After Notre Dame: The Way Forward

Where do we go from here? As the political leaders of our nation begin to debate such morally significant issues as universal health care, conscience regulations and immigration reform, how does the Catholic Church – its hierarchy and its laity – go forward after the spectacle at Notre Dame?

The bishops snubbed President Obama. Catholics, from the far right to the far left, understand that ours is a hierarchical church, yet there was no one from the hierarchy to welcome the President of the United States to our Catholic educational system’s flagship university. Worse, they let their opposition spin out of control and it played out in such a way that it looked like they were marching to orders from the Republican National Committee. They surely did not intend that, and they surely see the danger of the Church’s moral teachings being turned into a partisan cudgel, but they need to figure out a way to both express their moral concerns and not appear hyper-partisan.

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Father Jenkins certainly did as much yesterday, stating clearly and unequivocally that the Catholic Church disagrees with the President on abortion and stem cell research while praising his personal and political achievements in other regards. It was not rude of him to point out the disagreement, nor was it partisan, but his words – and the fine speech of Judge Noonan – gave expression to the ambivalence so many of us Catholics feel about the President. We see this man of such talent and such largeness of heart and do not understand how he can not extend that heart to a real concern for the unborn. But, that is no reason to demonize him. And, many of us feel that it was no reason to boycott the ceremonies yesterday. It is a reason to pray for him, to engage him as often as possible, pointing out what we see as mistakes, but also challenging those who think it a moral outrage to share the stage with this obviously morally serious public servant.

The laity must do their part. You can bet that most bishops have received plenty of phone calls and letters and emails from conservatives in the past two months. I wish that as many liberals would have done the same. But, more than that, I hope that all Catholics make their views known to their bishop. I hope that those who feel conflicted because of the President’s pro-choice position alongside his demonstrable commitments to policies that evoke long-standing objectives in Catholic social thought, that they will especially make their positions known.

This is important in the light of the still current argument that it was a sin to vote for Obama. I believe that this argument is nonsense. I agree entirely that it may be a sin to vote for a pro-choice politician because he or she is pro-choice. But, in the last election, we had the choice between two men, both of whom were committed to funding embryonic stem cell research, neither of whom promised an end to abortion upon inauguration, and only one of whom, Barack Obama, had committed himself to a strategy for reducing the abortion rate. The GOP may talk about ending abortion, but they have done little to achieve that, and so voters could – in good conscience – decide that the real moral differences between the parties lay elsewhere, such as their views on humane immigration reform or the appropriateness of torture.

We all have a lot to do. Every Catholic should read the President’s speech. There was much in it that was good, even while I think it fell short. It is one of the problems Obama must contend with that his talent raises all of our expectations. But, Catholics should raise their expectations of themselves. The bishops are capable of finding a way to express their concern and their admiration at the same time and so are the rest of us. Yes we can.

 

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9 years 3 months ago
Judge Noonan's excellent speech at UND is available in full on the website Whispers in the Loggia.
9 years 3 months ago
All of the speeches' videos and accompanying printed text can be viewed/read here: [url=http://commencement.nd.edu/commencement-weekend/commencement-videos-recorded/laetare-remarks/]http://commencement.nd.edu/commencement-weekend/commencement-videos-recorded/laetare-remarks/[/url]
9 years 3 months ago
In response to the Bishop's Lentan Appeal, I did write him regarding my concerns over his stance on this issue, including and especially the use of campaign monies for the Pro-Life Office and its FOCA postcards.  I am not sure he saw it, but his pro-life office director did.  Until the Church is better advised on the law - or becomes open to hearing the advice out there - there is little hope for relevance in their discussion.  Any who wish to view my analysis can read it on my blog at [url=http://xianleft.blogspot.com]http://xianleft.blogspot.com[/url].  
9 years 3 months ago
I've looked on line this morning for the text of Judge Noonan's speech, but haven't been successful.  Can someone here post a link to it?  Thank you!
9 years 3 months ago
I am a 70 year old father of three (3) wonderful daughters of which two (2) have their own sons and daughters. The speech by Fr. Jenkins was a disgrace to our President and to our Catholic faith. Am I pro abortion "NO" am I for pro-chice "YES". I'm for the education of the human race regarding creating or not creating another human being. If we the educated can not educate the uneducated regarding human life we will never solve this issue. A Priest of Fr. Jenkins to spew the garbage that can out of his mouth is a digrace to me and thousands of other Catholics. We the Catholics that are not for or against abortion or for or against free choice but are for doing the right thing in a particular situation, though education is what we are for! My God is a loveing mercyful God who when the time comes will evaluate what that particular person did in their life.
9 years 3 months ago
Catholic doctrine is not up for debate, but Catholic strategy had better well be.  The fact that the Bishops have not been listening much, even though they are sorely in need of advice on this issue, is the reason they are quickly becoming an embarrassment.  At some point the faithful will realize that the technical points of church governance are neither eternal or outside of their control.  Some of the blame for the bishop's ignorance comes from Catholic politicians themselves.  Mario Cuomo's pluralistic defense for his support of abortion rights, which has been echoed by Kerry and Biden, is a bit lame.  There are much better reasons for supporting a pro-choice position than pluralism.  They likely do not challenge the hierarchy out of 1. respect and 2. fear of Catholic voters who have not thought the issue through but who will become upset if the bishop is challenged.  Obama was too polite as well.  Hopefully at some point he will use some of his experience as a constitutional law professor and explain why overturning Roe on jurisdictional grounds would be wrong.  Doing it at ND would not have been polite, but it must eventually be done.
9 years 3 months ago
In these debates we always seem to be torn by either extremes or mediocrity. The extremes demonize the opposite side of the issue. The mediocre prefer some kind of squishy compromise that undercuts our beliefs and values. It is not clear to me why we should be so enamored with political leaders at all. Why is there a need to give honors and platforms to political leaders whatever their views? While Catholics are called to engage the world and the culture, certainly this does not necessarily mean listening to their relativistic speeches and bestowing upon them gleeful praise and adulation as we saw displayed at Notre Dame. If Obama and other political leaders wish to really engage Cathoic social thought, then let them come together quietly and meet with intellectuals who are faithful to and literate in the social and moral teachings of the Church. Let these have serious exchanges and debate the issues in open and honest dialog. This is what the Church is called to do, not bestow honors on Obama's or Bush's or whoever might dominate the political world at a particular moment. I think the time of Catholic timidity and the desire for acceptance within the wider American elite circles should finally come to an end.
9 years 3 months ago
Michael, I agree that the speech was weak. But my beef isn't with the President. He is clearly more sensitive to Catholic views than some would give him credit for. And as a leader of the Democrats, he is a stronger moral voice than the allegedly pro-life Harry Reid and the prominently Catholic Nancy Pelosi.   I blame Father Jenkins for inviting this circus to his campus. 
9 years 3 months ago
Congratulation to the Notre Dame administration, and as well to the staff, faculty and student body that welcomed President Obama and bestowed upon him its coveted honorary degree. Notre Dame understands exactly what it is to be both Catholic and American. It is moments like this when we miss Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. He surely would have sought common ground. The people of God are not absolutists on any disputed moral or doctrinal issue. As we search for common ground, it is clear the American bishops have lost credibility for far too many reaasons to discuss here. The new leaders will emerge from strong Catholic universities who have the courage to listen to all sides in the search for common ground.
9 years 3 months ago
The President unlike the bishops handled a delicate stituation forthrightly, diplomatically and honestly. To a large extent it is the behavior of bishops and its implications that has and is resulting in many leaving the church  if not openly then spiritually.Notre Dame is noted for it football teams.  To call it the flagship catholic university belittles the scholarship found in a number of unviersities formerly called catholic. Catholic higher education is  oxymoron.Ed Menaunt
9 years 3 months ago
Mr. Winters: "....we see this man of such talent...."  ?.  Is this the same 'talented' man who thinks there are 57 or 58 states in the Union?  The same 'talented' man who thinks Austria has an Austrian language?  This is the 'talent' that will take us through the next four years.  Will there even be a next four years?  God help us now like never before.
9 years 3 months ago
"I blame Father Jenkins for inviting this circus to his campus." He didn't invite them.  They chose to come on their own and make the fools of themselves that they did. Oh, you meant the wildly popular POTUS?  Gee ... a circus his speech and appearance were not!
9 years 3 months ago
The catholic church is not a debating society. It's refreshing to see a bishop of our church act with a little guts.

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