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The controversy over Notre Dame and its awarding of an honorary degree to President Barack Obama brings to mind a professor named Father Richard Peter McBrien and the urgent need for the Church to rein in "Catholic" institutions of higher learning, which in some cases are outright renegade.

Father McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame; for 11 years, he was chairman of that department.

We certainly respect his priesthood, as well as his freedom of speech. We respect his scholarship. And we hate to single anyone out.

But there is a searing question and it is is how Father McBrien -- and many like him -- could be allowed to teach young Catholics. Is Father McBrien an appropriate teacher when one of his major works was officially disapproved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the grounds that many of its statements are "inaccurate or misleading"  -- also, "unforgivable." Other transgressions:

-- he said on network TV during a documentary on exorcism that he doesn't believe in the existence of the devil (a view, of course, that directly contradicts Jesus, Scripture, and basic Church doctrine).

-- he compared John Paul II to Communist dictators and suggested that the Pope may have been an "unknowing prisoner of the Curia" (and perhaps even a disastrous pontiff, at least in the view of his "friends").

-- he complained about a papal conclave and  "watching 115 men in liturgical dress. There isnít a woman among them." (Father McBrien is the secular media's favorite when they need a priest to criticize the Church; he was a paid consultant for ABC).

-- he also served as a consultant for The DaVinci Code -- a movie that slandered the Church and presented myriad falsehoods from a director who again this spring is attempting to bait the Vatican.

-- he has said that bishops should be allowed to sit on stage and say Mass at Catholic schools but nothing more. Banish the bishops?

-- asked by the Boston Globe why he didn't wear a collar, the priest replied, "I only wear a collar when I go to my home parish in West Hartford to say Mass on a Sunday when I'm home. My Roman collar is my television uniform."

-- according to some reports, he is pro-choice.

-- he has reportedly stated that he would not discount "the possibility" that Jesus had been married. (He said that "itís only a short putt to Mary Magdalene. If he was married, it was obviously . . . oh yeah, it was obviously Mary Magdalene.")

We are to tolerate this? We are to allow Catholic young -- for decades -- to be indoctrinated by an antagonist -- under the vaunted dome (topped by Mary)? Isn't it time to address more than just an honorary degree and a commencement speech and to go further into the pervasive disorder that is Catholic education?

On the Notre Dame Board of Trustees is a woman who funds human embryonic stem-cell research.

What's worse: having a pro-choice politician speak at a university or having a papal antagonist, dissident priest, and a pro-choicer as chief of theology there? Perhaps it's a toss-up.

For Notre Dame is hardly alone and isn't even the biggest offender. Indeed, Father McBrien once served as theology professor at Boston College -- where other examples abound, as they do too at so many "Catholic" universities -- and seminaries.

Where is the outrage over unmarried couples sharing dorm rooms at Catholic schools or plays like the Vagina Monolgues (which at one point several years ago was scheduled at 34 Catholic colleges) or homosexual activist organizations on campus? Where is the upset when professors try to halt crucifixes from appearing in their Jesuit classrooms? Where was the publicity when courses on the Catholic faith -- on Mary, on the saints -- were replaced with Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and existentialism?

We recall passing a classroom in Faculty Memorial Hall at Fordham University  in the early 1970s and catching a glimpse of "yippie" Abbie Hoffman speaking to a classroom. (At the time, he was a fugitive from justice -- on the run. Perhaps you have other examples. If so, please send them.)

It is time to confront this. Actually, it was time to confront this in the 1970s.

Just Monday, Gary Macy, a professor of theology at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, promoted the ordination of women in front of an audience and called the Holy Spirit "She."

Pro-abortion commencement speakers are certainly a scandal (especially when they are granted an honorary degree), but fortunately the number of Catholic colleges with such speakers has reportedly declined to just six this year (from 24 schools a few short years ago, before the bishops issued a statement). Now, other issues must also be considered. Let us not miss this opportunity. For if there is no other fruit from the visit of a president who is pro-abortion, maybe it will be a closer look not only at Notre Dame but at schools with equal or greater transgressions.

[Send us other examples of uncatholic teaching at Catholic schools]

[see also Catholic Answers: Dealing with Dissent, from which some of this was drawn]

[see too: the Cardinal Newman Society]

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