The Pizza-man Delivers His Dream Town and Dream School
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 04:29:13 PM EST
(The Catholic Right: Twelfth in a Series)

Thomas Monaghan wants to transform our society.  Part of how he is going about it, as I reported in the last installment of this series that, the Dominos Pizza King is using his vast wealth to try to transform the basis of American Jurisprudence from the principles of the Enlightenment to one based upon an ultra-Orthodox Catholic vision of natural law principles.

Investing in Higher Education
Give Tom Monaghan credit: he puts his money where his mouth is. He fully understands that there are not enough American Catholics who share his ultra-orthodox vision for the Church. As a result, he is mow using his wealth in an effort to transform American Catholicism. And while the Thomas More Law Center is his vehicle for putting forth his vision of justice, Monaghan is also actively creating both a community and training ground designed to churn out  future leaders who would ultimately implement a court system based upon Magisterium rather than Value Pluralism.

To that end, he is investing heavily in education. In Michigan he is heavily funding in Catholic grade, intermediary and high school education. His foundation of socially conservative Catholic millionaires, Legatus, is similarly investing in the cultivation of a pre-Vatican II generation of leaders. As the Wall Street Journal observed:

Over the years, Mr. Monaghan has indulged in his share of vanity projects--such as purchasing the Detroit Tigers. But he also consistently gave to the church. Well, not directly. Rather than simply supporting existing institutions, he has made a habit of starting his own. He began with two Catholic elementary schools in the Ann Arbor area in the late '90s, and he thinks these schools are very effective at getting people to heaven. "You give kids the faith and they'll keep it for life." But "the problem is you can only build so many grade schools and you're out of money." On the other hand, he continues, "if I can train a principal I can impact a whole school. I can do that at a university. I can train thousands of school administrators, thousands of catechism teachers, provide thousands of vocations to the priesthood and religious life." (i)

Along with his right-hand man Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, (ii) Monaghan not only slanders secular educational institutions, but also mainstream and progressive Catholic institutions, calling them "...places where the fullness of Catholic truth is joyfully and vigorously taught, defended, and proclaimed. The present crisis is at its core a crisis of Catholic Truth." The National Catholic Reporter noted, "Ave Maria's right-wing orientation has drawn its share of criticism from more liberal Catholic quarters. Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan, for instance, writing in NCR May 7, (1999) accused Ave Maria of a "holier than thou" attitude toward other Catholic law schools."(iii)

The Ave Maria Educational System
The Ave Maria University system is set up to provide both a liberal arts undergraduate program as well as a school of law. The university's emphasis is not merely upon education, but one that views it through an ultra-orthodox perspective.

The university maintains departments of history, biology and chemistry, theology, philosophy and "politics," which describes part of its curriculum as "Courses in the field of American government serve to test the theoretical underpinnings of political philosophy..."

Ave Maria's School of Law had its curriculum drafted with significant input from US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Other Catholic Right jurists who have either advised the school or have taught courses there include Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and the former Solicitor General, Robert H. Bork. And as the National Catholic Reporter further noted:

Ave Maria is expected to fit into the militantly religious category as well. Funded to the tune of $50 million by Domino's Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan, Ave Maria will clearly have a more conservative religious orientation than any existing Catholic law school in the nation. Its board members include such noted Catholic conservatives as Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput; Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press; and Fr. Michael Scanlan, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Two of the most conservative members of Notre Dame University's law school are also on the Ave Maria board: Gerald V. Bradley and Charles E. Rice.(iv)

As if the faculty's track record as well as the school's own stated aims do not point to a more theocratic view of the world, the presence of Opus Dei should. Dianne DiNicola of the the Opus Dei Awareness Network has told the American Baptist Press she receives reports of Opus Dei recruitment at Ave Maria University and potentially in the town.

The Ave Maria Community
Monaghan's dream town will be one of 11,000 residential units surrounding the Ave Maria University complex. At the center will be a towering oratory, very similar to the placement of cathedrals in medieval Europe.

According to the Wall Street Journal "Set to open in the fall of 2007, Ave Maria Town will be unincorporated and governed by county officials...Mr. Monaghan announced in 2004 that "you won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."

But this raises serious constitutional issues. As Howard Simon, the Executive Director for the Florida ACLU observed on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, the issue is not that Monaghan wants to create a community where like-minded ultra-orthodox Catholics want to live together, but governmental control:

If he wants to build a town and encourage like minded people to come and live there, that's fine.  We get into problems where he tries to exercise governmental authority.  That's the issue. It's not-Tucker, you've to make a distinction between just encouraging like minded people to come and live in the same place with a town organized on religious principles, in which the religious group is given governmental authority.  It's that latter that is the problem.

And as Simon properly pointed out:

This is not Catholicism-this is not a story about Catholicism.  It's a story about any religious group trying to exercise governmental power.

And what happens when one religious group exercises controls over healthcare issues is extremely important in a democracy. The Florida ACLU's Director of Communications,  Brandon Hensler further elaborated:

There are no constitutional issues with like-minded people living together and there are many examples where it works - Hasidic Jewish communities in upstate New York, Mormans in Utah, and Amish and Mennonites in the Midwest are just a few examples.

The central issues that may cause grave concern are not the trivial aspects such as what video games can be rented, magazines sold or other superficial problems.

However, we can already foresee potential problems with a medical clinic that is open to the public, and run based on religious principles.  What happens if someone is rushed there in an emergency - will they honor living wills and advance directives?  What about rape victims?  Will they be offered Emergency Contraception, or at minimal given information on a place to go? These are serious questions that need to be answered... questions that people in the community need to be asking of their elected leaders.

We don't think religious groups should be making medical decisions for the people of Ave Maria, or any other town; that should be relegated as a doctor/patient decision for what is in the best interest of the patient.

And while Monaghan recent public statements give the impression that he has backed off from such restrictions, he may be speaking with forked-tongue. Again, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

The ACLU threatened a lawsuit, and Mr. Monaghan backed down. He tells me he consulted his lawyers and realized "that some of the things I'm talking about we may not be able to prevent. We never ever intended to break the law." (But Mr. Monaghan seems to tailor his message to his audience. In June, he told a Catholic gathering in Denver that "our plan is that no adult material will appear on the town's cable system and the pharmacy will not sell contraceptives.") (v)

And among those who would have to live by Monaghan's zoning restrictions would not just be Agnostics, Atheists, Protestants and Jews but many mainstream Catholics who choose not live by every single Vatican proclamation. This possibility has even rankled other Christian denominations as well as the many American Catholics who choose to live as much by their conscience as by Magisterium. Then there would be the question of what would happen if the Ave Maria community would get control of the local Collier County government. Would Mr. Monaghan then try to impose ultra-orthodox Catholic morality upon its citizens too?

Trouble in Paradise
But there are signs of problems arising from Monaghan's single-minded determination. Criticism is even arising within the ranks of teachers and students who initially believed in Ave Maria University's reason for being. Miscalculations and mistakes have even resulted in the return $259,000 in federal money that was originally earmarked for student aid for the Michigan campus was improperly diverted to the Naples, Florida campus. There are also accusations that university employees at the Michigan campus
are not treated with dignity. The Wall Street journal has reported that Monaghan has thwarted attempts by university employees to unionize.(vi)  Such opposition to the rights of organized labor demonstrates a significant amount of religious hypocrisy:

The battles between Mr. Monaghan and the Ave Maria faculties have become vitriolic. Some have even tried to unionize. When I ask if he sees a contradiction in trying to block such a move, even though unionization is supported by the Catholic Church, he says, "I think that [the church] hierarchy doesn't know as much about those things as they do about their theology.

For a man who constantly preaches against so-called "cafeteria" liberal Catholics who do don't readily accept every Magisterium pronouncement, this is a clear case of "do as I say, not as I do."  It is nothing more than picking and choosing on a much grander scale-smorgasbord Catholicism.

Monaghan founded Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan in March 1998. However discord began to set in when Monaghan became more and more enamored with his Ave Maria University in Florida. He had most of the staff and faculty moved to Florida, with the Ypsilanti campus to be phased out once the class of 2007 graduates.. As one disgruntled teacher told the New York Times:

Many Detroit-area Catholics said they gave up jobs and teaching posts elsewhere to work at the schools, with some faculty members moving from hundreds of miles away because, as a former Ave Maria College biology professor, Andrew J. Messaros, recalled, they were committed to promoting a faithful version of core Catholic teachings.

''I bought into the whole vision lock, stock and barrel,'' Professor Messaros said. He added that he took a $16,000 pay cut from a tenure-track position at the West Virginia University School of Medicine to teach at Ave Maria in mid-2003.(vii)

And as several parents of students enrolled in the Michigan campus complained:

Mrs. Bower, whose son Paul was a junior at Ave Maria College when the move to Florida began to accelerate, said she became concerned that the Michigan campus was being deserted. She grew more anxious in 2004 when word got out that school administrators in Florida had tried to have most of the books at the Michigan campus's library shipped to Naples.

''I thought, 'Wait! There are still students there. They can't just take all the stuff,' '' said Mrs. Bower, who created a Web site -- -- to help keep the Michigan campus intact.

Another parent -- Edward N. Peters, who taught canon law in a theology program now based at Ave Maria University -- threatened to sue if the campus was dismantled.
''It has become clear that Tom Monaghan regards Ave Maria not as a kind of public trust but rather as his personal domain which he can effectively treat however he wants,'' Professor Peters, whose son attended the college, wrote in a June 2004 letter to the college board. He added that since Mr. Monaghan shifted his attention to Florida, he had cut support for several of his Michigan projects, including a weekly Catholic newspaper and a new convent. ''Ironically, the very legacy that was being built up with Monaghan's help is now being torn down at his will,'' Professor Peters wrote. ''It is a tragic and scandalous waste of the human and financial resources given by God.'' (viii)


Such complaints raise issues about Monaghan. Is it sloppiness, an autocratic nature or just the price of whimsy? Perhaps it is a combination of all those factors. In any event his actions seem to indicate a belief that some people are expendable. Here is a powerful man who ignores Catholic teachings on economic justice when it is convenient for him. And it seems that it is those expendable ones who must always follow Magisterium to the letter of the law, not the powerful.

To paraphrase Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Tom Monaghan is trying to get the state to legislate what he cannot get his own co-religionists to accept. And as the vast majority of Americans known, from mainstream conservatives to the most progressive of the Left, the proper role of American government is not to serve as the enforcer of any religion's doctrines, but to allow its tenants to be freely practiced.

Apparently, Mr. Monaghan does not see it that way.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank Cocozzelli :  Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven


(i)  Naomi Scaefer Riley, "Domino's Illuminatio Mea," Wal Street Journal August 19, 2006 Link:
(ii)  Fr. Fessio is a Jesuit who has broken with his order. Jesuits are usually among the most progressive of Catholic orders. As explained in the hyperlink above, his ultra-orthodox beliefs have caused tension between him and the order.
(iii)  . Pamela Schaeffer, “Wanted: different kind of lawyer - New Catholic law schools;” National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 1999 (iv) Ibid. (v)  Ibid., "Domino's Illuminatio Mea,"
(vi)  Ibid., "Domino's Illuminatio Mea,"
(vii)  Susan Hansen, "Our Lady of Discord", New York Times, July 30, 2006. Link: 95B0C738FDDAE0894DE404482
(viii)  Ibid.

If you can't find enough theocrats to change society, ya' gotta make'em!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 04:31:32 PM EST
Frank-Welcome back and thanks!

by khughes1963 on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 10:47:18 PM EST
Thank you!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 06:59:05 AM EST

Nice work covering this territory. As a liberal and practicing Catholic, I have been observing the turmoil from the inside. I just want to reiterate a point you made early in the series: progressive Catholics must stay and fight for the church. Catholicism is a beautiful religion, and it's a religion for the people. The priests are there to serve, and shame on those who forget that.

by Marley on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 02:00:57 PM EST

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