So much for religious tolerance! E. Gordon Gee, the handsomely-paid 69-year-old president of (The) Ohio State University, was caught disparaging Catholic leaders of the University of Notre Dame on audio tapes recorded in December and made public by the Associated Press on Thursday. During a meeting with his university's Athletic Council, Gee characterized Notre Dame's clergy as as untrustworthy and sinful, eliciting laughter from other Ohio State leaders present. At one point, Gee is heard saying that "the fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week." In another: "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that." The comments apparently stemmed from failed negotiations over the Notre Dame football program's membership in the Big Ten athletic conference. (Gee also called suggested SEC schools needed to "learn to read and write.")
While Gee quickly apologized for the remarks, saying they were "a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate," he has a recent history of provoking Catholics. In 2010, while explaining Ohio State's reluctance to play Texas Christian University, Gee belittled TCU as "The Little Sisters of the Poor," a religious institute staffed by Catholic nuns. (TCU, by contrast, is affiliated with Disciples of Christ, a Protestan denomination.) These outbursts are particularly notable because Gee's own faith, Mormonism, has a tangled, contentious relationship with the Catholic Church. As L.V. Anderson explained in Slate last year, Mormons and Catholics hold deep doctrinal differences about the nature of the Bible and the legitimacy of the other's baptismal rites. This was why so many people noted former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's decision to pick Congressman Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic, as his vice presidential candidate. As a country, maybe we would finally move past this strange thread of mutual religious intolerance.
Gee's apology seems sincere, even if an unflattering AP report forced him to provide it. And it's too soon to say whether his comments threaten to unravel whatever progress Romney's historical ticket produced. With a salary of nearly $1.9 million, however, Gee may need to further address why these comments keep coming up both in public and behind closed doors.