Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catholic Discourse In The Public Square

American Catholics engaged in abortion debate.

The contretemps around the Notre Dame invitation to President Obama continues:

ND President has no plans to withdraw Obama invitation
South Bend, Ind., Mar 23, 2009 / 06:33 pm (CNA).-

Notre Dame’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama has become more controversial with the university's president, Fr. John Jenkins CSC, saying that he doesn't plan to withdraw the invite.

On Sunday, Jenkins told The Observer he did not “foresee circumstances” in which the University would withdraw President Obama’s invitation.
Referring to Notre Dame’s decades-old tradition of inviting presidents, Fr. Jenkins said, “Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame.” They’ve spoken on important issues like “international affairs, human rights, service, and we’re delighted that President Obama is continuing that tradition.”
On the issue of President Obama’s extreme pro-abortion stance, Jenkins said, “We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope…for this to be the basis of an engagement with him.” He argued that you “cannot change the world” if you ostracize people you want to influence.
As of press time, Notre Dame had not returned a request for comment, and it remained unclear as to how they plan to engage Obama on abortion.
In 2004, the US Catholic Bishops spoke clearly on this issue in “Catholics in Political Life,” “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Controversy around giving pro-abortion Catholic politicians a platform is nothing new to Notre Dame. In 1984, Notre Dame was also the site for the now famous speech, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” given by then New York Governor Mario Cuomo. In his speech, Cuomo laid out an argument now used by Catholic politicians to rationalize their support for abortion based upon living in a pluralist society. (In 1984 abortion wasn't near the explosive political issue it is now. Reagan did start the process though in 1984)

It is unclear how Notre Dame engaged Governor Cuomo on the issue of abortion after his speech.
Some Catholics, however, have expressed support for Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama. America Magazine’s Michael Sean Winters, discussed his support in his blog post, “Three Cheers for Notre Dame.”
He expressed frustrations with the “right wing” of the Church and wonders why Catholics are so upset about this invitation, “What is it about President Obama that makes the right wing so crazy, so uncharitable, so frothing-at-the-mouth unreasonable?”
Winters also celebrated that the “crowd of conservatives” and “Pharisees,” who want to uphold the Bishop’s teaching, “[do] not own the Catholic Church. They certainly do not own Notre Dame.”
When approached for a phone interview, Winters declined and asked to converse over email. He reluctantly agreed to answer questions, noting CNA’s Under the Glass column, Lessons from Michael Sean Winters on how NOT to blog, which he called “a nasty thing” that “included a falsehood among many idiocies.”
On the topic of Notre Dame, Winters cited a report that Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput had “urged a letter writing campaign to the university’s president.” Winters dismissed the suggestion, saying that the archbishop “has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the matter.”
CNA was able to acquire an audio recording of the event in question and found that rather than calling for a letter writing campaign, the archbishop suggested it as a response to the situation.
Responding to a question about how “faithful Catholics should respond to [general] situations like [Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama], Chaput suggested, “Protest, write letters, express your concern, do it charitably.” He further reminded the audience that “Jesus said we need to be like sheep among wolves” and to “act like Christians when we disagree: to be bold, courageous, and clear, but charitable.”
When presented with this information and asked if he believes that a bishop is stepping outside his “ecclesiastical jurisdiction” by asking people to be engaged in the public sphere by writing letters, Winters responded by saying he would reply when CNA drops its accusatory tone.
After the email interview Winters updated his blog, stating, “Archbishop Chaput has my email and if he objects to the characterization on the blog referenced above, I will be happy to change it.”


However, Notre Dame isn't the only Catholic institution or group under fire for their choice of a speaker. This time it's Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and the Vandenberg County Right To Life Committee who are under attack from Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettlefinger. The Bishop thinks Michael Steele's qualifications as a true pro lifer are colored by Steele's political opportunism, so he won't be attending his own diocese's Right To Life banquet.

Is it just me, or is all of this getting pretty crazy? I mean can you imagine the Notre Dame commencement dais with both Barack Obama and Dr. Mary Ann Glendon sitting on the same stage? Ambassador Glendon is to receive Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal. What if President Obama shakes Ambassador Glendon's hand, will she then lose all her cred with the pro life movement? Will she lose all her cred just because she's sitting in the man's presence? Will the Cardinal Newman Society demand she not attend or receive the award because it's pretty evident Notre Dame is not backing down?

America blogger Micheal Sean Winters, obviously no favorite of the Catholic News Agency, thinks the right will toss Ambassador Glendon over board. Sort of like a 'we eat our dead' phenomenon, I guess.

In the meantime, Catholic Michael Steele has already been tossed over board by Bishop Gettlefinger. I guess that means pro life Republicans aren't really pro life enough either. Does that mean we now have two 'parties of death'? I'm sure Archbishop Chaput will put all of this in perspective for us, and probably even write the master copy of the letters he will suggest we send somewhere in all charity. (After approval by the Cardinal Newman Society)

This will happen at about the same time Bishop Lori is telling us what gay legislators we could consider busing in to picket as they secretly work their secret gay agenda to take over the world. I suspect it will be Catholic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts who has some choice words for Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. This would be the same Barney Frank who is desperately working to save the real homes of real married people with real children.

All of this fighting makes me think I was at a Mass and hockey game broke out. Speaking of hockey, Notre Dame's hockey team marches on. Maybe the team could donate their sticks to those who will be on their commencement dais. That could be interesting and by that time the team won't need them. Fr. Jenkins could wear a referee shirt. After all they are black and white and it sure looks to me like the Catholic Public Discourse could use a lot more referees and a lot fewer 'enforcers'.

(Thanks to the commenter who pointed out to me that Barney Frank is Jewish. I appreciate the correction.)


  1. Barney Frank is Jewish,
    otherwise, good post.
    -Brian in Boston

  2. Thank God he's Jewish--the RC Church would burn him at the stake!
    Is anyone good enough for the guardians of Catholicism these days?

  3. Orlando, I fell prey to the thought that everyone in Massachusetts is Catholic. Silly me. I will let my ignorance stand and not correct the post.

  4. I'm really perplexed as to why there's such a furor.

    Consider this rather brutal notion;

    The U.S. has the largest GINI coefficient on wealth distribution among industrialized countries, one approaching Third World countries. This means that there is a greater gap in the U.S. between the top income earners and the bottom. This gap has been increasing over the past thirty years or so.

    The usual statistic for abortions in the U.S. are that roughly one million are performed a year.

    Considering this, if abortions had been illegal, it would mean that the population of the U.S. would now be at least thirty million more.

    Considering who obtains an abortion, ( mainly teenagers, raped women, victims of incest, women pregnant with severely handicapped feuses, etc;), this means that there would probably be at least 25 of those 30 million living in poverty, that is, living at an income level where food, clothing, shelter, health care, education would be difficult to obtain.

    I'm not arguing for monetary equivalence. A life is sacred. But it seems to me that the fixation on abortion by the hiearchy has very little to do with confronting the underlying conditions that lead to abortion.

    It seems that those underlying conditions have never been adequately addressed by those bishops.

    I'd be impressed if one of those bishops decided to forego their income, luxury housing etc; in favor of making those available to poor people.

    I'm not holding my breath though.

    If the above is irritating, then I hope it irritates in the right way.

  5. Annonymous, I'll let my hair hand down here, I think the real reason our Bishops are pushing the LEGAL side of abortion is because that doesn't impact them or their moneyed supporters. The underlying reasons women choose abortion are the real world issues, not the legal choice issue.

    Some of the oountries with the highest abortion rates are Catholic countries with high poverty levels and little legal accountability for the fathers of children. Shock huh?

    Instead of bashing women for their seen need for choice about their pregnancies, it's high past time the Church went after males for not thinking they are responsible for their sexual choices. In a church which has hidden pedophiles for eons, I'll be holding my breath.

  6. "Instead of bashing women for their seen need for choice about their pregnancies, it's high past time the Church went after males for not thinking they are responsible for their sexual choices. In a church which has hidden pedophiles for eons, I'll be holding my breath."

    Amen. . .Amen. . .Amen. . .

  7. sparrow, if you hold your breath for this one, we need to call 911 and get them on their way now.

  8. Anonymous, I am not perplexed at all. When one views this from the perspective that it is nothing more that grandstanding by a few bishops, grandstanding designed to get them noticed for promotion to cardinal, grandstanding to make points with a hidden beneficiary, it all makes perfect sense, and all is very predictable.

    If we also view it from the perspective that many of the bishops have pledged allegience to the god of this world, it makes even more sense.

  9. Colleen, great posting. You manage to get in an amazing variety of news stories, with the right touch of humor to show just how insane it is.

    People whose agenda calls on them to control, and who have thought they were in control but suddenly find that's not true, tend to go a bit crazy, no? Maybe the crazy thing was ever thinking we were in control, or should be in control.

    If our moral ideas are so good, so compelling, so persuasive, why do we keep trying to force them on others, rather than letting them speak for themselves?

  10. Colleen i like your picture on this one. . .

    If only the Fighting Irish could learn a lessons from a blissful bird and lighten the load. . .


  11. Oops! Collen the link did not work, will try to send it another way. . .

  12. I think it's wise and noteworthy that the president of Notre Dame noted that you can't enter into dialogue with individuals through actions of exclusion and ridicule. It's amazing to me how the spiritual and theological climate within the Catholic Church is so identical to the politcal one going on in our own country.

    It amazes me how the U.S. Bishops and the Catholic Right think they have any chance of changing President Obama's heart regarding abortion when they make outbursts like this...it's rediculous...and honestly it just makes the conservative movement within the Church look even more rediculous...

    I think it's fortunate that more and more Catholic universities have realized that not only can they evangelize and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ with their Catholic identities but they can also serve as a sort of "public forum" if you will, within the sphere of Catholic education, and tackle matters, questions, and issues which the leaders of the Church refuse haven't yet or refuse to deal with. To try and silence this voice of sincere and genuine debate, questioning, and phiosophical thought within Catholic education I think would do a great diservice not only to universities but obviously to the credibility of the Catholic Church as an institution as well.

    When will people wake up and seperate FAITH from POLITICS and give to Caesar's what is Caesar's and to God's what is God's?!

  13. Phillip, I made this point on another post, and it can't be made enough. You can't influence a person's understanding by excluding and ostracising them. You just concretise their opinion, but maybe that's the whole thinking here.

    I truly suspect these groups would croak if Obama ever changed his opinion. He would take away the last club the religious right wields---well, except for the gay thing and what ever other thing they could come up with to justify bashing democrats and keeping the donations flowing.