A Critical Moment: Barack Obama, Notre Dame and the future of the U.S. church

At critical moments in life it is important to take stock. The demand from many Catholic bishops and lay leaders that the University of Notre Dame rescind its invitation to President Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement address is surely a critical moment in the relationship between the Catholic Church in the United States and the wider American society. Before battle lines harden further on this issue, we should take time-out to ask some hard and penetrating questions. These are some of the questions that occur to me.

1. What if the president is forced to back out of his appearance at Notre Dame either because he withdraws or the university withdraws its invitation? If this happens, will that further the pro-life effort in our country? If the president is forced to withdraw, will that increase cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Administration, or will it create mounting tensions and deepening hostility? If the president is forced to withdraw, will that bring about fewer abortions in the United States? Will his withdrawal under such pressure lead more people to support pro-life efforts?

2. If the president is forced to withdraw, how will it impact the image of the church? Will it enhance the mission of the church? Will it create a more positive attitude toward the Catholic Church?

3. If the president is forced to withdraw, how will that fact be used?  Will it be used to link the church with racist and other extremist elements in our country? Will the banishment of the first African-American president from Catholic university campuses be seen as grossly insensitive to the heritage of racial hatred which has burdened our country for far too long? Will it be used to paint the bishops as supporters of one political party over another? Will this action be seen as proof that the bishops of the United States do not sincerely seek dialogue on major policy questions, but only acquiescence? 

These questions are not negligible. Cardinal James Gibbons, when he received the "Red Hat," in a memorable sermon at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, strongly praised the tremendous benefit that came to the church in our country because of the separation of church and state. During our more than two hundred years of history, the American bishops have until very recently steadfastly held to the position of making judgments about policy but never judgments about persons in the political arena. One reason for this position was that the episcopate recognized that the greater good of the mission of the church would be served in this way.

Taking account of what serves the greater good of the mission of the church is not opportunism. It is what Catholic tradition calls prudence. The saints have used various words for this cardinal virtue: discretion, discernment, practical wisdom. The great teacher of discernment, St. Ignatius Loyola, points out in this context the serious evil of the temptation of the good. Not everything that seems good is in fact good. Weighing, discernment and discretion are necessary even in things that seem on the face of it to be good. There is always the twin issue of the objective itself and the means of achieving it. One may be good, the other not.

We American Catholics are grateful for the benefits of the separation of church and state. But that separation is not the separation of church and society--the state is not society. The church has a proper role in society and a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. It is the right and the grave obligation of bishops to speak about the moral dimensions of public issues.

Even so, we must step back and consider the limitations--prudential, moral and political--on the role of bishops in public issues. In doing so we need to consider the longstanding policy of the American episcopate in this matter. We must weigh very seriously the consequences if the American bishops are seen as the agents of the public embarrassment of the newly elected president by forcing him to withdraw from an appearance at a distinguished Catholic university.  The bishops and the president serve the same citizens of the same country. It is in the interests of both the church and the nation if both work together in civility, honesty and friendship for the common good, even where there are grave divisions, as there are on abortion.

But it does not improve the likelihood of making progress on this and other issues of common concern if we adopt the clenched fist approach. The president has given ample evidence that he is a man of good will, of keen intelligence, desirous of listening and capable of weighing seriously other views. The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, citing Augustine, points out that “ Certain situations cannot be resolved with asperity or hardness” and goes on to say “(B)ecause his daily pastoral concerns give the Bishop greater scope for personal decision-making, his scope for error is also greater, however good his intentions: this thought should encourage him to remain open to dialog with others, always ready to learn, to seek and accept the advice of others.”

8 years ago
I agree with WFM above regarding when does life become less precious?? When it is safely out of the womb and living in poverty and destitution? When mother and child are forced to live on welfare? We don't see too many pro-lifers rallying around when the babies saved from abortion are hungry, homeless, beaten, forgotten. Until the Cardinals and Bishops, and yes, the Holy Father empty their bank accounts and sell their priceless artwork, and begin living like Mother Theresa in the midst of the poorest of the poor, their "pro-life" rantings ring hollow. And why is there not the same outrage about the death penalty and politicians who support it? I can think of a few; George W. Bush comes to mind.
8 years ago
His excellency avoided the real issue, which the other Bishops addressed. That is, he never should have been invited to begin with, and that the invitation itself violated the Bishop's directive.
8 years ago
I requested a post of correction. I erroneously referred to Joe Murray when I should have said Teresa Collett. I ask you to please post this.
8 years ago
President Obama could not care less whether any of the mediocre Catholic Colleges had invited him or not. Few of the "clenched fist" crowd spouting "venom" in these columns have given any thought to the fact that the University of Notre Dame is academically of a lower ranking than the TWO institutions that President Obama has degrees from - Harvard and Columbia. Until our Catholic colleges can stop giving excuses and match or excel Harvard and Columbia in academic excellence (NOT Football only) it is time to stop the bickering among all our bishops too.
8 years ago
While others have made the same point, I keep thinking that most are obsessed with abortion and stem cell issues. What about the fact that many pro death penalty polticians speak at Catholic institutions? What about the fact that 90% or more of American Catholics support the use of birth control? What about all the politicians that have committed adultery, etc., etc.? Why do we allow them access to our church and institutions? George W. Bush invaded Iraq, against the arguments of Pope John Paul II and many bishops, but that seemed ok to many Catholics. Some mention slavery as an analogy, but the Catholic church condoned slavery for centuries, so I would argue the Church may be infallible, but the men who run it are not. I am a regularly practicing, faithful Catholic, but I will not give up my rights an American or a human being and have others tell me what to do or think. I have met many priests, nuns and even bishops in my life, and they are manifestly human too, and the current group are succeeding where generations of persecution have failed--they will split the Church in two, and it makes me so sad.
8 years ago
I disagree with all those who assume that the original invitation was a "stupid mistake." How do we know that Fr. Jenkins purpose was not to reach out to our president in the hopes of changing his views on these issues that we hold so dear? This situation reminds me of Jesus being criticized for spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors. How else can we spread the Word if we don't talk to people who see things differently than we do?
8 years ago
So many comments from people who think you either do as the church says 100% of the time or you're out. That kind of pigheadedness is exactly what drove me away from Catholicism. I was a good Catholic but I take issue with just a very few of the church's stances. I didn't put up a fuss but on those issues I lived by my heart. Too many people hollering way too loudly (like some posting here) made me throw up my hands in frustration and find another church. One where love and compassion are more the focus that rules and judgment. So you loud Catholics out there, pat yourself on the back for all your piousness but don't be surprised when the pews get empty.
8 years ago
Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
8 years ago
I commend the Archbishop for his courage to write this article in support of the invitation of a standing American President to in effect address a major Catholic university and the country on an issue that is clearly the most troubling in our Church today especially in the United States. At a minimum, the moral issue in support of life will be brought to the forefront in a major way. The President will likely give an honest testimony to his beliefs and the direction his leadership will take the country over the next four years. I believe, as strongly as those of you who disbelieve, that this is an opportunity to let our light shine through not only on President Obama but on all the rest of the world who will watch his speech. We as Catholics should not condemn others without due process; instead we must evangelize and attempt to spread the light of truth to President Obama and all those millions of others - many of whom are Catholic, about what supporting life really means to us. I think Jesus would do the same. It's time to convince others about the importance of life at every stage and it's time to stop convicting those who see it differently. I urge the Bishops of the USA to support this invitation as an opportunity to teach and to share the love of God in a way that will reach so many. May God Bless our President, the university of Notre Dame, our Bishops, and all others who would join together to support life.
8 years ago
John M (#5 above) is mistaken - the NCCB of the 1980s is what tore the Church apart. The USCCB is currently in the project of rebuilding our Church, providing effective leadership, and spearheading authentic renewal. Join the team John!
8 years ago
It would be interesting to hear in this forum, as to what drove these bishops (who represent quite a few Catholics - the numbers in parenthesis show what percentage of the population in their dioceses are Catholics) who have so far publicly come out in opposition to the Notre Dame invitation: Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan Archdiocese of New York, NY - 2,521,087 Catholics (45%) Cardinal Francis Eugene George Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois President, USCCB - 2,348,000 Catholics (39%) Archbishop John Joseph Myers Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey - 1,319,558 Catholics (46.5%) Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas - 1,045,030 Catholics (20%) Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt ST. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota - 730,989Catholics (24.8%) Bishop Thomas James Olmsted Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona - 556,692 Catholics (15.3%) Bishop Gregory Michael Aymond Diocese of Austin, Texas - 422,006 Catholics (17.6%) Bishop Robert Nugent Lynch Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida - 398,702 Catholics (15.0%) Bishop Robert Charles Morlino Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin - 269,556 Catholics (28.4%) Bishop Kevin Carl Rhoades Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - 247,492 Catholics (12.2%) Bishop John Michael D'Arcy Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana - 159,888 Catholics (12.8%) Bishop Ralph Walker Nickless Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa - 94,186 Catholics (20.1%) Bishop Edward James Slattery Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma - 56,094 Catholics (3.7%)
8 years ago
With all due respect to the Rev., this article highlights two critical problems within the Catholic Church leadership. First and foremost, he lists his top 3 concerns over the Notre Dame issue. His first and only concern should be how Jesus Christ, the founder of the entire religion would view this. Instead, the Rev. is completely focused on what the World will think about the decision faced by Notre Dame. Jesus never compromised his principles and certainly never, never instructed his disciples to compromise their beliefs in order to be more acceptable to world opinion or to maintain the "image" of the Church. Secondly, the Rev. repeats the "Goebbelian" big lie of Separation of Church and State. This phrase appears nowhere in our founding documents and a simple reading of the actual First Amendment makes it clear that the intention of the Founders was not to separate religion from public life, public figures or even the public square. It was actually intended to promote an abundance and plurality of religious expression in all aspects of American life. The amendment actually prohibits the government from limiting the "free exercise therof (religion)". If this Rev. is so easily misled, misinformed and propagandized about the most important freedom concerning his profession, I have to doubt his competance to comment on any issue.
REV JOHN HUGHES
8 years ago
Abp. Quinn is to be commended for pointing out the harmful consequences of rescinding the invitation. It is regrettable that he nowhere says it should never have been extended.
ROBERT ROWDEN
8 years ago
Archbishop Quinn was too kind to so many of his fellow bishops who both before and after the election launched personal attacks against Mr. Obama as though he were the first president to favor legal abortion. Some of these attacks many Christians would classify as uncharitable, thus assuring that the hierarchy will continue its downward spiral to irrelevancy, and the category of ex-catholics will continue to expand. The president won Catholic votes in part because of his MORAL stand on the pre-emptive Iraq war and nuclear proliferation which are also life issues.
MICHAEL MILLER
8 years ago
The French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pro-choice and a lapsed Catholic who has been married twice. Recently Pope Benedict honored him with the title of "canon" of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. I doubt that Pope Benedict XVI will intervene and force Notre Dame to rescind their invitation to Obama to speak at their commencement. I am very glad that Obama will be speaking there.
8 years ago
Thank you Archbishp Quinn. May your tribe increase! We are a church that is much bigger than this one issue. The President is in basic agreement with the church on many issues. His care for post-born humans is to be applauded. He deserves the honor.
8 years ago
Thank you very much Archbishop Quinn. Thank you for your sanity and good words.
8 years ago
As a Notre Dame alumnus, I agree with every word Archbishop Quinn wrote. Moreover, I am proud that Notre Dame's President Emeritus Fr. Ted Hesburgh supports the invitation of President Obama despite his differences with Catholic teaching. Father Ted was president when I was at Notre Dame and I trust in his judgement and common sense more than the Bishops'. On a related point addressed above, one writer suggests that the American Bishops who oppose Obama's visit represent a huge number of Catholics. To the contrary, Obama carried 55% of the Catholic vote depite his position on abortion. Given that, I'd bet that the majority of the Catholics in those diocese support the visit of President Obama.
8 years ago
I have read with great care and interest both the opinion expressed by the Archbishop and each of those following. As the mother of a Freshman at the University of Notre Dame, I have followed this debate since moments after the invitation and acceptance were announced. While I was thrilled by the honor, I was immediately worried about the response. My fears were not unfounded. As a Pro Life Liberal Democrat--no those descriptions are not oxymoronic--I have struggled over the years to find a balance between my faith and my politics. I considered carefully the directive of my Bishop, the Bishop of Metuchen, in exercising my duty as an American citizen to vote, to consider all of the pertinent issues in the last presidential race and to make a decision based on the totality of the circumstances. I felt completely free to exercise my own good judgment when casting my vote for a man I hope will fulfill his potential to be a healing and transformative leader in a nation and a world that so clearly needs healing and transformation. As a retired lawyer, I respect and defend the seperation of Church and State in this country and thank God for the religious freedoms which we enjoy as well as our right to voice our many and varied opinions. As the parent of a student at Notre Dame, I expect that the University will continue to teach my son as I have tried to teach him, to discuss, by measured and reasoned responses, the many, many challenges to our Catholic morals and teachings while remaining true to his faith. I do not expect one of the finest Catholic Universities in the country to respond with disrespect and hatred. If the President of the United States cannot expect to receive a Christian welcome at the University of Notre Dame, where can he expect one? If these students who are being sent out into the world to lead by example are instead protected and insulated from the difficult issues of our times rather than challenged to confront them and help to change them, what good is a Catholic university at all? I have encouraged the University, through its faculty and administration, to help the students on both sides of this issue to listen, process and try to understand each other's positions. Pitting Catholic against Catholic is not productive, nor is it Christian. Better to find ground for agreement and mutual respect so as to advance the discussion than to practice "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" and go no where. Finally, the unwelcome interjection of such media hounds as Randall Terry into this debate is clearly counterproductive and completely politicizes this discussion. Terrorist tactics such as those employed in the past and promised by Mr. Terry in this case should not be tolerated by the Notre Dame community, irrespective of their views on this issue. Respect for the Presidency and for the graduates and their families leaves no room for the likes of Randall Terry. Protest and prayerful dissent are one thing, but graphic dispays of aborted fetuses thrown in the faces of innocent grandparents, siblings and other family members on what should be the happiest, proudest of days is not what any "good" Catholic should stand for or tolerate. I respectfully urge Mr. Terry to take his hateful tactics elsewhere. The motto of the University is "God, Country, Notre Dame." I hope and pray that the University will find a way to honor each element in its rightful place. May God bless Notre Dame and the United States of America.
8 years ago
It seeme to me that some of us are missing the point here. The problem with Obama speaking at Notre Dame on May 17, 2009 is his extreme and radical beliefs concerning abortion. It is the fact that he has acted on hie radical pro-choice views very quickly in his first 100 days in office. He has made his views on abortion crystal clear and the American people have heard what he has said crystal clear. We are not just dealing with normal pro-choice beliefs, his beliefs go beyond and are indeed outrageous. He wants the FOCA to "force health and medical professionals to perform abortions regardless of religious beliefs" very soon. I think I heard the law "expires" tomorrow. Wait a minute ! It seems like it is okay for Obama to disregard the beliefs of the American people. What about what we believe ? What about the late trimester abortions that Obama has no problem supporting ? He has already stated that he has no regard for the life of a baby who was supposed to be aborted and survives. The baby is to lay on a table until it dies. That my folks is called murder. When you do not render medical care to someone in need you are negligent in the death of a human being. I call a baby who has just been born laying on a table someone who needs major medical care. If the baby comes out breathing it is alive. If the baby stops breathing and you did nothing to prevent it you are a murderer. Does this sound like someone who should be speaking at Notre Dame. And by the way, this is not just a catholic issue, it is a christianity issue. I could go on forever, but these are just two of the major issues Obama stands for. I think they are pretty extreme. Since when do we put laws into place to "force" people to perform acts against there will and belief system. Hmmmmmmm... sound familiar ? There are medical professionals who do not want the law to be changed, only reinstated. This law has been in place for decades and now, thanks to Obama it is going to be "radically and quickly" changed. But Obama has made himself clear in that his views are not the same. Medical professionals stating that they will leave their profession if forced to perform abortions. Notre Dame, I hope you make the right decision. Students are upset about this situation and do not even know if they will attend their own graduation because of the inner turmoil this has caused them. It would be a shame if students cannot go to their own graudation ceremony after spending lots of time and effort to better your educational institution for 4 or 5 years. And their parents who have spent lots of money should get to see their son or daughter graduate from a renowned and prestiious university. After all, without the students and their parents support there is no university. The students seem to be the stronger party in this matter in standing up for what they believe is right, which is more than we can say for the officials at Notre Dame who invited Obama in the first place.
8 years ago
Our country is built on the right to freedom of expression and one would hope that includes the free exchange of ideas and open and intelligent discussion on important societal issues of our day, particularly on a university campus such as Notre Dame!
8 years ago
This issue unfortunately brings to light the great fault of many in the Church to focus on one pro-life issue: abortion. There are many other injustices that deny life to the vulnerable: death penalty, torture, war, extreme poverty. We must remember that Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner. Reversing Roe vs. Wade tomorrow will not stop abortion. Human beings have aborted babies for thousands of years. Some will still continue to do so whether it is legal or not. Let us focus on what we can do to reduce abortion: health care for all, just wages, education about life beginning at conception, promotion of adoption; essentially, recognizing that abortion is a social justice issue. I see many people using the abortion ideological battle to draw a line between "us and them", to call other people "baby killers" or "cafeteria Catholics." Does this language truly help save babies, or does it just help some people feel morally superior?
JOHN KELLY, Deacon
8 years ago
I, like Erin Dolan, have a child attending the University of Notre Dame. My wife and I, like Erin Dolan, send our child to the greatest Catholic University in the country so that she will become a faithful servant of God. We want her to have an education that explores the moral implications of living in the world from many viewpoints. It seems to me that is the commitment that Notre Dame has made to us and to my daughter. Other than that comment, I cannot add anything to the elegant position written by Erin Dolan with which I agree.
8 years ago
Nancy Pelosi can take great comfort from the Archbishop's words. Coming from San Francisco, home of the pro-abortion "Catholic", number 2 in succession to the President, Archbishop Quinn would do well to explain to the tens of millions of children surgically killed by abortionists in America, why "prudence" was more important than Truth in dealing with the scandal of pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians.
8 years ago
I will be careful with my initial introduction since I would not like to be censored by the content editor. To begin as a Canadian, I suppose I have a unique perspective on what is being said. You see, should a Catholic College or University happen to withdraw an invitation to speak or even decide to withold an honourary degree to our Prime Minister Stephen Harper on moral/ethical grounds. There would be no fear of political consequences or fear of what the Prime Minister might do. I suppose this is the advantage of a parliamentary democracy. Early on, Catholic were protected in Canada through the Quebec Act, and these protections continue through to today. Sadly, due to how the American System political worked over the past two centuries up to the present there has been a need for Catholic to fear popular politicians. Undoubtedly, this is why the Archbishop seem to be channeling the fears of previous American Prelates of the 19th Century. Things got so bad then, that Pope Leo XIII was compelled to identify a heresy called "Americanism". It might be timely for the Archbishop to read Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae here is the link: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13teste.htm
8 years ago
I generally agree with Archbishop Quinn. But I think the whole argument disguises a deeper issue. To many on the Catholic Right you are no longer considered a "Catholic" if you oppose the criminalization of abortion by the State or if you support gay marriage. To many on the Catholic left what defines Catholicism is social justice for the poor, opposing the death penalty and war, and supporting taxpayer support for Catholic social welfare organizations. For both sides, Catholicism is reduced to a political agenda. Why? I suggest that, for both sides, this is because the ossified mythology of our religion, as exemplified by the Creed, is now meaningless to people's lives whereas politics is seen as very relevant. For example, we are required, under pain of mortal sin, to attend Mass every Sunday, to confess at Eastertime, to attend Mass on the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, to refrain from any sexuality outside heterosexual marriage open to procreation, etc. Few Catholics, however, see any relevance whatsoever between Mary's Asumption or Immaculate Conception to their own lives -- and that goes for Jesus' Resurrection and all the rest of the mythology. Few believe in any of this stuff anymore. So, consciously or unconsciously, the bishops, trying to remain relevant to our lives, have now entered politics, usually, but not always, on the side of the Republican right. I see the whole business as the death knell of the great spiritual engine of Western Civilization. A religion that is reduced to partisan politics is a religion that is dying. And the bishops, sadly, seem oblivious.
8 years ago
Bravo, Archbishop Quinn! At last, the voice of reason and prudence. I fear that the bishops who condemn Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to the University will only further marginalize the Catholic voice in our pluralistic society. It took the Catholic Church decades to get a seat at the table in this country. We just might lose it.
8 years ago
Good Lord, Finally, a bishop who makes sense, who knows something about human nature, about living in a pluralistic society, about the nuances involved in the separation of church and state. Hallelujah. There really are Catholic bishops who know how to lead.
8 years ago
God Bless you Archbishop Quinn. This Easter I am praying that you and other wise leaders in the Church will speak out with voices of reason and compassion. To borrow a line from Pope Benedict, we seem to be "fixated on one-sideness." Jesus prayed that we would be one. This Easter season we should all put away our "one-side" and join Our Lord in His prayer.
8 years ago
Bravo Archbishop Quinn. When I went to a liberal arts college, the College of William and Mary, many years ago, one of the unspoken premises was that students were to be exposed to ideas that differed from those with which they had grown up. As a history major and the daughter of a small businessman in Ohio, for example, I was intrigued to learn that FDR had not been a dictator and that New Deal programs had helped many, many people. The idea was that students would conduct research, analyze the results from different sources, reach conclusions, and be prepared to defend them. Exposure to new ideas can be "dangerous." I exited college a moderate, pragmatic Republican (now an extinct species). Notre Dame would be much diminished if it abandons its commitment to teach critical thinking to its students.
8 years ago
Thank God for this thoughtful and timely article. My sentiments exactly. A clenched fist never changes a heart of stone. Peace and Prayers !
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
I quite honestly do not know why Obama accepted an invitation from an institution representing a religion that is both intolerant and theocratic. Just kidding. It is not the religion or even the Church. It is some people, whose interpretation of their religion and the rules of their Church leads them to believe that intolerance is called for and theocracy is a noble goal, who are interested in defining who may speak, where and when. They would have preferred Randall Terry, perhaps?
8 years ago
Please Archbishop Quinn write more often. The Vatican rule forcing retirement at age 75 should have exceptions for bishops of your stature and intellect. Voices like yours "crying in the wilderness," give hope to the many Catholics on the brink of "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
8 years ago
I find it ironic that the vocal anti-abortion crowd has come down so hard on ND, yet, was very silent when Ronald Regan was the speaker. They are demonstrating their lack of knowledge regarding abortion in America. In the 1970's two states had been the first to legalize abortion. New York and, you guessed it, California. Nelson Rockafeller(sp) was the Govenor of NY, and signed it into law.In California, Ronald Regan was the one who signed it into that state's laws. What Roe v. Wade did was state that a medical procedure available to patients in those two states needs to be available throughout the country. Yet, many Roman Catholics seem to idolize the various ideas of President Regan, and would welcome him to speak at any ceremony, without understanding his important role in this whole abortion controversy.
8 years ago
Finally a voice that of reason has spoken up. I find that raising questions is a better way of raising a person's conscience then simply stating that someone is wrong in light of the Catholic Churches doctrine on 'right to life'. Archbishop Quinn certainly hits the nail on the head to say it is important to continue a dialogue (as President Obama continually has affirmed) then to simply cut off communication by condemning someone (world leader/nations) that do not agree on every view point. If President Obama invite to Notre Dame is withdraw based on his 'abortion' view point; where were our American bishops in asking that other presidents who supported war and other artocities not held to the same standard. Does the unborn life hold more weight than the life of any other human being?
8 years ago
What Would Jesus Do? Proposing this question is perhaps too simplistic in responding to the current ‘tit-for-tat’ concerning the invitation extended to President Obama to deliver the commencement address to this year’s graduation students of Notre Dame. Yet, I believe it is a question worth pondering. Jesus got Himself nailed to the Cross because of people He chose to associate with, dine with and invite into His life to come to know Him. He came into a world that set up boundaries pitting one group against another, refusing to see any possible good coming from the ‘other.’ He came into this kind of world of opposition to reveal Truth to us, to tear down boundaries and bring us to a oneness. While many times the Truth He revealed were words that left many uncomfortable, He seems never to refrain from being open to hear people’s questions and engage them in conversation. I believe this should be the attitude taken with President Obama coming to Notre Dame this May. While there may be no formal forum set up to challenge the President’s reasoning stemming from his recent decision-making policies in the areas of abortion and stem-cell research, I presuppose he will attend the entire graduation ceremony. This means that he will not be the only voice heard. Hopefully, he will be actively listening to other speeches given. This is an opportunity for the voice of Christ in our Catholic faith to be heard. This can be a shining moment of enlightening others to why we hold ALL life, no matter who’s life it is, as sacred, upholding the words we profess in the our Creed: “God is the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” We are ‘stewards’ of this creation, not the makers or destroyers. We hold sacred the unborn, not just because the Catholic Church professes this belief, but because in the roots of Scripture we proclaim it in the words of Psalm 139:13,15-16: “For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb….My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven I the depths of the earth, Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.” Pilate, before Jesus, questioned ‘what is truth?’ In response, Jesus did not berate or rebuke Pilate as He stood before him. Neither people of Notre Dame nor we should do the same towards President Obama. Rather, we should stand as Christ for the Truths we hold, remembering that while Jesus never kept silent the Truths He held; He also never ‘pushed’ His beliefs upon others. Many times, it takes time, a lot of prayer and perseverance to come to see the ‘Truth.’ The disciples of Jesus ‘didn’t get it,’ for the first time around. They didn’t get it until they allowed Christ’s Spirit to really touch their lives. In the end, it will be that Spirit that will change people’s hearts, understanding and way of looking at life. And, that Spirit comes from us, given to us by Christ through the sacraments we receive. As St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself to me.” [Galatians 2:20] May these words be the motto in which we deal with others, remembering the words of St. Paul to the Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, in faith or action, do it in the name of Christ.” One final word…. Some have suggested that perhaps it is okay for President Obama to come to the commencement ceremonies at Notre Dame, but an honorary degree should not be bestowed upon him. This is a curious point and worth pondering. However, another curious instance happened when French President Nicholas Sarkozy received the title of honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran [the Pope’s official Parish Church] during his visit to Rome in 2007. President Sarkozy, who also met Pope Benedict, supports legal abortion. What would Jesus have done?
8 years ago
This is so typical of California liberal "Catholicism". The idea of society having a "positive attitude" towards the Catholic Church forgets the fact that the Church is not supposed to be concerned with popularity. It is concerned with absolute truth, which does not change according to the whims of society. Disinviting Obama would absolutely enhance the Church's true mission on this earth. The Church has been persecuted for the truth in the past, but the American branch has been co-opted into acceptance of evil by the general acceptance of Catholics by society. Catholics think that they can have just as much influence as others if they just go along with crowd, but our Lord definitely condemned this as evil. The truth is always the truth, and if society doesn't want to hear it, that's too bad.
8 years ago
Although there are two sides for this issue. we have he same crowd that is using the same logic than when Obama was elected president: "Abortion is not the only issue but we have to look at all other Social Isues." Now, a good number of those who call themselves Catholics but are not following the true doctrine of the church, are using the same illogical language: "Why should we retract Obama's invitation as his abortion stant id not the only issue, because he is also for social justice." It's appauling that a Bishop, a president of ND and his Superior, as well as Deacons and Nuns are for Obama's policies and his visit to ND. A true Catholic university should not associate itself with those who contradict the fundamentals of our Catholic religion. When other religions (Jews, Islam) are attacked and they revolt both in words and demonstrations, nobody disapproves of it. However, when Catholics defend their principles they are called bigots, radical, unchristian, etc... The silent minority is treated like dirt. It's about time we speak up and defend our faith and beliefs no matter what the consequences. If we continue accepting subservient treatment by the liberals, there will be a time when we will loose our freedom of speech used for self defense. I completely agree that ND should not be considered a "true" Catholic University as they have deviated from the principles and beliefs under which they where established.
8 years ago
Thank you, Abp. Quinn, for words of reason. Jesus DINED with the tax collectors. He welcomed the woman who was about to be stoned. He condemned the sin, but not the sinner. As a pro-life Catholic, I have felt a baby kicking in my stomach. After my first pregnancy, I knew that, around 4 months of gestation, that "bubble" I felt was not indigestion but a HUMAN. But I voted for Obama because I believe his attention to those most in need (and not those at the top of the income bracket, which seemed to be President Bush's "base") would in the end reduce abortions. I guess I am going to hell according to some of you and some of the Archbishops, like my own. Instead of protesting at some abortion clinic with your condescending smirks of hatred for the poor women going in there, consider working for healthcare so that these women who find themselves pregnant (and pressured to get an abortion, as my sister was) are in a system that will provide them with prenatal care and an adequate hospital in which to deliver their baby. My sister was pregnant, unmarried and could find no CATHOLIC OBs to do prenatal care. How hopeful is that? How pro-life? She was rejected by a CATHOLIC hospital which said she was beyond four months pregnancy and thus "high risk." How pro-life? What would Jesus do? (ANSWER: He hung out with the "high risk" folks.) He would welcome these women who find themselves abandoned by the men who impregnated them, or forced to have abortions by the men who impregnated them. Put your money where your mouth is before you criticize President Obama. Go rock a baby. Go find a pregnant woman and pay for her healthcare in an unwelcoming healthcare system where pregnant women, especially UNINSURED pregnant women are turned away. Regarding Abp. Quinn's question, "Will it be used to paint the bishops as supporters of one political party over another?" Sorry, in my Archdiocese, it's already been made pretty clear to us that unless we vote "REPUBLICAN," we are doomed to hell in the eyes of the Church (or at least in the eyes of our local Archbishop).
8 years ago
I congratulate Archbishop Quinn for his courage in speaking out on this issue which has become another divisive issue that separates Catholics one from another. A vocal minority of Bishops and faithful seem to have dominated this discussion and present what in my mind is a distorted view of the issue. Archbishop Quinn's remarks give me hope that there are bishops out there who see the bigger picture and are not as narrow in their views as some who can't see the forest because of the trees.
8 years ago
The community of the University of Notre Dame should be very grateful to Rev. Quinn for his wonderful insights and wisdom. A University is a place where faith and reason must go hand in hand, where people learn how to listen in deep respect of others’ opinions. In the whole controversy over Obama’s visit at Notre Dame what is at stake is not an opposition of pro-life politics vs. non pro-life politics (since Obama pursues a pro-life politics de facto, although unfortunately not yet de jure). What is at stake is not even an opposition of Rome vs. Washington, since only a small minority of the 195 US bishops has expressed concern for Obama’s visit at Notre Dame, and since the Vatican has remained wisely neutral. What is at stake is only an opposition of a kind of intolerance typical of fundamentalist groups of any faith vs. tolerance. Pope Benedict was forced to withdraw the invitation to speak at the University of La Sapienza (founded by a Pope 700 about hundred years ago) because of the protests of atheist bigots (this is not an oxymoron) and other intolerant fundamentalists, who refused to listen to a world leader and a great intellectual like Joseph Ratzinger. The University of Notre Dame is offered a great opportunity to show the world that her intellectual community can do and be better than that. Let’s hope this opportunity will not be missed.
8 years ago
This is a splendid example of what the great C S Lewis would call "smudge and blur." The response neglects the need to make necessary distinctions (our culture is currently allergic to making distinctions). One celebrates "identity" at a commencement service and the invited speaker ought to exemplify the Catholic identity on this occasion. Notre Dame could invite the President (later in his term!) to participate in a good debate about some of the significant moral issues that ought to be explored.
8 years ago
Dear President Jenkins, I am writing to voice my complete and unwavering support of President Barack Obama speaking at the 2009 Commencement Ceremony. Frankly, I am extremely offended at Catholics who are against this incredible event. Let me also say, by way of introduction, that I am a 22-year-old female, quite Catholic. I was accepted to the freshman class of 2005, and although I declined the offer, I have every respect for Notre Dame University. Those who associate your invitation with supporting abortion rights are absurd and ridiculous. I am shocked and dismayed at the response, and part of me is seriously embarrassed to be Catholic, associated with the people who are so outraged that the President is speaking. They are obviously forgetting that fully half of the Democratic platform, the economic half, is very much in line with the Church – how can “real Catholics” deny the association of the Democratic party with social concern, welfare, homelessness, the poor, and generous benefits for all? Additionally, how can “real Catholics,” so concerned about the sanctity of life, oppose (or in this case, conveniently forget about) the Democratic views of the death penalty and war? It is ludicrous for them to make “Democratic” synonymous with “abortion” and “stem-cell support.” It is even more ludicrous for them to assert that through this invitation, Notre Dame will “send a message” that it supports abortion and stem-cell rights. Does any thinking person really come to that conclusion – without all the misplaced, panicked fanfare to initiate it? First, in no way does it send that message; second, these people are implying that Catholic people who hear about this have no mind or thinking skills of their own to make anything other than this gross leap. Third, and it blows my mind that everyone is forgetting this, the President is not there to talk about any of these things. This is an unbelievable, truly awesome and once-in-a-lifetime, even once-in-many-lifetimes event, and I am thoroughly jealous of this lucky class and their families to experience this. When I first heard the news, I was so excited for everyone involved – when I heard that there was opposition, I was floored, offended, and heartbroken. The more I read about the protest, the more I’m horrified with those protestors calling themselves “real Catholics.” Catholicism is not aligned with a political party, and I truly hate when it’s understood to be Republican. I hope and pray, and I have to trust, that you will not for a single second consider revoking this invitation. Please feel free to use any part of this letter and/or my name in any way you see fit. Yours, Pamela Kaye
John Lafferty
8 years ago
How come in this entire discussion, no one mentions who else Notre Dame has invited to the graduation, with President Obama? Hint: She is a well-known Catholic academic "defender of the faith" and former US ambassador to the Vatican. Notre Dame, as an academic institution, is responding to P. Obama's desire to have dialogue among people with different views.
8 years ago
This article is inaccurate at the outset. I have carefully read all the statements of the Bishops and I have a copy of Bishop D'Arcy's statement and none of them mention anything about asking Notre Dame to rescind their invitation to President Obama.Most of them are asking Notre Dame to examine itself and to decide if it is a Catholic University.
8 years ago
This article is inaccurate at the outset. I have carefully read all the statements of the Bishops and I have a copy of Bishop D'Arcy's statement and none of them mention anything about asking Notre Dame to rescind their invitation to President Obama.Most of them are asking Notre Dame to examine itself and to decide if it is a Catholic University.
8 years ago
Thank you Archbishop Quinn for your article. As a student at Notre Dame, I have been reading letters from outraged students and alumni in our student newspaper and overhearing and participating in conversations about this issue. I am a very pro-life Catholic, but I fear for my school and the Catholic community as our reaction to the invitation of Obama to speak casts us in a negative light. At this point in time, I believe that the Notre Dame community, and the Catholic community by association, should accept the decision and should stop being completely intolerant of someone who may have different opinions than ourselves. A lot of the letters that I have read and the conversations I have heard are so intolerant and angry. I understand the pro-life stance and the inherent contradiction of asking Obama to speak, but, at the same time, I think it is dangerous to be so narrow-minded and intolerant of others, and one issue should not decide how we welcome Obama. Instead of being so intolerant, we should accept that we have differences and that we can learn something from each other. I am sure he has a lot of wise advice to offer to the senior class, and he has accomplished so much as a person. It is one thing to express our opinion aginst abortion, it is another to angrily demonstrate and lash out at someone who may have a different opinion.
CHARLOTT PACE
8 years ago
All of you are right who say that abortion is an overriding issue. It’s so critical that we cannot, in conscience, merely brush off the opposition. Dear people, look around you. The pro-life tactics we have been using – comparing abortion to the Holocaust, portraying pro-choice opponents as demonic, invoking moral outrage as sufficient cause to refuse them respectful hearing -- clearly have not worked. Abortions continue. They continue no matter who is in the White House. It’s strange that our outrage is so easily assuaged when a candidate merely tells us that he’s pro-life. We elect him, assured of our righteousness--and abortions go on and on. Those of us who are pro-life would be better off if we were less concerned about the salvation of pro-choice neighbors and a little more concerned about our own. What are we to answer when Christ asks us, “When you saw that your tactics were not working, what did you do then?” Archbishop Quinn, Douglas Kmiec, and many others are braving persecution by fellow Catholics because they know it’s time to find a new tactic. Right now, engagement with the opposition seems to be a starting point. President Obama promised mutual hearing in his campaign. We should be as generous. We need to take steps, no matter how awkward, to delve into the heart of the matter with each other, to find the root causes of abortion, and address them rationally and, yes, charitably. That’s how we’ll save unborn lives, which is our goal, yes? Surely that’s more important than displaying to the world our long tassels of righteousness? I’m sure President Obama is well aware of the controversy surrounding this invitation. I’m looking forward to hearing how he responds to it in his commencement address. We will then have a much better idea of his thoughts, and how we might charitably help him discover weaknesses in his position. And by the way, anyone who interprets Notre Dame’s invitation to the President of the United States as acquiescence to that President’s views should sign up for a course in logic at any Catholic university.
8 years ago
1. What if the president is NOT forced to back out of his appearance at Notre Dame? If the invitation is not revoked how will it further the pro-life effort in our country? Cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration? They don’t cooperate now how do you get worse than this? Why not take a stand and show the Catholic American voters what the Catholic Church’s stand IS? Christ did not come to bring happy feelings, he brought a sword of division. Will allowing Obama to speak bring about fewer abortions? Probably not, neither will disallowing him, this is a moot point and irrelevant. Will this withdrawal bring more people to the pro-life movement? Allowing him to speak sure wont. 2. How will it impact the Churches image? It will ideally show the America that the Church will not tolerate or cooperate in any evil. Will it enhance the mission (get souls into heaven)? Maybe, maybe not, but allowing him to speak sure doesn’t accomplish this either. Why care about how the world views of the Church. Care about how God views the Church. 3. If the president is forced to withdraw, how will that fact be used? Good question, the hope is to send a message that the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion views. Maybe we will be viewed as evil but the Bible tells us that this will happen when proclaiming the Truth. We cannot be scarred of others when proclaiming the Truth. Will it be used to link the church with racist and other extremist elements in our country? Will the banishment of the first African-American president from Catholic university campuses be seen as grossly insensitive to the heritage of racial hatred which has burdened our country for far too long? Race is not the issue, don’t make it the issue. Will it be used to paint the bishops as supporters of one political party over another? If President Obama speaks will it be used to paint the Catholic Church as accepting the Obama administration as well as supporting one political party? Will this action be seen as proof that the bishops of the United States do not sincerely seek dialogue on major policy questions, but only acquiescence? Sure it could be used this way, but it could never be backed up. The bishops are continually seeking dialogue.
8 years ago
Very well thought out and written article. Though I think that it was important to actively "voice" the Catholic position re: the abortion agendas currently embraced, there are other very important issues to consider. Not the least of these is the manner in which the Catholic Church will engage our current culture and society, maintaining an environment of mutual respect and consideration. Acquiescence, either demanded or given without cause or principle will not further that engagement. http://bobmetivier.blogspot.com

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