Pizza Bucks Back Hyper-Catholic Law School

By Drinan, Robert F. | National Catholic Reporter, May 7, 1999 | Go to article overview

Pizza Bucks Back Hyper-Catholic Law School


Drinan, Robert F., National Catholic Reporter


Puzzlement and annoyance were the reactions of persons in legal education at the announcement that Thomas Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, will establish a new institution called the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich. Monaghan, who recently sold Domino's Pizza for a reported $1 billion, expects to invest up to $50 million in the new school.

The school's highly professional press release did not quite say that the 24 existing Catholic-law schools in America are not Catholic enough, but that was clearly implied. Members of the board of the Ave Maria School of Law echo these sentiments, suggesting that Ave Maria will somehow be more Catholic than the 24 existing Catholic law schools, 14 of which are Jesuit.

Fr. Michael Scanlan, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, asserted that there is a serious need for a school such as Ave Maria. Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press, said that Ave Maria offers an extraordinary opportunity for students. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is one of the advisers to the school. He flew to Michigan at least once in the recent past to consult with the founders.

Monaghan asserts categorically that Ave Maria will conform to Pope John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which exhorts Catholic colleges and universities to strengthen Catholic identity and tighten hierarchical control over teaching theology. He makes no mention of the difficulties that most bishops and most of the leaders of America's 230 Catholic colleges have had with that document.

The dean-designate of the new school is Bernard Dobranski, currently the dean of The Catholic University Law School in Washington. I spoke on two occasions with Dobranski about his aspirations. He is familiar with the Michigan scene since he is the former dean of the University of Detroit Mercy Law School. He is optimistic about the new law school, indicating that money is not a problem.

I spoke also with Monaghan's top aide. He was sanguine but not willing to expand on the objectives of the school beyond the flattering press release. When I suggested that the announcement hinted at criticism of existing Catholic law schools, he backed away without disputing my assertion.

The first professor to be hired at the new school is Robert Bork. Former Judge Bork is not identified with any religious tradition. He will not move to Michigan, but will retain his full-time position at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

I have spent 33 years as a professor and administrator at two Catholic law schools, Boston College Law School and Georgetown University Law Center. I know legal education and especially me problems and aspirations of the 24 Catholic law schools. No one would deny that these schools could theoretically be more Catholic, but most of these law schools have strong local and regional reputations. Many of them have trained the dominant lawyers and judges in their communities.

Some in Catholic legal education deem Ave Maria an affront. Some also think that the new school is essentially a political statement by a very conservative group of people who are utilizing Catholicism as a justification for their political convictions. …

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