up GU. For instance, you would never know from Adams that Fr. Spitzer founded the Center for Life Principles in 1993 and Healing the Culture in 2003 (not to mention his helping to found University Faculty for Life).

Nor would you learn from Adams that since taking the reins at Gonzaga, Fr. Spitzer has:

  • Shut down an attempt by the women’s center to have Planned Parenthood speak on campus
  • Gathered student, parent, staff, administration, and partial faculty support for Ex Corde Ecclesiae in the first couple of years he was there
  • Hired Fr. Bill Watson as Vice President of Mission to bring authentic Ignatian Spiritual retreats and devout Masses to campus
  • Transformed the 70s “sit-on-the-floor” style student Admin building chapel into a magnificent work of traditional Catholic art, contemplation, and prayer, where Mass will be said appropriately
  • Doubled student attendance at campus Masses since becoming President
  • Added a Sunday night 10 PM devout Mass which he regularly presides over, and which regularly brings in over 600 students – triple from when it started
  • Founded the Gonzaga Institute of Ethics to bring authentic Catholic ethics to community businesses and organizations.
  • Founded the Institute of Faith and Reason to answer the Pope’s call to bring Catholic theology, sciences, and philosophy together

Puhleeze!

At this point, people who know Fr. Spitzer (like Camille De Blasi and 29 other signatories–(including me))–could stand it no more. We knew perfectly well that the only one perpetrating injustice by his silence was Adams. So we wrote a letter defending Spitzer. The substance of the letter was, “Find something else to trash besides this good man’s reputation and work.” De Blasi was particularly well-suited to write it since she is, with Fr. Spitzer, co-founder and President of Healing the Culture, and has a host of formidable credentials as both a committed orthodox Catholic and a bulwark in the pro-life community.

Adams replied to the letter in this fashion:

In the letter, De Blasi falsely claims that I wrote an editorial which “compares Father Spitzer to the KKK.” The line from my editorial actually reads as follows: “Gonzaga University is committed to Catholic values like the KKK is committed to racial equality.” … De Blasi’s mischaracterization of the KKK reference raises questions about her ethics, if not her literacy.

One scarcely knows where to begin. The fact is, Adams’ attack on Spitzer was calculated to portray him as a persecutor of Christians. It was, after all, directed to Spitzer in the form of a “letter”. And if Gonzaga is likened to the KKK, then it follows that Fr. Spitzer, as President, is being likened to the Grand Dragon, particularly when Adams asks Fr. Spitzer: “How long must your Christian students sit at the back of the bus? Have you considered separate water fountains for traditional Catholics?”

Shifting Charges

But Adams wasn’t through. De Blasi wrote that “A little bit of research at Gonzaga reveals that, although there are some pro-choice students who gather at Gonzaga’s Law School (something which is impossible to prevent), no group which promotes or advocates abortion has received recognition or financing from the university.”

Adams shot back, “But Gonzaga Law School does recognize a student chapter of the ACLU. Does De Blasi contend that the ACLU is not a “group which promotes or advocates abortion?”

If Adams had been as hasty to listen as to speak, he would have discovered that, in fact, that’s precisely what De Blasi meant–and for good reason. For he would have discovered that, in November 2004, Fr. Spitzer’s administration reiterated Gonzaga’s commitment to pro-life ethics by making clear, both verbally and in writing that, no campus organization may promote or advocate abortion or pro-choice directly or indirectly by any means. And the simple fact is, says De Blasi, the GU ACLU has adhered to this policy. Therefore, unless they violate the University’s mission or policies, there doesn’t seem to be any cause to bar them. One would think that a champion of free expression on campus like Mike Adams would see the reasonableness of that.

Sleight of Hand

But Adams is uninterested. Instead, he continues by complaining the GU Law School (a semi-autonomous entity with a budget separate from GU) has student groups such as the Sexual Orientation Diversity Alliance, the Multicultural Law Caucus, Black Law Student Association, Hispanic Law Caucus, and Asian/Pacific Islanders Law Caucus. ” He concludes, “Thanks to the expert research of Camille De Blasi, I’m no longer misled into thinking that GU law school is a bastion of liberalism.”

Note the sleight of hand here: Adams asks, “What? Is there also a White Law Student Association? How dare those Christians try to discriminate on the basis of religion at a Catholic School?” But the fact is Adams has not shown that any of these groups exclude members of the law school student body in contravention of SBA policy. So the comparison with the Christian pro-life group is nonsensical.

And, of course, De Blasi has not been arguing that the GU law school is not a bastion of liberalism. She has been arguing that Fr. Spitzer is a man who has labored long and hard to defend Christian faith, to defend human life, and to work to oppose the culture of death as best he can–often over the loud objections of people in the school of law. Indeed, GU Law faculty object to, and challenge, the University’s policy barring organizations from promoting or advocating abortion. Evidently, “pro-choice” faculty members at Gonzaga University are quite clear about Father Spitzer’s commitment to the pro-life cause. It is a tragic irony and the height of folly that some in the pro-life cause are not.

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