Troubled Times at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria U
Fessio told the publication that "same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb, and a way of treating them that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science." Is it unclear, however, which part of these comments would upset Monaghan.
This we do know: On March 21, Fessio sent a brief email to member of the Ave Maria community which read: "To the Ave Maria Community: I have been asked to resign my position as provost and leave the campus immediately. I will miss Ave Maria and the many of you whom I hold dear."
The future evidently manifested itself in a hurry: A day after he was fired, Fessio was rehired as a "designated theologian in residence," with teaching duties, a room on campus, and making plans for student study abroad. Although the university did not say why it reinstated Fessio, it did say that it was "as a sign of our esteem for his great gifts and abilities." In reality, it may have been student protests that caused the university to rethink its position.
Ave Maria University -- the focal point of a new city also called Ave Maria ("Hail Mary" in Latin) located 20 miles northeast of Naples, Florida -- is the brainchild of Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza founder who over the years has become a major contributor to far-right Catholic causes.
Monaghan wasn't always concerned about monastic things. As Peter J. Boyer pointed out in a profile in The New Yorker (February 19 & 26, 2007), "In the nineteen-eighties, as Monaghan attained a place on lists of the wealthiest Americans, he went on a wish-fulfillment spree. He wanted to fly, so he bought a Gulfstream jet and a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. He was a college dropout who had longed to study architecture; instead he became the world's leading collector of the decorative works of his hero, Frank Lloyd Wright. ... In his teens, Monaghan had been a penniless car buff; now he acquired a fleet of automobiles, including a handmade Bugatti Royale, and the Packard that conveyed F.D.R. to his second inauguration. ... [And, at age 46] in the autumn of 1983, he bought the Detroit Tigers baseball team."
All this accumulation of goodies happened before Monaghan's now much-publicized religious awakening, when he decided to use, as he put it, "Gods money," to save the Catholic Church from itself.
After Monaghan bought the Tigers in 1983, he set up a foundation that was generally aimed at supporting the Catholic Church. In discussions with "a fellow-parishioner, the Catholic writer Ralph Martin," Monaghan began to understand the problems within the church. "He explained it to me," Monaghan told Boyer. Martin, Boyer noted, is the author of the "influential" 1982 book called "Crisis of Truth," "in which he warned that clergymen and theologians within the Church were working against the true faith, and that the Church's embrace of trendy ideologies was corrupting an unsuspecting flock."
According to Boyer, Martin's beef with the Church grew out of the "liberalizing reforms of the second Vatican Council, convened in 1962, had mutated into an assault on Church teaching and scriptural authority." The essence of the split therefore was between those that were "oriented to a judgmental God and the promise of redemption, [and those that saw] God's will at work in the pursuit of social justice," Boyer wrote.
"I just told him [Monaghan], 'Hey, there's a lot of different stuff going on in the Church these days,'" Martin told Boyer. "And some of it really is in harmony with two thousand years of Catholic tradition, and some of it isn't."
Monaghan became a major protagonist in the struggle against what Boyer called "the zenith of liberation theology"; the Reagan Administration's struggle against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. According to Boyer, "The struggle became a kind of proxy war between Catholic liberals and Catholic conservatives outside Nicaragua."
Ralph Martin was deeply opposed to liberation theology; "he had built a network in Central America, and one of its members, Father Enrique Silvestre, persuaded Monaghan to visit his mission in a squalid Honduras village called El Mochito." The Honduras visit set Monaghan in motion: his first philanthropic efforts including buying bought Silvestre a pickup truck and a generator for the hydroelectric plant and started a sewing factory.
More importantly, Monaghan found his cause in the Nicaraguan Contras. Although, according to Boyer, Monaghan claimed he "provided no direct, material support for their effort," he acknowledged that he thought the Church was being "persecuted" by the Sandinistas.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Monaghan "was moving in elite orthodox Catholic circles," hanging with such notable intellectuals as George Weigel and Michael Novak, "who were far more grounded than he was in the Catholic intellectual tradition," Boyer pointed out.
He was profoundly influenced by an essay by C.S. Lewis -- the only Protestant writer included in Dinesh D'Souza's book "The Catholic Classics" -- which posited that pride was "the essential vice, the utmost evil. .... It was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
"That hit me right between the eyes," Monaghan told Boyer. The day after reading Lewis, he "began to dispossess himself of the earthly treasures he'd accumulated."
A few years later, he set about laying the plans for his orthodox Catholic town.
Controversy has surrounded the building of the town from the point when Monaghan first proclaimed, in a speech to a Catholic men's group, that "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 drugstore and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that."
Since that time, The News-Sentinel reported in late March, "Monaghan softened his initial commandments for the Collier County town, backing away from claims that it would ban birth control, pornography and abortion."
"The university is Catholic; the community is going to be everybody,'' said Blake Gable, vice president of real estate for Barron Collier and project manager for Ave Maria. "The cable, Comcast, is the exact same as everywhere. The commercial lease is the same as everywhere.''
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other groups have criticized Monaghan for "what they say is his attempt to impose his conservative religious ideology on residents," The News-Sentinel reported. "This is not a debate about whether people who are of similar religious or ethnic or racial background have a right to live in the same community,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. "The issue is: Will the laws of the community be reflective of religious dogma and thereby end up restricting the rights of people who are religious minorities in the community?''
And the town has come under fire from environmentalists as well. "Defenders of Wildlife objected to the town's location, which the organization says encroaches on the habitat of the endangered Florida panther," The News-Sentinel reported. "Last month, the group threatened to file a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers for approving the project."
In a post titled "Jeb Bush, FPL Glades Power Plant, Ave Maria University, and Scripps by gimleteye" (March 27), Eye on Miami pointed to a recent Miami Herald story that told of how "Government agencies were marshaled to avoid consideration of important environmental impacts, like the fact that Ave Maria University is squarely in the midst of habitat for the Florida panther."
"The Herald report features prospective buyers touring the construction site in trolley cars, the same way they did in 1920 in Coral Gables. Buyers lured with flags and demonstration units and incentives, surrounded by functional wetlands turned into stormwater ditches."
On Monday, March 26, at the Annunciation Mass, The Rev. Robert Garrity, the university chaplain, tried to put the best possible spin on the turbulent events of the past week. Garrity asked about 450 people who gathered under a billowing white tent "to forgive and put the difficulties in perspective," according to a report posted at BonitaNews.com.
"Have there been some traumatic events in the history of Ave Maria University?" Garrity asked as he celebrated the Mass which marks the day the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she would become the mother of Jesus. "Yes, there will always be difficulties and bumps in the road and traumatic events."
Garrity reminded the students, staff and faculty in attendance that "We are almost in the Promised Land. You can see it right over here," he said, pointing to a spot a short distance away where work is being done to finish up university buildings and condos in time for the official August opening.
Troubled Times at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria U | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)
Troubled Times at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria U | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)