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University President: In My Opinion
Rev. E. William Beauchamp, C.S.C.
From The Oregonian, Saturday, September 18, 2004
The roiling diversity and scope of our moral and ethical inquiry is crucial, I am convinced, to the future of our society and of my church.
Grappling with the Heart in Tense Times
As summer wanes and autumn approaches, the two vast entities in which I have spent my life both grapple with serious moral issues. The United States is at war, and the Roman Catholic Church in the United States struggles to emerge from revelations of abuse of children by some of its priests.
So these are tense times, times that test our souls. But these are also times of opportunity, both for our nation and for my church.
Nation first. We are, undeniably and irrevocably, at war, and our enemies are savage and legion. Immensely brave American men and women, some of them University of Portland alumni, find themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting this war, and they are in my prayers always.
Americans have debated the means and pretexts for our wars for more than two centuries, since before the very war that helped create these United States, in fact, and through the Civil War that nearly tore us in two, and our war against the fading Spanish empire, and two world wars, and the wars of my lifetime in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Such discussions, often furious, about our role and responsibility and rights as a nation are the essence of our democracy. Indeed, and ironically, such free debate about crucial issues of morality is exactly the sort of civic freedom that people such as Osama bin Laden despise and would do their utmost to quell.
The Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised and to which I have vowed a lifetime of service also faces crucial moral issues today in the wake of the scandals that have rocked it in the past few years. Yet I am as proud of my church's honesty in the face of turmoil as I am of my nation's courage under attack.
The Catholic Church is in the process of being healed of a terrible wound. Its leaders have shaped great reform with remarkable speed, and the laity is rising to a role and responsibility in governance that will help create a better church -- one far more able to carry the message of the Messiah to the world, the message that love defeats murder, life defeats death, hope defeats despair.
As I prepare to be inaugurated Sunday as the 19th president of the University of Portland, it seems to me that what makes my nation and my church capable of true greatness is the same thing: that matters of moral weight -- civic, political, religious, social, cultural, intellectual, emotional, professional -- are the daily stuff of debate and discourse, conversation and contention.
The roiling diversity and scope of our moral and ethical inquiry is crucial, I am convinced, to the future of our society and of my church. Especially now, especially in what is realistically a world war against terrorism, especially now when the Catholic Church struggles to be reborn to the amazing courage and grace it has so often shown the world, an honest and open discussion of moral matters -- not a shrill exchange of platitudes and positions -- is what sets us apart from murderous fanaticism and totalitarianism.
To be straightforward about war and murder, abuse and responsibility, the intricate paradox and struggle of grace and courage against suffering, is critically important to hearts and minds and souls of the young men and women who will create the future.
It is our conviction, here on "The Bluff," that morality is not a private matter but very much the stuff of public discourse. And he or she who does not grapple with moral and ethical issues when young is unprepared for life. So to be named president of a university that wishes, more than anything, to so prepare its students is a great honor indeed and a responsibility I undertake with humility.