"I think it would be easier on everyone, frankly, if Catholic universities cut the cord with politicians completely. I don't care how prestigious you aim to be, how much you want your graduates to contribute to the fabric of American civic life, even a sitting president cannot help but associate you with a political ideology.
I'm not arguing for the ghetto, at all, but we're not talking noble statesmen here. We're talking politicians who are divisive figures and who, Obama's case, are pursuing policies that directly threaten Catholic institutions."
"I'm a Domer, a Notre Dame graduate (M.A. Theology/Liturgical Studies, '80), and worked in the ND Office of Campus Ministry for three years. That job found me on the commencement platform in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan received an honorary degree. Reagan's presence on campus sparked some controversy but I'll wager that was nothing compared to what we're going to see when Obama steps under the Notre Dame mantle."
This is will be a fun battle for the Fighting Irish. How utterly predictable that the Cardinal Newman Society would come out with all guns blazing. CNS has somehow become the giver of the Catholic Imprimatur for all speakers on all Catholic colleges. They are so powerful that even bishops respond to their evaluations, hat in hand, to kowtow to CNS opinion. Weak kneed Bishops so intimidated they are perfectly willing to dump on their own institutions of higher learning in order to stay in CNS's good graces.
And just who is behind the Cardinal Newman Society? You can read their own take here and then Bill Lyndsey's take here. Bill is the author of the blog Bilgrimage and has taken some heat for his views from some of the very people who have strong vested interests in the Cardinal Newman Society.
In either take you will find names like Bishops Martino, Bruskewitz, and Chaput, and names like Frs Fessio and Groeschel of EWTN fame, and political movers and shakers like Deal Hudson and Tom Monaghan. Names any of us who have done any research in the Catholic conservative movement come across over and over and over again. Names whose only vested interest seems to be to define Orthodox Catholicism exclusively on the issues of abortion, stem cell research, traditional marriage, and the Vagina Monologues.
These happen to be the only cultural political issues which neocon Republicans ever discuss and the only issues the Cardinal Newman Society focuses on in their witch hunt attempts to guard Catholic Orthodoxy at Catholic universities and colleges. Even in their tepid denunciation of Boston College for bringing in Condaleeza Rice as a commencement speaker, they didn't attack her on the basis of her support for the illegal war in Iraq, but because she's moderately pro choice and something of a libertarian.
Now they've taken on Notre Dame and President Obama over the exact same tiring issues of abortion and stem cell research. In essence they are desperately attempting to pit American Roman Catholics against their own president, over two issues, as if there are no other issues for Catholics. When you more or less control the conversation by owning and controlling the editorial content of one Catholic publication and website after another, I guess there isn't going to be any other issues.
I really have a very hard time getting my head around the fact that any Catholic, lay or otherwise, would make less than a handful of issues the litmus test for Catholic orthodoxy. This is an insult not only to a vast and wonderful tradition, but it's heretical in the sense that the core issue for Catholics should not be abortion, but Jesus Christ. Putting the abortion cart before the Jesus horse is backwards theology and distorts the entirety of His central message, which was about love and sharing and forgiveness, not condemnation, exclusion, and judgement.
One astute commenter on the Boston Globe story stated that conservative politics has had a much more profound influence on American Catholicism than American Catholicism has had on conservative politics. That's absolutely true, and it hasn't been a positive influence. It's been horribly divisive and narrow minded.
We've really reached some kind of state when our flag ship of Catholic higher education is robotically attacked for inviting the President of the United States to give a commencement address. Had this been last year, I can guarantee that the Cardinal Newman Society wouldn't have made a peep of protest against President Bush or Notre Dame because on the abortion issues Bush passed the orthodoxy test. Forget all the other Catholic issues Bush failed, for these guys, nothing trumps abortion. They have cynically put all their cards in that basket and have the money and influence to make it stick. The Fighting Irish are in for an extended battle with the so called orthodox Catholic right. I hope they stick to their guns. Notre Dame has a theology department which understands that Catholicism is about way more than abortion and that dialogue works better than condemnation.
I just wonder what the Cardinal Newman Society is going to say when Pope Benedict actually meets with President Obama this summer. I'll be interested in seeing if some uber Orthodox Catholic posts wondering if the Pope is serving grilled fetuses in honor of President Obama, as one did in response to the Globe article about Notre Dame. That one made me proud to be associated with American Catholicism. In the meantime I'm off the buy a Notre Dame hockey jersey.