Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shifting Stategies: Two 'Warriors' Respond To Obama At Notre Dame

Signs of different strategies coming from conservatives when it comes to Obama and abortion

Bishop Finn Interviewed on Notre Dame Commencement
by Bishop Robert W. Finn

Dialogue was the big theme of the Notre Dame commencement. Is it possible for the Church to dialogue on abortion?

There are many associated elements that have to do with taking care of women in distress, offering alternatives to abortion. We have to work together, discuss and study how best we can provide for the needs of women and families. How can we reduce the number of abortions? These are elements for dialogue. But the rightness or wrongness of abortion – this is an intrinsic evil. The direct taking of an innocent life can never be negotiated. (Except when it involves pre emptive strikes into sovereign nations.)

Dialogue is a means to an end. The purpose of dialogue has to be a change of heart. If I listen well and we each speak the truth, then the dialogue may have a chance of being productive. But I have to have some authentic principled goal in mind.

President Obama asked in his address, “Is it possible to join hands in common effort?” Can the Church join hands in common effort with the administration?

As a country we want to see an end to racial prejudice. We want a more secure peace in the world. We want sound economic justice for people. So we can’t give up on working with the administration.

But we’re fighting for our lives – literally. We are attempting to protect real unborn children by the thousands. We’re fighting for the right to exercise a rightly-formed conscientious difference with public policy. We shouldn’t underestimate the danger of dragging our feet in this effort, or taking a “wait and see” approach. If we are not ready to make a frontal attack on the protection of conscience rights, the overturning of Roe v’ Wade, and the primacy of authentic marriage, we will lose in these areas. I think the rug is already being pulled out from under us. If we sit back and allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of peace and cooperation in regards to these things, then we will lose these battles and, later, wonder why.
(No one's right to exercise a rightly-formed conscience is being threatened. The state does not force abortion on anyone, no one is forced into marriage of any kind or for that matter to perform either one.)

Without identifying any person or group, Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins in his introduction of the President warned against a tendency to “demonize each other”. Were the bishops who spoke in opposition to an honorary doctorate of law for President Obama “demonizing” him or Notre Dame? (Wow, Bishop Finn must have a short term memory problem. Wasn't he the one who called for Spiritual Warfare?)

I think the bishops (and many others) were pointing out the hurtful nature of the invitation. As I reread Fr. Jenkins’ remarks I found it fell into three parts. In the first part Fr. Jenkins himself uses a whole series of very, very hard words. He uses the words - division, pride, contempt, demonize, anger, distort, hateful, condemn, hostility. And one might wonder whether he uses these words as a kind of a caricature of the 60 to 70 bishops who have spoken out against his invitation. (Aren't you the one who used Satan more times than Jesus in your address to Kansas pro lifers?)

The center part is all about dialogue. He uses the word dialogue, I think, six times. And he quotes it from Pope Benedict, and he quotes it from Ex Corde Ecclesiae and he quotes from the Second Vatican Council.

And in the third part, he expresses his admiration for the President. So this seems to be the way he sets up the President’s talk for him – to speak in a very negative way about anyone who appears to be contrary to the decision they made, and then to stress the primacy of dialogue, and then offer his admiration of the President. Dialogue is important, but the question is fairly raised, “May we negotiate about things that are intrinsic evils?” and I think the answer is no.
The President also spoke against reducing those with differing views to caricature. Is that what these bishops have done with regard to the President’s actions on life? (Maybe not so much the bishops, but certainly a whole lot of other pro lifers.)

The bishops realize the very destructive decisions that President Obama promised to make concerning the life issues, and now has been making in connection with abortion and human embryonic stem cell research. This is serious business; it is about life and death. If in speaking out on these things, we are characterized as being angry or condemnatory – then so be it. Such actions are worthy of condemnation.

This is part of the scandal of Notre Dame’s invitation to the President - that it has the potential of confusing people concerning the Catholic teaching against abortion, and on the priority of abortion among other issues of public policy. (I don't think it confused anybody. All it did was expose the fact criminalizing abortion isn't the major issue some of our bishops want it to be. Preventing abortion is the bigger issue for the vast majority of Catholics.)

Was there an overriding message to the commencement proceedings that came through strongest?

I think the message of the day was this – that the President of Notre Dame said that they had invited the President of the United States and decided to honor him for the sake of dialogue. And then the President got up and said that the differences that we have on abortion – namely the Catholic Church’s staunch opposition to abortion and his staunch support of abortion were “irreconcilable.” And at that moment, it would seem to me that the dialogue came to a screeching halt. Father Jenkins’ expressed desire for dialogue, whether it was well-founded or justified, at that point got thrown back in his face. The President shut the door on dialogue by saying that there was not going to be any change in his position on abortion and he understood that there was not going to be any change in the Church’s position on abortion. To me, that was the lesson of the day. I am glad that Mr. Obama was so clear. (The irreconcilable difference on abortion is the issue of criminalization not abortion per se. Bishop Finn you are the one purposely confusing issues.)

And then, amazingly, everybody gave him a standing ovation. The perception unfortunately was that this was a completely acceptable position of his and, because he is a bright and talented man, this trumps the destructive decisions that he’s making day after day.
(Maybe because all those people understand there are different ways to address the abortion issue.)

Is President Obama’s call to work together in reducing unintended pregnancies a new way to find common ground?

I fear that the specific way that the President frames this in terms of “reducing unintended pregnancies” is through the promotion of Planned Parenthood and contraceptive services. The President has supported the Prevention First Act bill that’s going forward. This is not about abstinence education. This is about promoting contraception and giving Planned Parenthood a huge blank check. If Catholics don’t see a problem with this then I don’t think they understand the threat it represents to the meaning of marriage, to fidelity, to chastity, to the very sanctity of human life and intimate love. (Celibate Catholic bishops may 'see' a huge problem with this, but the vast majority of American Catholic laity do not.)


So much for Bishop Finn's interesting take. Now for Deal Hudson's newest thoughts about Notre Dame. He's added a new page to his play book apparently courtesy of Randall Terry. In this blog entry Deal takes umbrage with the Vatican's take on this controversy as written by the editor of L'Osservatore Romano.

L'Osservatore Romano Needs a New Editor
by Deal W. Hudson 5/20/09

Something is seriously wrong at L'Osservatore Romano
, the Vatican newspaper. When it wrote glowingly of President Obama's first 100 days in office, everyone scratched their heads and wondered "What's going on?" (Not everybody Deal, just conservatives.)

The article stated there had been no radical changes in Obama's first 100 days -- "Obama does not seem to have confirmed the radical innovations that he had discussed."

There was no mention of the rescinding of the Mexico City Policy, the ending of the conscience protection for medical care workers, increased funding for abortion providers, pro-abortion appointments to key administration positions like the head of Health and Human Services. Most importantly, there was no mention of the widely-recognized White House strategy of approximating the effect of FOCA in a piecemeal fashion. (Maybe because this hasn't happened.)

Yesterday OR published an
article praising Obama at Notre Dame for seeking "common ground" on abortion. It's now clear that the paper needs a new editor. The article did not even mention the 79 U.S. bishops who openly criticized Notre Dame for giving Obama an honor at its recent commencement. One of those bishops was the president of the USCCB, Cardinal George of Chicago.
"The search for common ground seems to be the road chosen by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to confront the sensitive abortion issue," L’Osservatore Romano
And then this:
"Strong polemics have marked the weeks following the invitation to President Obama made by (ND) President, Fr. John Jenkins. And also yesterday, as was completely predictable, demonstrations were not missing."

Completely predictable? Why? Perhaps, because President Obama is the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States and some Catholics found it offensive he was being honored by the best-known, best-loved Catholic University in the nation?

OR does not delve into this point of view or quote from any of the bishops who expressed it.
The damage will be done by the Associated Press
story being published around the country, giving the impression that the Vatican officially approves of both Notre Dame's decision and -- most tragically -- Obama's position on abortion.
OR has had a
new editor since September 2007: Giovanni Maria Vian. Prior to his appointment at OR, Vian had been a professor of the philology of ancient Christian literature at Rome's "La Sapienza" University and a regular writer for the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference.
What OR publishes should not be considered the official position of the Vatican unless it is published under the name of the appropriate Vatican archbishop or cardinal. However, it is certainly natural for the public to view anything published in the "Vatican" newspaper as having the blessing of the Curia and the Holy Father himself.

It should be mentioned, as the Catholic News Agency
notes, that the same edition of OR contained an article criticizing Obama with quotes from Archbishop Chaput, which both the Associated Press and the USCCB"s news service did not mention.

Vian has already caused the Vatican to officially deny an article he published in OR about the need to reopen the Catholic position on brain death. In September 2008, the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, S.J., stated the article in OR "cannot be considered a position of the magisterium of the Church."

We need Rev. Lombardi to make a similar statement regarding Vian's positioning of Obama as a president seeking "common ground" on abortion. Vian evidently does not realize that Obama's idea of seeking "common ground" is to hold a conference call with his 28-year old head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois, and a handful of pro-life leaders to discuss the bogus promise of "abortion reduction." (How do you know it's bogus?)

If L'Osservatore Romano continues to treat Obama and his administration this way, the Catholic supporters of Obama will believe themselves completely vindicated, and understandably so.

I can only imagine how a good number of our bishops are feeling about OR and Giovanni Maria Vian this morning.

It is possible, of course, that Vian is simply misinformed. If so, that can be corrected, and Vian can begin publishing accurate information and commentary on the new administration. If not, the Vatican newspaper definitely needs new leadership.

I urge our readers to write to the Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and to indicate to him the great harm that is being done by these articles. (Deal, you make good money. Why don't you just fly to Rome and talk to Archbishop Burke? I'm sure he'll give you a video taped interview he will then deny when you use it.)


It looks like Bishop Finn is a little upset his prophecy about Fr. Jenkins losing his job at Notre Dame will not come to fruition, as most of his observations are directed at Fr. Jenkins rather than President Obama. I also thought it was kind of juicy that he parsed Fr. Jenkins words in the exact same manner a lot of his speech to the Kansas pro life groups was parsed by progressive bloggers. I guess that proves that some messages are being heard by some bishops.

Deal Hudson on the other hand, goes after bigger fish, the editor of OR. Now the Vatican will be subjected to the Notre Dame treatment, with probably as much success. I suspect their sympathy for Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame will go up another notch.

Here's a little shout out to conservatives about the Vatican position. Pope Benedict is about ready to offer his encyclical on social justice. I suspect it will have a lot more in it than abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage. I suspect it will have a great deal to say which is in opposition to greed infested unregulated Capitalism and notions of 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps" individualism so favored by American conservatives. It might even acknowledge that one way to reduce actual abortions is to spread the wealth around and seriously make a commitment to take care of the least of us. Those least are always women and children.

Pope Benedict might actually believe the one leader who really understands these issues, because he lived through them, is Barack Obama. Perhaps Pope Benedict thinks it's a good idea to encourage Barack Obama to actually follow through on his rhetoric about these social justice issues because Obama's positions are pretty close to actual Catholic teaching. Maybe Benedict remembers that Obama was formed in his social activism by Catholic social justice teachers like Cardinal Bernardin.

Maybe the Vatican is beginning to believe the solution to abortion can not be found in criminalization, but precisely in the social justice teachings of Roman Catholicism. The light might be coming on in the Vatican. Maybe Benedict wonders if it's true that a hand held out will have more of an impact on the actual number of abortions than hands cuffed. What if the Vatican, knowing the legal battle is lost in the US, just wants to give President Obama a chance to test this social justice theory. What a novel and Christian concept and one that won't go down well with American Catholic conservatives.


  1. Colleen, thanks for bringing both statements to readers' attention, and for your valuable commentary.

    I'm amazed at Bishop Finn's position on dialogue. It precludes dialogue itself. What he means by "listening" in dialogue is waiting for the other person to finish, so I can tell him or her what's right or wrong.

    There is no room at all in his approach to dialogue for both people to revise their initial positions, based on what they learn in the dialogue process. There is room only to stand one's ground and shout the "truth" at one's dialogue partner.

    Which has been happening for years now with the abortion issue and the bishops' encouragement, to no effect at all. And this is partly due to the refusal of Finn and many others to listen carefully to the fact-based viewpoints of those who question 1) the church's arbitrary decision that a human person is present in toto from the moment of conception, 2) the equation of abortion of a viable fetus with a fertilized ovum, and 3) the prudential judgment that the only way to deal with abortion is to outlaw it.

    As for Hudson, fascinating, isn't it, that he now wants right-wing Catholics to scold the Vatican for not punishing the editor of the Vatican paper when it doesn't toe the right-wing American line! He's trying the same tactics his previous church, Southern Baptists, used to tear apart their denomination in the fundamentalist takeover.

    That has resulted in frozen membership numbers as a new generation comes along, and wants something other than lock-step conformity and chastisement of the errant, in a church.

  2. Revisiting the when a fetus becomes a soul issue, I had a fascinating conversation with a very intuitive young woman recently. She stated when she was pregnant with both of her children, she felt the moment when they ceased being biological entities, and became souls. She said it was just before her water broke. She said she also knew the moment she conceived, but it was a different feeling. I wonder how many women have had similar experiences? Would the women readers, please respond with your experiences.

    My own personal experience during a regression was very similar.(yes, I can hear finn and his "screaming demons" already) The moment of my soul implantation in the fetus was very shortly before delivery.

    Personally, I trust the experience of a rational intuitive women (and myself) over the ranting pontifications of a demented sexually frustrated geriatric egomaniacal men in dresses.

    That said, I've decided that the "abortion is murder" argument is another lie the RCC Leadership is telling us. One more in an ever expanding list of lies from an RCC Leadership that really doesnt care about their "flock".

  3. Interesting, the verification word on the next screen, no kidding,

    --- forrcep

  4. Carl, that's quite the verification word.

    I too knew when I had conceived and knew that I would have a daughter. I also knew it was biologically impossible for me to have known any of it as fertilization couldn't have taken place yet.

    I don't know if this verifies the time of ensoulment, but I did not buy one thing for my daughter until the day my water broke. I kept telling my husband I would not vest in much thinking about my daughter until I knew she would be a live birth.

    He had to run around like crazy the day of her birth in order to buy everything we hadn't bought. It was probably good for him as it kept him focused.

    I think there's way more to this whole notion of conception and birth than the Church wishes to deal with.

    Eternal souls are eternal souls. Always were always will be. You can't kill a soul. That eternal existence is the reason I think some of us know when we conceive. There's a sort of knock on the mental door, but the full biological personhood comes much later in the process, which only makes sense because of the need to develop the brain and sense perceptual abilities.

    Sometimes I get so frustrated with the Church's position that a full human person exists at conception. A full eternal soul may exist at conception, but not a full human person. That takes a fully formed human biology.

    On some level I think most people intuit this distinction and is why most pro choice people would more than likely go along with limits on third trimester abortions. There will never be enough people to over throw Roe v Wade because Church's position is fundamentally flawed and theologically arbitrary and most thinking people don't buy it.