Puzzled: Why is Fordham Univ giving an award to Justice Breyer?

Now that I am back home, I am catching up on news and mail.

I was aware during my recent travels that Fordham University was planning on giving an award to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.  The prize is the Stein Prize in Ethics.

Now as I read more about this, and people continue to send me e-mail, I am left scratching my head even more than I did when I first heard the news a couple weeks ago.

Justice Breyer has been a long-time supporter of abortion rights.  Not just abortion, but partial birth abortion.  He wrote majority opinion for the 2000 case Stenburg vs. Carhart.   This decision overturned state laws restricting partial birth abortion.  Justice Breyer also supported the pro-partial birth abortion position in 2007 in Gonzales vs. Carhart.

Fordham University is a Catholic University. They are giving an ethics award to a Justice who has supported something morally and ethically indefensible: partial birth abortion.

I don’t understand this.

Can someone explain to me how this works? 

Is there anything that would disqualify someone from being given an award by a Catholic university if this doesn’t?

Could they not have found someone, Catholic or non-Catholic I don’t care, who at least does not actively argue for and enable one of the evilest things that can be done to defenseless human beings?

What am I missing?

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  1. Aelric says:

    Is there anything that would disqualify someone from being given an award by a Catholic university if this doesn’t?

    Yes, supporting Ex Corde Ecclesiae

    I speak from experience having taught in a name-only Catholic University.

  2. Maybe the fellow converted.

    Anyway, this story reminds me of Chesterton using the example of cannibalism to say that the fact that people purposely do evil things because they are evil things proves that instead of being brutes, they are people, however fallen and sinful.

    There is a certain kind of inverted reveling that people can “enjoy” in excercising this kind of cleverness. Fallen away Catholics are best at this kind of thing.

    Mysterium iniquitatis.

  3. Jerry Boyd says:

    You missed taking/passing the course now required in all “catholic” universities. Political Correctness 101

  4. Jon says:


    My wife is a graduate of the once great Fordham University. Fordham has a long, long history of such nonsense.

    But it reminds me of another story.

    A priest friend with whom I grew up once said to me over a beer, “You know, a few years back I even thought of leaving the Church.” I was incredulous, but fell for what I’m sure is an old joke.

    “Yep,” he replied, “I almost joined the Jesuits.”

  5. Frank says:

    Here is the text of a letter I emailed to Fordham University president Fr. Joseph McShane on September 15. To date, I haven’t received any reply.


    15 September 2008

    Rev. Joseph McShane, SJ
    President, Fordham University
    Bronx, New York 10458

    Dear Fr. McShane:

    I was shocked to learn from the Cardinal Newman Society website that Fordham plans to honor Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer with the Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize next month. I understand that Justice Breyer wrote the majority opinion in a Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws banning the practice of partial birth abortion.

    Honoring such a prominent person would be truly a cause for scandal. It sends the message to everyone — including the young men and women sent by their parents to Fordham in the hope and expectation that attending the “Jesuit University of New York” would give them a good education while strengthening, or at least not injuring, their faith — that the value of human life and a person’s espousal of abortion and infanticide are really “no big deal.” It also makes a mockery of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops statement “Catholics in Political Life,” which says: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” I am sure that you and everyone in positions of responsibility at Fordham know this.

    I have always been proud of having attended graduate school at Fordham and of its reputation as a Catholic and a Jesuit university. This makes it all the more disturbing to learn about Fordham’s decision to honor Justice Breyer.

    I strongly urge the university to reconsider, and thereby teach those in need of learning what it means to be a Catholic university.


  6. Jason says:

    Frank –

    That’s the kind of letter that gets results – brief, fact-packed, and well-written. Thank you for sending it. I’m sorry you’ve had no reply, but pray that it finds its mark.

  7. What am I missing?

    What I fear you are missing, Father, is what is most evidently an enthusiasm in favor of abortion among many on the Catholic left. At the very best, many of them, including at many universities, consider abortion to be a distraction unworthy of their attention; but to my mind this explanation does not fit the observed facts. One is left to conclude that these people actively support abortion.

    I’m sure you would agree with me that abortion, and especially partial birth abortion, falls into the category of things which, as Lincoln said of slavery, “if this isn’t wrong, then nothing is.”

  8. Cygnus says:

    I now tell people, “Looking back, I wish I’d gone to a Catholic school. But I went to Loyola (Maryland) instead.” I’d venture to say that most Jesuit universities are CINO, and I’ve even seen it offered that the real power in the Jesuit order lies in the college and university presidents, not the rectors or the Superior General.

    That’s what you’re missing.

  9. Kazimer says:

    What is wrong with our Catholic Universities. If they do not want to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church remove the Catholic from the name of their instituation. Afterall if tihs is the way these learning institutions conduct and represent themselves their Catholicity is in name only.

  10. bryan says:


    Fordham University ceased being a “Catholic” university back in the 70s when they traded their identity as such to become a ‘private university in the catholic tradition’ that contracted with the Jesuits of Fordham, Inc. so that they could legally (under the rules at the time) accept state aid to education from NY State.

    Now they bill themselves as the “Jesuit University of NY”. Nothing Catholic there.

    I’m writing this as I gaze at my degree, from the “Curatores Universitatis Fordhamensis”, which I earned in 1978. At least they had the intellectual honesty to not call themselves specifically Catholic.

    They also get $0 a year from me, and that will continue as long as the idiocy which destroyed the great Catholic tradition that gave us 3 princes of the church as alumni continues.


    (Fordham College Class of 1978, btw.)

  11. David Kastel says:

    What’s worse?

    a) to give the Stein Prize to a pro-Roe government official
    b) to give Holy Communion to a pro-Roe government official

    Where is the beam and where is the mote?

  12. Kat says:

    Yes, lets not consider any Jesuit to be Catholic burn ’em all at the stake while we are at it. People love to trash the Jesuits because of a few bad apples. If we were to trash everyone with the same vigor that people love to trash the Jesuits we would be called racist or sexist. Trashing an entire religious order because you don’t like a few or calling them ‘not catholic’ is like labeling all priests as child molesters because a few molested children.

    Stick to specifics not generalized statements. Maybe Fordham is wrong in honoring this person, I don’t know, what I do know is we don’t have all the facts and may never. If you are that up in arms about the situation write the president of Fordham again, write the provincial Rev. David S. Ciancimino, SJ New York Provice of the Society of Jesus 39 East 83rd Street New York, N.Y. 10028, write the president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, Rev. Tom Smolich, SJ 1016 16th St. NW Suite 400, Washington DC 20036.

    Try and stick to specific Jesuits doing specific things, not smearing an entire religious order or deciding they aren’t Catholic because you said so.

  13. Jason Petty says:

    I think the school’s just thrilled that it got a Supreme Court Justice to agree to accept the prize. It just happened to be Breyer. Wouldn’t be suprised if they’d offered it to others who turned them down. [Interesting point.]

  14. bryan says:

    You’re right Kat. You obviously attended a Jesuit High, Jesuit college, and know very well that the entire order is orthodox, faithful, and in line with contemporary Catholic thinking.

    By their fruits you will know them. I appreciate the education I received at their hands, even though I reject most of their divergent views and institutionalized dissent. That there are some good ones is not at issue. At issue is that their order is far to the left, and, for the most part, as someone who spent 8 years exposed to them, they truly are, as an order, Catholic In Name Only.

  15. Jerry says:

    Like several who have posted I attended a Jesuit University (Loyola Los Angeles) in the 60’s. I received an excellent education. It was the Catholic part that was missing. I too donate zero, zip, nada to them and instead donate to truely Catholic institutions of higher education like Wyoming Catholic.

  16. Lee says:

    Okay, people fall away, maybe even whole orders fall away. Stuff happens.

    But it galls me that for decades now, good, but out of touch Catholic parents have been knocking their brains out to send their children to what they think are Catholic schools to get a Catholic education, and so they send them to their alma maters, such as DePaul, or Fordham.

    As long ago as 1985 John Dominic Crossan of The Jesus Project ( I think that is what it is called), already a laicized Servite priest, married and agnostic, was teaching Scripture at DePaul. Since then they have set up a department of Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Studies. What a miserable, godforsaken institution that place has become under the guidance of the Vincentians.

    Where in the name of all that is holy are the statements by local ordinaries that DePaul, Fordham, etc., etc, can no longer be considered Catholic institutions and do not deserve the support of the Catholic people?

    Surely, maintaining a list of condemned books was eventually undoable, but a list of condemned universities would be very handy at this point.

    When do Catholic parents get some of the lovingkindness, understanding and compassion now lavished on the apostles of the nether world?

  17. Charivari Rob says:

    FYI – a few statements from Fordham on what the Stein Prize is supposed to be about.

    “…the Fordham-Stein Prize — a national award that is presented annually by the law school to a lawyer whose work exemplifies outstanding standards of professional conduct, promotes the advancement of justice, and brings credit to the profession.”
    “…Stein Prize has become the honor roll of distinguished Americans whose dignified and dutiful careers in the law persuasively demonstrate the pervasive and positive contributions of the legal profession to American society.”
    “…Stein Prize honors individuals whose work exemplifies outstanding standards of professional conduct, promotes the advancement of justice, and brings credit to the profession by emphasizing in the public mind the contributions of lawyers to our society and to our democratic system of government.”



    past recipients: http://law.fordham.edu/ihtml/st-2Fordham_Stein_Prize_Recipients.ihtml?id=1568

    Fordham Breyer news release: http://law.fordham.edu/ihtml/news-2details.ihtml?id=612&nid=839

    It is ironic (perhaps tragic would be a better word, considering the context), that the web page for the Stein Center features a quote from Albert Schweitzer:

    “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

  18. Kat says:


    I never said I thought the entire order was the bastion of orthodoxy, but neither are they the root of all evil. And yes, I am Jesuit Educated.

  19. Tony says:

    Sure, father. Let me try and explain.

    A Supreme Court Justice is not supposed to use his Catholic informed
    conscience to make decisions from the bench. He is required to read the
    Constitution as written (and amended) and interpret it in light of specific
    case law. Should the Constitution be amended to specifically make abortion
    in every stage of development a right, then a Catholic jurist, even if they
    disagree on a very personal, spiritual and theological level would be required
    to uphold that law until such time it was changed legislatively.

    Unless they contradict Church law publicly and vocally, they should not be
    convicted personally and morally by their rulings from the bench.

  20. Jerry Boyd says:

    I respectfully disagree. What you are essentially saying is that a jurist, or anyone else for that matter, can ignore Church teaching “in the line of duty” and that’s OK. That is NOT OK. If our Faith and our morals are at all meaningful the consequence is and must be that when/if there is a conflict that cannot be resolved without moral compromise the JOB must go. I would rather resign my position and find something else to do than violate or contribute to the violation of God’s commandments.

  21. TerryC says:

    I would certainly agree Tony that a Supreme Court justice worthy to be honored by any institution should read the Constitution and interpret it in light of what it says. Case law is informed by the Constitution, not the other way around. No where in the Constitution does it give any court the right to substitute itself for the legislative branch and create new law.
    While it might be possible for the court to declare the sky is pokadot pink that would not make it so. Nor would declaring a dog a horse, though I don’t doubt there are judges who would attempt it. Declaring an unborn baby not a human being doesn’t make it so, any more that declaring an African-American not a human being, a past act of the court, makes it so.
    In no case should a jurist who made such declarations be honored by a Catholic University for ethics, Such declarations are not only unethical, they are bad law.

  22. Cygnus says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Kat, if Jesuit institutions do three or four things to bring the Catholic Church dishonor, those scandals overshadow all else that they do. For this reason, I am ashamed of my alma mater and believe it would be better off renouncing its Catholicism altogether and becoming private.

    As for specifics, Loyola (MD) routinely invites pro-abortion speakers to its commencement ceremonies, such as Barbara Mikulski and Rudy Giuliani. It has also allowed performances of the V-Monologues; those who wrote to the school in protest were informed that the school valued a “free exchange of ideas” more than its Catholic identity. The pro-life groups such as Defend Life that have met at Loyola have done so in spite of, not because of, the administration.

    As for my assertion that the university presidents wield the true power in the S.J., take a look at Peter Shaugnessy’s review of Passionate Uncertainty; Inside the American Jesuits.

    Finally, you’ll enjoy perusing the Cardinal Newman Society site for ongoing news at what’s really happening on “Catholic” campuses of all sorts, not just Jesuit ones.

  23. John Enright says:

    Father, I fully understand your thoughts on this matter, but as a lawyer, I think I have to point out that ethics and morality aren’t the same thing. Believe me, I know quite a few lawyers and judges who are scrupulously ethical yet morally depraved. That being said, I don’t think that an ostensibly Catholic institution should be granting any type of honors to lawyers or judges who give succor to immoral laws, even if their actions otherwise comport with the Code of Ethics. On that issue, Pope John Paul II was quite clear in Redemptor Hominis.

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