Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Fighting Irish Are Under Attack

Notre Dame Criticised Over Obama Invite
Boston Globe----Posted by Michael Paulson March 21, 2009

The White House yesterday announced that President Obama will be the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame and, right on cue, a controversy has erupted in Catholic circles over whether it is appropriate for the Catholic university to honor a non-Catholic politician who supports abortion rights.

The university's announcement made no mention of the abortion issue, but noted that Obama will be "the ninth U.S. president to be awarded an honorary degree by the University and the sixth to be the Commencement speaker." The university plans to give Obama an honorary doctor of laws degree at the ceremony on May 17.

The question of how Catholic universities should treat politicians who have policy disagreements with the Catholic church has dogged Catholic higher education for years, but has intensified recently with the rise of prominent Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, now including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joseph Biden. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on "Catholics in Political Life" that declared, "The Catholic community and 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." It's not entirely clear to me whether the policy is meant to apply to non-Catholic politicians like Obama, but there have been controversies over such honors before, most prominently when some at Boston College protested an honorary degree for Condoleezza Rice in 2006 because of her role in the Iraq War. Last year, I took a look at the situation in a story for the Globe and found that Catholic colleges were increasingly shying away from controversial speakers.

Of course, the president of the United States raises the stakes considerably -- is a Catholic college really supposed to refuse a platform to the elected leader of the nation if he has a disagreement, however serious, with Catholic teachings? Today, many on the right are arguing that the answer is yes.

The Cardinal Newman Society immediately set up a protest web site, asking people to "Help Stop the Scandal at Our Lady's University." Greg Kandra, over at The Deacon's Bench, blogs, "This falls under the category of "What Were They Thinking?" Thomas Peters, at the American Papist, predicts that Notre Dame will not back down, but says, "What can and will happen, I hope, is a frank discussion in the public spotlight about a) the mission and identity of Catholic universities and b) a greater awareness of the anti-Catholic policies and legislation that Obama is currently pursuing." And over at Via Media, Amy Welborn suggests Catholic universities stop inviting politicians altogether:
"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."

At a minimum, there is sure to be significant protest of Obama's speech that will draw much more attention, and likely broaden the debate, over the question of who should be allowed to speak, and receive an honor, on Catholic campuses. The Rev. Austin Fleming, pastor of Holy Family parish in Concord, observes on his blog:
"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.


  1. "...but it's heretical in the sense that the core issue for Catholics should not be abortion, but Jesus Christ."

    Could you please share what you believe Jesus Christ's stance is on the issue of abortion?

  2. "...Robotically"?

    The fact that you would characterize the heartbreak millions of members of the Notre Dame family are experiencing today is a perfect indicator that you have absolutely no idea what this is about. There were some very real tears in my household over this. This abomination strikes at the very heart of what Notre Dame, as a Catholic college, is supposed to stand for.


    You know what, the people who are deeply wounded by this invitation aren't like the left. We don't have armies of protesters who can organize at a moment's notice. We don't do rent-a-mob over the perceived injustice of the day. That's because we have lives, responsibilities, and families. We take care of our own, we reach out to those in need, and we try to make the world around us a bit better. And we don't do with with marches, signs, or media pats on the back.

    But sometimes, when we see our most core principles spat on, we swing back. No, not roboticly. With righteous anger. This fight was provoked by pro-Obama forces. We weren't affixing an enormous "WE HEART SARAH PALIN!!" flag to the top of the Dome. But we draw a line here. We do not want this abortion proponent honored by the most famous Catholic university in the world. Period.

    And we're going to say so.

    Oh, and nice try on the Bush "war crimes" equivalency. The Church has a just war doctrine, and many Catholics and Catholic theologians do believe that Iraq and other actions fulfilled it. Either way, it's under debate and interpretation. There's no way to debate or interpret President Obama's stance on abortion. He has no problem with dismembering a near-term child in the womb, he thinks of an unplanned child as a "punishment," and he supports legislation which would force Catholic hospitals to perform these actions. He has no business being honored by the University of Notre Dame.

  3. This reaction is no surprise. It was expected. It was also no surprise to see the same bishops put their names to this as well.

    The really sad part is that Notre Dame and those who are sincere, such as anonymous, are being used as pawns by these bishops.

    The issue here is not abortion, it is the obvious intent of a few bishops to exploit the emotional nature of this issue to forward their own personal agendas, most likely earning brownie points for promotion to Cardinal or to maintain their personal power base.

    Those who believe "abortion is the only issue" must be totally oblivious to what is going on within the economy, or perhaps they simply do not care.

    Unemployment rates are in the double digits in many places now. Foreclosures are at staggering levels. Elderly are being evicted from their homes with no place to go. Families are being devastated economically. Millions of adults and children are without health care, and suffering. Millions are on the verge of destitution, with no hope. Desperate women are turning to prostitution to survive. Increasing numbers of children are going hungry and starving.

    Meanwhile, those who benefited most from the Bush legacy are receiving Billions in bonuses while their companies are going under. Billions in bonuses while they are laying off thousands. Billions in bonuses while children are starving.

    All of this and more is the Bush legacy, the Republican legacy of deregulation and partisanship, their legacy of drafting laws to benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of society.

    If we remember the bishop’s rhetoric during the election, this is what they were demanding we support and vote into office for another 4 years. The question I asked is "why"?

    The answer always comes up the same. The bishops are more concerned with maintaining their power base, their opulent lifestyle, and their esteemed position at high-level social events. In order to do that, they need a republican administration. Abortion is nothing more than a pawn they are using to maintain a their power base and opulence. Those who sincerely oppose abortion are their pawns, to be used and discarded as it suits them.

    If it were different, they would have told us that under democratic administrations, abortion rates decrease significantly. Decrease because democratic administrations typically address the core issues the cause women to seek abortions. They failed to tell us that. Instead, they villified the democratic party as a "party of death". Why? Simple: it serves their personal interest to have republican administrations in office.

    I abhor abortion. I abhor even more those who use the abortion as a tool to forward their personal agenda.

    Let us put it to the test. Ask all of the bishops give up their mansions, their Mercedes, their opulent lifestyle and take a vow of poverty. They can move into the rectories to live. Most rectories are comfortable. Ask them to discard their gold mitres, their silk cappa magmas, and donate the money they had been spending on themselves to various organizations and services that work with expectant mothers to offer them viable options to abortion. This strategy alone could easily cut the abortion rate in this country in half.

    It will never happen. Why? Because abortion is not the issue. Personnel wealth, opulence and power are the real issues. Abortion is nothing more than a convenient tool to keep them in power, a convenient a tool to keep them in opulence. Nothing more.

    For those who want to argue the point, first suggest to your bishop that he do what I have suggested. Watch his face; watch his body language, listen to his response. Listen to him sputter all of the reasons he can’t. Listen to the reasons. Most likely, what you see and hear will turn your stomach.

  4. As a current student at the Our Lady's University, I can honestly say that many of us here are genuinely conflicted about Fr. Jenkins' decision to invite President Obama to speak at commencement this year. On the one hand, we must respect the office of President of the United States, and it is an honor for our beloved campus to host the leader of the free world. Of course, there is a substantial population, like myself, who can not and will not tolerate the Notre Dame imprimatur being given to someone whose views on the sanctity of life are so dramatically at odds with the position of the Church and the university. Myself and eight other students, with more co-signing literally by the hour, have submitted a letter to Fr. Jenkins, asking to make a public, vocal statement that the university strongly disapproves with the President's actions. I invite you to read it on our student Web site, God bless all of you who still wish the best for a university that was and hopefully will still remain one of the premier Catholic institutions in America.

  5. Obviously, some people really do believe that abortion is the ONLY issue on the planet.

    Absurd, ridiculous, narrow-minded idiocy is all I have to say right now about people who don't want Obama at a Catholic University. Honestly, the audacity to speak about LIFE and what the Bush Administration has allowed to happen in our country and how it has affected and infected the entire world and now the audacity to claim RIGHTEOUSNESS on top of the HORROR that has been created by these morons!!

    Open your eyes people!! You are blind!!

    Share with us 1st anonymous what Jesus Christ's stance is for Republicans now? Tell us please!!!!

    The reason you see people marching is because we aren't dead!!!!!! We are AWAKE and ALIVE!!

  6. "That's because we have lives, responsibilities, and families."

    SO DO WE.

    " We take care of our own, we reach out to those in need, and we try to make the world around us a bit better."

    SO DO WE.

    " And we don't do with with marches, signs, or media pats on the back. "


  7. Colleen, so true: "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."

    Just what our country needs right now, more division from protesters in the Catholic Church that don't like Obama, because he doesn't agree with them 100%. The dissenters of democracy who claim they are the only ones with families and the only ones with responsibilities.

    I am from a Catholic family and not everyone in our family is taking care of their own. A few of us are taking care of our own.

    The antiabortionist would rather see our country totally decimated than get their acts together and work with people to try and create a better world!!

    They are a bunch of whiney brats!

  8. Annonymous one, I believe Jesus respected Mary enough, that Mary was given a choice in His pregnancy. This to me says that Jesus respected the role of women and their attitudes towards their own pregnancies. He did not force Mary into carrying Him at all, much less to full term.

    This says to me that choice is what we are all about, and that God endorsed this concept in the incarnation of His son. It seems to me that Jesus counseled people to rethink their choices, and in this sense I'm sure He would be pro life.

    I don't agree with President Obama with regards to the totality of his abortion stance, but I also don't agree with the vehemence and rigidity of the extreme pro life position.

    I don't know how the process of ensoulment into the biological being actually happens, much less when it happens. That gives me room for doubt and the last I checked the bishops don't have any definitive answers to these questions either. Nobody does.

    What we do know is that the stress level and emotional state of the mother probably (and most certainly in animal studies), effects the neural and organic development of the fetus. A higher stress level influences the development of the hind brain at the expense of the fore brain as well as influencing other systemic differences. The following link is an overview study of this research.

    The reason I bring this up is I firmly believe that abortion should be a legitimate option in the cases of incest, rape, and threat to the life of the mother. In an ideal world all children would be welcome by both parents as a result of the decision of both parents to bring new life in the world. That's not the world we have. Instead we have a world which too frequently brings children into the world in situations which compromise the ability of the child to deal with the world in which it is born into, and that includes the inter utero world. It's the way this world works, whether I like it or not. It's all entangled and it's not black and white.

    I guess my understanding makes me a bad cafeteria Catholic, but it also makes me hesitant to proclaim definitive truth when we don't have definitive truth.

    Anonymous II, CNS does robotically generate campaigns against Catholic campuses. They have quite the apparatus in place to generate robotic campaigns. Although my use of the term 'robotic' was a pun, CNS does generate robotic computer campaigns.

    The situation with CT senate bill 1098 disproves your assertion that the right doesn't have the capacity to generate 'armies of protestors' at a moments notice.

    JPII disagreed with your assesment of the Iraq war, and so has Benedict. But I guess those were just papal opinions rather than authoritative teaching.

    (password is 'mines') Seems to be a few mines in this post.

  9. Patrick B, I once brought to Butte MT, one of the Irish Republican Armies financial strongholds, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams, who activism in Northern Ireland was not appreciated by Irish Catholics.

    It was a controversial move to say the least and I took my share of flack for this speaking engagemet. However, after Betty had finished speaking, this very militant crowd gave her a standing ovation. She had managed to bring home to them that war kills real people and it vastly harms the children who live through it. While Northern Ireland may have been a 'cultural Catholic war' for the Irish in Butte, it was devastating for the people who had to live through it.

    You don't know that something in reverse might not happen for President Obama when he engages with the best Catholic minds in the country on this issue. Trust just a bit in Fr. Jenkins. God works in mysterious ways and we all know he lives under the Golden Dome. Good luck to your hockey team in the NCAA's. They have my support for what it's worth.

  10. Pro-Lifers do not have a One-issue litmus test, but in order to have issues you must have life. Therefore, life must be THE primary issue before any other issue can even begin to be discussed. How can we discuss the economy if the baby is aborted before it is ever born.
    I think a discussion of the leadership by example our leaders show and what they give in their personal lives is also valid. I made 4 percent of what VP Biden made last year, I also gave more than 3 times as much as he did to charity. I don't think he or anyone else in our government has any room to talk about compassion for the poor or needy.
    I was not for the Iraq war (from before it started when 90 percent of the people were clamoring for war) however, a few items of note are needed. 1.) We made a commitment to see this war through, thinking it had ended in a few months is silly, we are still years from ending this conflict and we are still responsible for how seeing it through to the end.
    2.) Even if you believe this war does not qualify under the just war theory (which I am not sure that it does), you must allow others to have different opinions on that.
    3.) Even granting worst case estimates of 1 million iraqi deaths over the nearly six years of the war that pales in comparison the 6 million abortions in the US or the 250 million abortions in the world during the same time period. Now which do you think that Jesus Christ would be more concerned with?

  11. studdunker, I don't know that Jesus keeps count because his energy is so personal.

    I think he's more concerned about how our decisions effect us personally which is why He was pretty adamant about not judging each other.

    Like you, I think we now have a moral responsibility to stay in Iraq until the Iraqi's can run their own government. It makes me sick though, but I also know, that this whole mess became all about Iraqi choice the minute we started this war.

    So in short, I think life is about choice and how we exercise it and how we grow from it, both as individuals and as cultures. My prayer is that American society grows enough that the choice for an abortion becomes unthinkable. That's going to take more than condemning Notre Dame and President Obama. Condemnation is the lazy man's antidote for failure to walk the talk.