How does one know President Obama's commencement address was a bad day for Republican Catholicism? One only needs to read Deal Hudson's post today at Inside Catholic.com. Here's his first paragraph:
"The scandal of President Barack Obama receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame yesterday pales in comparison with the ongoing scandal of Catholics in Congress. Of the 161 Catholics presently serving, only 26 have 100 percent pro-life voting records, while 28 have a zero percent rating. Sixty-five have less than a 20 percent pro-life rating and 75 have accepted donations from pro-abortion lobbying groups."
The rest of his post lists the offending members of congress and almost all of them are--surprise--democrats. So what if he got a few of the members mixed up as to whether their records reflected house or senate votes, or who they were and where they were from. He made his main point. Notre Dame was kind of an embarrassing failure so let's go after the real culprits, Catholic legislators who happen to be democrats.
There's a lot of great coverage and editorializing about Obama's speech. I was unable to see it live because I was involved in a sweat lodge ceremony, but that's the beauty of the Internet. I did get to see it. President Obama was Obama at his best, but it wasn't his take that grabbed me, it was the take of Notre Dame's valedictorian Brennan Bollman. In an interview with Huffington Post on Friday she discussed how the controversy was viewed by Notre Dame students.
"Bollman stressed that her peers do not view the president's overall values as inconsistent with Catholicism. In fact, Bollman says Obama is practicing Catholic values in his administration. Like Jesus, Bollman says, Obama is trying to invite "everyone to the table." And further in the interview she elaborates:
"Bollman stressed that even though the student body is overwhelmingly disconnected from the outside furor over Obama's visit, there is a healthy debate on campus. She explained that the debate is less about abortion and more about Obama's policies towards "advancing this human life" after it's born. Bollman, who voted for Obama, says she and many of her fellow students support the president because of the respect he has "given to human life through many of his policies."
The wisdom of the seniors of Notre Dame shines far brighter than the raucous rhetoric of some of their pastoral leadership. I have hope that the discussion may now turn towards the real issue, and that issue is not abortion, but unwanted pregnancies and finding ways and means to prevent them or encourage the acceptance of them. This is where common ground could be found.
Bill Lyndsey on his blog speaks about the extent and slant of the media coverage given to this controversy. As does mediamatters.org. Why would the mainstream media give so much coverage to this internecine Catholic controversy?
"Even though there were many strong indicators that these fringe groups did not represent anywhere near the center of American Catholic thinking on any issue, and had only minimal support on the Notre Dame campus, the mainstream media have done their usual shameful pimping job for the right all week long.
The mainstream media have given a voice to a handful of extremists who receive attention out of all proportion to their numbers, attention that their tactics and positions do not warrant. Information about the sordid pasts (and therefore dubious credibility and motives) of some of the protagonists of the protests against Obama's appearance at Notre Dame has been nowhere to be found in almost all mainstream media coverage of the protests this week." (Such as Randall Terry admitting he used the controversy to prop up the flagging fortunes of Operation Rescue.)
So much for the 'liberal' bias in press coverage. In this case the press coverage blatantly favored the minority and seemed to purposely skew their influence, and in the process severely undermined the true moral voice of American Catholicism. Notre Dame must be doing something right, because it seems their students didn't fall for all the hype about what it means to be a 'real Catholic'.
What this continued controversy over abortion is accomplishing is to blur the lines between a politician and his/her duties, and a bishop and his duties. The Church has never maintained that Church declared immoral acts must be criminalized by the state. Bishops make doctrinal decisions for their adherents while politicians are supposed to make reasoned prudential judgments for the common good of their societies. The scope, duties, and authority of both are quite different. Bishops are appointed to teach Catholics, politicians are elected to represent their constituents and promote the common good. The two are hardly synonymous in a culturally diverse secular state.
When political Republican activists like Deal Hudson try to make these two different responsibilities synonymous he can only do this by implying that the bishops have failed in their task to teach and that Catholic politicians who are pro choice are bad Catholics. Which he has certainly done. In American society he has a right to do so. Where I get irritated is when conservatives tell us the left does not have the same rights and that to exercise them is to be outside the Catholic church. Excuse me, we do have the same rights and exercising them only puts us at odds with the conservative definition of Catholicism, not the traditional definition of Catholicism. This is why the media's and the Catholic neo con's purposeful confusion of these differences stinks to high heaven. Politicians are not elected to represent their bishops, bishops are prohibited from seeking elected office in order to pastor, and the true Catholic moral voice encompasses much more than abortion and traditional marriage. There used to be a time all these boundaries were respected. Not anymore.
Brennan Bollman and the majority of the student body at Notre Dame haven't fallen for this purposeful confusion. President Obama is far closer to the true scope of Catholic social and moral teaching than any of his recent predecessors. I hope her voice is the last Catholic voice heard in this contrived mess because her take truly combines faith with reason. Pun intended.