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Tim ReidyMay 14, 2009

On the eve of his visit to Notre Dame, Archbishop John R. Quinn, formerly of San Francisco, has sent a letter to Barack Obama offering a "different voice" from the "often strident outcries" over his appearance. America has received a copy of the letter which we reprint below.

April 24, 2009

The President
The White House
Washington, D. C.  20500

Mr. President,

I am writing as a Catholic Bishop to offer a different voice from the often strident outcries over your forthcoming visit to Notre Dame University. I acknowledge certain critical differences between us, especially on the issue of abortion. But  without minimizing the gravity  of these issues, I want to state several things which I believe of major importance at this time.

First, I am personally deeply gratified by the election of an African American as President of the United States and I share the jubilation of many Americans and in particular of many African American Catholics in the United States over your election. It is significant that the Vatican newspaper compared your election with the fall of the Berlin Wall and I recall that the Pope personally offered his congratulations to you.

I believe it important to acknowledge the fine example you have given in your married life and in your love and devotion to your children.  The ideal of stable family life has long been a focus of interest for the Catholic Church. This, together with your frequent call for personal responsibility, is a great contribution to our nation.

It strikes me that you have shown a measured, thoughtful approach to issues of public concern and your ability to listen to and weigh views different from your own is an asset to the discharge of your high responsibilities. This admirable quality inspires hope for further dialog on issues over which there are major differences.

Mr. President, I address this letter to you not to deal with matters of policy or legislation, but simply to wish you  great blessings and to assure you of my prayer that your service as President will bring lasting benefits to all Americans who, with you, cherish the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”

Most sincerely yours,
+John R. Quinn
Former Archbishop of San Francisco


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15 years 2 months ago
I don't question the heartfelt passion of those Notre Dame students and protesters who took a pro-life stand at graduation ceremonies this past weekend, but I can't say I admire their pragmatism. Catholics risk forfeiting a seat at the table where social policy issues are discussed when we choose vocal, recalcitrant stands over dialog. And this is true even when such stands are firmly rooted in Church teaching. It is easy for people to ''write off'' the pro-life concerns of Catholics who protest rather than dialog, who shout rather than discuss. And, I would think, that's the last thing a pragmatic pro-life Catholic would want to happen. On Saturday, President Obama was offering a chair at that table, and the interesting thing is that the vast majority of Notre Dame students seemed willing to take him up on that offer. That's a very good sign. This was clearly not a monolithic group. There were signs that those sitting in the auditorium did not necessarily agree with the president on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. When the president spoke on the latter, the cameras scanned the audience. And many students who had applauded at other statments withheld their applause. There was clearly some discomfort among them. But they were there. They had not chosen to absent themselves from the ceremomy to participate in the alternative prayer vigil that was ongoing in the grotto. A willingness to dialog is important if Catholics are to effect policy decisions on issues like abortion, but it's also important one on one. And I'd like to offer the following as a mirror to the larger politically loaded controversy. When I do sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics, I never carry a sign and I never shout or chant. My only goal when I'm there a few feet from the curb is give that very pressured, tense, often very conflicted woman coming to the clinic a chance to take a deep breath and talk about what's on her mind. That's important. And they do stop and talk with me, because all I'm asking them to do is slow down and breathe. It's a difficult task for these women when they are in the midst of dealing with a life-altering situation they often ''just want to go away.'' Were I pacing with a graphic photograph, I don't think they'd stop to speak with me. I think it would just frighten them more and add to their tension. But they do speak with me, and I'm very glad they do. And I've spoken with women who've turned around and gone for an ultrasound the same day; often, after an ultrasound, a woman reconsiders the abortion. I can't say this is a ministry that I enjoy. I really don't, but I do make time for it-especially when some very committed pro-life friends of mind can't make that time or need some help. And I hope that it's helping both mother and child. Dialog works-in the public square and at the curbside. Listen. Talk. Calm down. Good things happen.
15 years 2 months ago
WOW!...Finally a shepherd who speaks for many of us Catholics who see in President Obama a way into the future and hope for us as citizens of America and the world... Yes, there is room for dialogue and improvement on abortion but in so many areas, Obama has begun a journey to help lay a foundation of an improved environment of support for women and their men who wish to choose life but feel forced to choose abortion... Archbishop Quinn sets the right tone and framework for future dialogue with the President in the context of acknowledging the truly historical nature of his election. This should have come from the head of the US Catholic Conference. A great letter that I bet a majority of Catholics would agree with! Thanks AMERICA for sharing this.
15 years 2 months ago
Yes, as a pro-life person, A/B John Quinn has fully  expressed my thoughts about the so called 'eruption' of dissent to the ND invitation of Obama. I have no doubts that some of the harsh anti ND and anti Obama reaction is partisan in nature. When only 20 -30 graduates out of 1800 are 'boycotting' the commencement, this should send another message to 60 bishops who went 'over the top'.     
15 years 2 months ago
John Quinn is a man who was a true bishop of the Church.  The Archdiocese of SF could use him back again. In the 1980 when AIDS deaths were in full swing, Most Holy Redeemer Parish in the Castro District of SF started an annual 40 Hours Devotion in memory of the people in general and parishioners in particular who had died of HIV/AIDS.  Abp Quinn quickly responded in the affirmative to an invitation to celebrate the closing liturgy and continued to do so during his time as Archbishop there.  His kind are fewer and farther between these days, and more's the pity for the Church.  This letter simply validates the high esteem in which he was held (and continues to be) by the Catholics of Northern California and beyond.
15 years 2 months ago
In 1995, Dominican College (in suburban San Francisco) allowed Gloria Steinem to speak on campus at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. The college authorities were careful to point out that: (1) the school was merely renting its facilities to an outside organization (2) the purpose of the event was to discuss violence against women in the context of attacks at abortion clinics and (3) ''the college does not seek to judge or endorse a speaker's comments or the political positions of a sponsoring organization.'' In other words, a known abortion-rights advocate affiliated with an organization that openly supports abortion rights spoke on a Catholic college campus, just as President Obama (who is a known abortion-rights advocate affiliated with a political party that openly supports abortion rights) will be speaking at Notre Dame. The only differences are that Dominican did not INVITE Steinem to speak on campus and did not HONOR her in any way, although she is arguably as ''admirable'' a symbol of gender equality as President Obama is for race. At the time, Archbishop Quinn issued what I guess he would now call a ''strident outcry'' against the Dominican administration: ''Dominican College has clearly and with deliberation abandonded the Catholic identity and heritage which generations of selfless Dominican Sisters, dedicated lay faculty and faith-filled alumni have made countless sacrifices to establish.'' As to the college's claim that it had merely rented an amphitheater to an outside organization, Archbishop Quinn's vicar said: ''There are certain core values that a Catholic college needs to stand by. That does not mean that there should not be a free exchange of ideas, but there are certain ideas that are repugnant, such as racism, misogyny, and of course, abortion.'' Sadly, it appears that Archbishop Quinn has changed his mind about what counts as a core value.
15 years 2 months ago
The Archbishop should write a little more carefully. It's the University of Notre Dame, not Notre Dame University. Cringe!
15 years 2 months ago
"Notre Dame University" I suppose that's the school in Bend South. "But  without minimizing the gravity  of these issues" Oh, heaven forfend. He'll just ignore the gravity of those issues.
15 years 2 months ago
Wrong is wrong even if everyone else is doing it.  Right is right even if no one else is doing it."feel forced to choose abortion?"  Then there is much conscience forming to be done, isn't there?  Certainly you would agree if you substitute, "murder" or "embezzling" or "child abuse" for "abortion?"  If someone "feels forced" to choose abortion, that means that they are able to put other things above that of a human life. "the message" that will be sent to the 60+ bishops will be that there is still much work yet to be done.  If only one graduate "boycotts" it will still be one person choosing life over death.  Rosa Parks was but one person. This isn't about numbers and polls and score keeping.  It's about right and wrong.  It's about life and death.
15 years 2 months ago
For an understanding of thoughts that prompted AB Emeritus Quinn to write this letter, I encourage readers to search the America archive for the following viewpoint: ''A Critical Moment'' (March 30, 2009). Quinn's point in this longer piece seems to be that Catholics may have more effect on abortion policy by engaging the president rather than shutting him out. An interesting aside: President Obama put together an advisory council of pastors shortly after his inauguration. Not one was a Catholic. It makes me wonder if the president has gotten the impression that Catholics do not want to have a dialog with him. If that's even partially true, AB Quinn's letter may provide a bridge that would allow Catholics to engage the president more effectively on abortion and, perhaps, move him on the issue. I'm afraid that very vocal pro-life Catholics, though certainly both well intentioned and correct in understanding Church teaching regarding the sanctity of life, may be harming our chances of effecting policy decisions on abortion and on other matters where Chuch teaching and civil society intersect.
15 years 2 months ago
Let's imagine what sort of ''dialogue'' Catholics at Notre Dame might have with President Obama. Father Jenkins: ''You know, Mr President, abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. It is a grave evil.'' President Obama: ''Human being? I thought that it was just a clump of cells! Are you quite sure that a fetus is a human being?'' Father Jenkins: ''Oh yes, I am quite sure. Here is a biology textbook that explains how the whole 'baby thing' works.'' President Obama: ''I see! Now I understand why you guys have been making such a big fuss about abortion. I certainly don't want to support any laws that facilitate the killing of innocent human life! Thanks for straightening me out on this.'' Father Jenkins: ''It was my pleasure. Don't forget to take your honorary degree home with you!''
15 years 2 months ago
I have an uneasy feeling about President Obama's visit to Notre Dame.  Yes, I disagree with the president on the topic of abortion. But I pray for the president every morning and I certainly don't hate the man.  I voted for him!  But Catholic universities, including Notre Dame, have hosted and honored other presidents with anti-life policies (like George W. Bush) before.  I think the protesters really dislike Democrats and this is something of a desperate display of partisanship by a group of people in a dying political party.  I was a soldier in Iraq in 2003.  I pulled the remains of a very pregnant woman (probably 3rd timester) and some dead children (who appeared to have had Downs Syndrome) out of a civilian building (a nursery, I think, the building was such a mess) our U.S, forces bombed during Mr. Bush's celebrated "Shock and Awe Campaign."  Notre Dame recognizes that the President of the USA is... well, the president.  We only have one president at a time.  And most Catholic schools will continue to welcome American presidents.  Since 2003, I do not see any difference in abortion via carpet bombing versus abortion in a clinical setting.  At least in the clinical setting, the mother and other disabled children in the extended family or neighborhood aren't murdered, too, along with the fetal child.  The woman and her aborted, unborn child in Iraq didn't die accidentally.  I named that woman Hagar that day.  And although I didn't know the sex of the fetal child, I will forever call that precious baby Ishmael.  I can close my eyes and see Hagar's brutalized and burned body, a very vivid image that will never leave me.  And the odor of death was so bad that I could actually taste the smell, if that makes any sense.  I was only a bystander of sorts and I am still traumatized and haunted by this abortion.  Hagar's abortion wasn't an accident or unplanned.  We elected "pro-life" politicians who approved that abortion, that immoral war.  Now we learn this week that intelligence to justify that war was based partially on info gained from torture. "Pro-life" politicians endorsed and approved that torture.  "Pro-life" politicians approved the war in October 2002 in Congress.  And the "pro-life" president, George Bush, ordered the bombings (and abortions of unborn Iraqi children) to begin on March 2003.  This abortion, the murder of Hagar's unborn child Ishmael in Iraq, was planned just as deliberately as one procured by a woman going to an abortion clinic.  Murder of the unborn (and their mothers and their siblings and playmates) is wrong under any circumstances (in a clinic or on a battlefied).  A bomb can be as much an abortifacient agent as a saline injection.  I was in the infantry.  I am not a theologian.  And I can't grasp the blindness and arrogance of so many American bishops, priesta, and laity.  In our moral tradition, people killed in unjust and unprovoked wars are murder victims, no different from the wanton murder of a bank teller in a robbery.  The legal, medical, and dictionary definition of abortion is "termination of a pregnancy."  Bombing pregnant women and killing them and their babies is abortion.  Why don't people see that?  Abortion by bombardment is not a "morally licit" practice, but apparently many U.S. bishops disagree with me on tha point.  Abortion is only bad and sinful if it happens in an abortion clinic.  I stopped going to mass in 2008 when a priest, from the pulpit, told us that a vote for Obama was a mortal sin and, in spite of IRS tax regulations, endorsed John McCain from the pulpit (a man who bragged about his 99% support of the anti-life policies of Mr. Bush).  I left during the Nicene Creed and I haven't been back.  I don't understand why no priest has ever told me I sinned mortally by voting for Mr. Bush in 2000, a man who is personally responsible for the abortion of Ishmael and Ishmael's mother Hagar in Iraq in 2003.  By the way, Hagar had a chotki (Byzantine Catholic prayer beads) clutched in her hand with a cross on the end.  This led me to believe that Hagar was a Christian woman, maybe a Chaldean Catholic.  And she was probably praying when her baby was aborted.  I do agree that Mr. Bush was not pro-choice.  It seems obvious that Hagar's abortion in 2003 wasn't a choice she made.  Mr. Bush made that choice for her and for Ishamel.  I can't sleep tonight.  I am embarrased to admit that I am afraid that the sheer hatred and the rhetoric of violence being stirred up against President Obama by some of our fellow Catholics (the militant EWTN crowd has been awful and they make me feel ashamed) may prompt someone, perhaps a Catholic, to harm our president.  God forbid!  As illogical as it seems, we have had pro-life people in the USA murder other human beings because of the victims status as an abortion provider (American Roman Catholic, Republican Party member, mass murderer and anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph murdered people when he bombed abortion clinics).  How sad that I fear for the safety of our president on his visit to a Catholic university.  No political party totally gets it right in terms of Catholic values.  Many American Catholics have -tragically- invested the GOP with infalliblity usually only reserved to the pope.  Hagar, Ishamel, and other moms and babies in Iraq have paid for this sin.  Although I am, according to my former parish priest, damned to hell, I am going to pray a Rosary for our president's safety.  I disagree with hin about abortion, but I disagree with Mr. Bush's pro-abortion policies, too.  But both of these men, as presidents, should be welcomed to visit our Catholic universities.  I am a messed up person.  I was diagnosed with PTSD.  I was wounded and had a bad head injury, was in a coma for a while, still have seizures.  I am now 100% disabled.  I would give anything just to give Archbishop Quinn a big hug.  When I read his letter to our president, I felt just a little bit more optimistic about the future.  I a college educated and not a complete dummy.  I read a lot and I have been reading the documents of Vatican II: "Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature,(1) to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church."  In the USA, our hierarchy's romance with the GOP has dulled this light which was once visible in a bright way on the face of the American Church.  Archbishop Quinn's letters scrapes away some of the crud and filth.  And I can see some light coming back.                   

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