Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton offers an insightful and faithful commentary on the University of Notre Dame's shockingly offensive cartoon advocating gay bashing that made the news last week. Integrity joins with all those voices lifted in outrage -- and will be working with allies to call the University to greater accountability in the days and weeks ahead.

The Road Back

by Elizabeth Kaeton

I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite movies, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" the other night. I know. A real "chick-flick." Mother-daughter stuff. The way women relate to each other.

Stay with me, now. It's not what you think.

It was a throw-away line in a scene between Siddalee Walker, played by Sandra Bullock, and Shep, her father, played by James Garner.

I can't even remember the context - I think Siddalee is just learning the extent of her mother's mental illness and is coming to terms with their rocky relationship.

Her father says, "Ah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

She laughs and asks, "Yeah, well what's the road back paved with?"

"Humility," he says.

That's more than just a great line, you know?

I have come to learn that the most powerful words in the English language are these, "I'm sorry."

If said with authenticity and true humility, they can begin to mend a broken heart, heal a broken relationship, or place one on the path toward reconciliation.

If it is not, however, if it is said in a perfunctory or insincere manner, it can make matters worse. Much, much worse that whatever the initial situation involved.

I'm not talking about the kind of apology you probably gave to one of your siblings when your mother forced you to, "Say you're sorry. Now. Right now."

I remember those. Hand on hip. Left foot tapping. Shoulders slumped. Looking off into the distance. Barely audible. "So'reeeee . . . ."

I'm not sure how I feel about the apology that was issued by the student newspaper at Notre Dame. The viciously anti-gay "cartoon" above appeared in last week's edition and the editor has apologized.

If you can 't read it, it says, "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"

"No clue," says the guy in the second frame.

The answer is in the third frame: "A baseball bat." The punchline in the cartoon was originally going to be "AIDS," but the artist "didn't want to make fun of fatal diseases."

Right. GLAAD is on the case.

The Observer’s editor, Jenn Metz, relayed a tearful apology by phone to the folks at GLAAD. She explained that she was not present when the decision to run the cartoon was made, and that she was incredibly upset that others on staff had made that decision.

An apology printed in the paper included the following:

The editors of The Observer would like to publicly apologize for the publication of “The Mobile Party” in the Jan. 13 edition. The burden of responsibility ultimately lies on us for allowing it to go to print. 
There is no excuse that can be given and nothing that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done by this egregious error in judgment. 

Allowing this cruel and hateful comic a place on our pages disgraced those values and severely hurt members of our Notre Dame family — our classmates, our friends. For this, we sincerely apologize. Unfortunately, the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society.”

Makes me think of myself when I said, "So'reeee" when my mother was standing over my shoulder.

". . . no excuse that can be given . . ." Well, that's right. Unfortunately, however, one was given in the last sentence. " . . ."the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society."

That's a true enough statement, but I think it diminished the "sincere apology" in the immediately previous sentence. Sometimes, you should just let an apology be sincere and let it go, because, as the statement also says . . .

". . . noting that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done . . ."

Well, I'm not so sure about that.

Now that the "cartoonist" (who has not yet been named) whose not-so-good intentions have nevertheless dug himself and the university into some fresh hell, the only road back is one paved with humility.

Actions speak much louder than words. The President and Dean of the University of Notre Dame - a Roman Catholic school NOT run by the Jesuits, by the way, but an "independent Catholic university" founded by the order of the Congregation of the Holy Cross - needs to put some Christian principles into action.

Some questions need to be seriously explored and prayed over. Like:

How can a school whose founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., said, “This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country,” actually embody that vision?

How can a school, a university of higher education which espouses Christian values, create an environment where that kind of attitude is simply not tolerated and a "cartoon" like that would never "slip by" when the editor wasn't looking?

Can a Roman Catholic institution which holds a theology that homosexuality is "inherently disordered" still take responsibility for the violence that position can produce while maintaining its theological position with integrity? How can they use their "independent" status to do some good?

I'm not talking about 'humiliation'. I'm not talking about 'shame and blame'.

I'm talking about humility. Big difference. Humility means accepting the truth about yourself - warts and all - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I don't know about you, but it takes an enormous amount of humility to admit the truth about something good about myself - sometimes more humility than it takes to admit the truth about the bad stuff about myself.

It's a long road back from the hell that was created by this vicious assault on the children of God as well as the image of God we have in Christ Jesus.

It begins with "I'm sorry." But, I think, it continues from there.

Actions speak much louder than words. The actions taken by Notre Dame in the weeks and months ahead will demonstrate the kind of humility required to follow the commandment given to us by Jesus:

"Love one another as I have loved you."


The Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton is the rector of St. Paul's, Chatham NJ, the president of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and a past-member of the Nat'l Integrity Board. She blogs at "Telling Secrets"

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