Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Loyola Marymount President Sending Mixed Signals on Abortion and Catholic Identity

Just weeks after attempting to remove abortion coverage from the university’s health insurance plan, Loyola Marymount University president David Burcham vowed during his recent presidential convocation address that the “pall of orthodoxy” would not “shackle” the Los Angeles-based Jesuit university.

Burcham, the first lay president of the college, recently attempted to drop abortion from the health coverage plan for faculty and staff. But widespread protests and even the threat of a lawsuit from one faculty member, resulted in a Neville Chamberlain-esque compromise.  In their final vote on the matter, the board of trustees agreed to offer a supplemental health insurance coverage that would include elective abortions, but mandated that employees would have to pay the full premium without any subsidy from the university. 

“We are not a parish, a seminary or convent, but we are a Catholic university,” he announced to students, faculty and staff who crowded into the Sacred Heart chapel on campus. “We are not, and will not be shackled by a pall of orthodoxy, but neither are we USC or Pomona.

“Great apprehension exists within some quarters of our community that LMU’s catholicity is going to be increasingly defined in the future in a narrow and doctrinaire-based way, not in the rich, inclusive approach that has been one of the hallmarks of LMU’s culture,” he said. “I have a simple response to this apprehension: Not on my watch.”

Burcham added, “Dissent and questioning lead to progress.”

Burcham insisted that the university’s Catholic identity did have some meaning, however, and pointed to the “many signs of our catholicity” on campus, which include masses, campus ministry and active service organizations.

Speaking directly about the abortion coverage controversy, Burcham called abortion primarily a “women’s issue,” adding that, “We men must be careful to listen more than we speak, to understand the best that we can.”

Burcham did announce he was forming a committee to discuss the university’s Catholic and Jesuit identity, though he did not announce any names for that committee.

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