It seems the beast will not die. I wrote a column about this topic last year, but the movement to cudgel a Catholic school into violating its religious conscience for the momentary sexual appetites of its students has continued with similar veracity. Now, I suppose, is as good a time as ever to reiterate what is at stake in the debate over whether Fairfield University ought to sell prophylactics and other forms of contraception on campus.
Fairfield University is a Catholic school, and its status as such is expressly designated in its mission. Catholic and non-Catholic students alike are invited to participate in that mission, to the degrees to which they voluntarily choose to do so. They are not forced to subscribe in their individual lives to the various mores and moral prescriptions of the Roman Catholic Church, but are inherently bound to acknowledge the school’s obligation to implement policies that are subservient to its explicitly Catholic mission. If this obligation intrudes on an individual’s comfort or perception of safety so profoundly that they feel the need to challenge a millennia old teaching of the church, it stands to reason that such individuals will heed the option of voluntarily choosing to attend another university that is not openly and expressly adherent to church dogma.
The school’s nominal Catholicism as such is not made secret to prospective students, and is eminently clear in the school’s branding efforts, promotional paraphernalia and rhetorical devices. The first five words under the heading of the university webpage on a Google search? “We are a Jesuit University.” It’s certainly no secret, and if it were one, it’s remarkably poorly kept. Prospective students face no compulsion in their choice of school, nor do any other external actors coerce prospective students to attend Fairfield under threat of force. The voluntary choice to attend a Catholic school is a tacit acknowledgement that one recognizes the school’s sovereignty in propagating its moral mission, irrespective of one’s own personal feelings on the matter.
It is indeed the case that popular opinion at Fairfield may be in favor of bringing contraceptives on campus, and even profoundly so, but the status of Fairfield as a Catholic university is principally immutable; its status as such is no more up for democratic vote than its yearly tuition. If students feel as though the Catholic Church’s millennia old teaching on contraception is an affront to their own values, and are disquieted by an expressly Catholic institution’s willingness to subscribe to said teaching, they are welcome to either order contraception of their own or reevaluate their choice of institution.
If individuals sense themselves mature enough to engage in sexual activity, it stands to reason that such individuals ought to take responsibility for the procuration of whatever prophylactics or contraceptive measures they deem appropriate for such acts. Surely it is not the faculty or facility of an expressly Catholic school to hold the hand of students choosing to engage in extramarital sexual activities, as much as it is not the school’s responsibility to ensure that other violations of Church teaching are done with the utmost ease and convenience. Just as there are no external forces mandating one attend a Catholic school, there are no third-party actors who coerce students to engage in consensual sexual activity, as if sexual activity were akin to a disease or spasmodic tic that one was utterly incapable of controlling. In the absence of such corruptive or coercive forces, it seems perfectly reasonable, temperate, and most of all, legitimate for a Catholic school to be allowed to implement policies that defer to the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church.
There is a particular arrogance in the presumption that one has an entitlement to define the moral frame of an institution that has existed long before one ever stepped foot on its campus. Fairfield places no obligation on any student to attend the school, and the voluntary payment of tuition monies at least implicitly acknowledges that one is willing to accept that they are attending a university with clearly defined moral boundaries that exist beyond the waywardness of undergraduate outrage. Using the euphemisms like “health” and “justice” to describe the forced abrogation of an institution’s religious conscience is sophistry at best, and a sort of rhetorical sleight of hand at worst. Unlike most debates, where multiple sides can be argued reasonably and rationally, this discussion indeed has a “right” answer: the Roman Catholic Church has a 2,000-year old teaching against the use of contraception, Fairfield University is an expressly Catholic institution to which students attend of their own volition; by simple deduction, it is starkly clear that the school has no ethereal obligation to violate its religious conscience on the basis of the dissent from those who do not share the Church’s moral positions.