Roxanne Martino, a graduate of Notre Dame University and a prominent Chicago businesswoman, was appointed to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees two months ago. Since then, controversy over her history of donations to Emily’s List and other pro-choice advocacy organizations has forced her resignation.
“I dearly love my alma mater and remain fully committed to all aspects of Catholic teaching and to the mission of Notre Dame,” Martino said in a statement. “I had looked forward to contributing in this new role, but the current controversy just doesn’t allow me to be effective.”
Martino is the president and CEO of Aurora Investment Management, which manages $8 billion in hedge funds. To say that she is a leader in the Chicago business community is thus an understatement. But the revelation that Martino had donated over $25,000 to Emily’s List, an organization who supports pro-choice female politicians, created an enormous ruckus online and among conservative Catholics, led by the Cardinal Newman Society, which brought Martino’s contributions to light. Of course, the issue at hand is the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion, which is obviously an issue for a Catholic university like Notre Dame.
The Board of Trustees made some rather lame attempts to defend Martino, by claiming that she didn’t know that the organizations to which she had donated were pro-choice. This is a better excuse for the Chicago Foundation for Women, another one of Martino’s beneficiaries, which according to the Chicago Tribute “addresses domestic violence and economic equality,” but also has ties to Planned Parenthood. But Emily’s List is plainly a pro-choice organization.
Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, said the controversy pointed to the “lunacy of the extreme uber-conservative Catholics who represent really a minority opinion within the church.” And he’s right – after all, a recent study showed that despite the Church’s prohibition on birth control, most Catholic women use contraceptives, so surely some Catholics’ stances on abortion are likely to deviate from the Vatican’s. Indeed, it might be healthy to have a person like Martino on Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees, to provide the perspective of a woman to whom Catholicism is plainly important, but who also donates to important pro-choice and pro-woman causes.
But given that it was controversial when, in 2009, the pro-choice and pro-stem cell research President Obama gave the commencement speech at Notre Dame, this may be too much to ask. These conservative Catholic groups still have a great deal of power, which is dangerous in a time when members of the faithful have increasingly progressive political views. Being pro-choice and Catholic are not incompatible – but as long as organizations like the Cardinal Newman Society have such a strong voice, pro-choice Catholics are unlikely to have much sway, at least within institutions like Notre Dame.
Photo from Paul J. Everett's Flickr photostream.