Countdown at Notre Dame

Well, Notre Dame’s commencement is nearly upon us. The students’ parents have arrived. The protesters are in place. The President’s speech is written. Judge Noonan’s speech is written – and his words should be greatly interesting to hear. The event has thoroughly captivated the American Catholic community, provoking the greatest intra-ecclesial debate since the Council Fathers debated "The Decree on Religious Liberty" at Vatican II.

The two debates are not unrelated. After the Council, the phrase "religious liberty" was used by progressives to justify all manner of dissent both within and without the boundaries of the Church. A careful reading of the text reveals competing philosophic visions at work. The American bishops, led by theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J. sought an endorsement of the constitutional arrangements America and most of the West had achieved, what Isaiah Berlin called "negative liberty," that is, a view of freedom that defined it, as in the First Amendment, as "freedom from." We are free from government coercion of our conscience, from government interference with our newspapers, etc. The alternate view, effectively articulated by the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojytla, argued that the Church can only endorse a "positive liberty, a view of freedom as "freedom for," and just so introduces notions of authentic freedom, recognizing that there are ways freedom can be perverted. The American view is more formal and legalistic. The Wojtyla view was more personalist. The American interpretation held sway in the immediate years after the Council, at least here in the States. (Father Murray led a group of scholars discussing this very issue at a symposium at Notre Dame shortly after the close of the Council.) The Wojytla view became ascendant when Wojtyla ascended the throne of Peter in 1978.


Most American university presidents, resist – on principle – the idea that a university should answer to external authorities. The authority that matters at a university is the authority of reason. There are canons of scholarship established to assess and apply that authority. But, a Catholic university, by definition, accepts an external authority, the authority of the Church and this acceptance has a variety of impacts on scholarship. There is a difference between "religious studies" which anyone can do and "theology" which presupposes acceptance of a given revelation. This is not to say the local bishop has the authority to ban books. Nor should anyone trust rightwing groups with an agenda to interpret a text like Ex Corde Ecclesiae which is a rich text, not the beating up on academics at all.

Last year, I was privileged to attend the speech Pope Benedict XVI delivered on Catholic education as a guest of the Catholic University of America. It was a fine speech. On the drive home I heard a conservative commentator (I do not remember who) say something like "He sure told them!" as if the Pope had delivered a scolding. Sitting in the room, everyone understood the Pope’s words to be words of grateful acknowledgement for all that had been accomplished by our Catholic education system and of encouragement to even greater heights of learning. But, as we have seen this year again, people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.

Of course, none of this has been at the center of the debate about President Obama’s coming to Notre Dame. But, when the bishops gather in Texas next month for their semi-annual meeting, they need to address this issue not only in its particulars but at its most fundamental level: What does it mean to be a Catholic engaged in this pluralistic culture of ours? What does it mean to be a Catholic university at this time in our nation’s history and in our Church’s history? When the dust settles Sunday evening, these questions remain.


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9 years 8 months ago
Ed-  My sentiments exactly... for me and my own grandchildren. The issue is criminalization and what that possibly could accomplish for the good. Unfortunately, those bishops who are most vocal about this are least persuasive in terms of the actual practical legislation to be or not be enacted  (or the process to be used to guarantee enactment).  They are much more vocal about legislation aimed at them and their behavior vis a vis the sex abuse problem. It seems to me, Mario Cuomo had it right about this problem and the discussion as not moved forward from that point...only (possibly) backward.
9 years 8 months ago
I look forward to hearing President Obama's speech.  I am sure he will announce federal support for crisis pregnancy centers.  These centers are in the trenches working to decrease abortions.  They are supported by volunteers and private donors (almost exclusively from the pro-life side). Oops just awoke from a dream.  Do any "pro-choice" individuals volunteer at or donate to crisis pregnancy centers?  Or is it only those in the pro-life movement that do this??? "Pro-choicers" claim that they want to reduce abortions but only by some nebulous economic policy.  Do they propose any real direct interventions??? What will President Obama propose as he talks out of both sides of his mouth?
9 years 8 months ago
The questions on Monday and beyond will be' Is criminalizing abortion the only valid Catholic response?" If you are pro-life but suggest that criminalizing abortion is neither possible/probable are you to be condemned as pro-choice? Do bishops have the expertise/training to advocate that criminalizing behavior is the only moral/efficacious way be insure that Gospel values are promulgated in a pluralistic culture?? I suggest that the clerical abuse cover-up and the refusal to allow the abuse to be criminalized gives too many bishops a credibilty gap that will not be overcome.  I suggest bishops initiate  a full court press on family support for women who have  un-wanted pregnancies. Families are the core transmitters of Gospel values.. not schools/colleges/universities... even parishes.. As a grandparent I  have little faith that the  civil law will be the conduit for my grandchildren's future  behavior.   
9 years 8 months ago
Do any pro-lifers volunteer at homeless shelters? food kitchens? food banks? centers for abused woman and children?  Most certainly, YES Do any pro-choicers volunteer at or donate to crisis pregnancy centers?  I have not seen them.  Do you know of any? Will Obama support the effort of crisis pregnancy centers?  I won't hold my breath.  
9 years 8 months ago
Do any pro-lifers volunteer at homeless shelters?  food kitchens?  food banks? centers for abused women and children?  Do they do much for the children born in less than optimal conditions .... or does their concern and religiosity end once the umbilical cord has been cut? Both Joe's and my questions are specious because NEITHER of us knows what people do unless we are told or witness their actions themselves. To make suppositions about what "pro-lifers" or "pro-choicers" in a context other than abortion is unchristian and uncalled for.
9 years 8 months ago
The circus at Notre Dame will do nothing but harden anti-Catholic sentiment throughout the country and marginalize the pro-life movement, moving it further to the fringes.    To Randall Terry & Friends: Enjoy your 5 minutes in the limelight.
9 years 8 months ago
As this is being published, our long national nightmare is over.  The speech has happenned and there is likely not much to talk about until the President released the name of his nominee for the High Court.  Given the fact that the GOP does not have 41 votes to block the nomination (assuming Franken is seated in the interim), the entire drama will be by press release and any C-SPAN, Fox, CNN, MSNBC and PBS coverage of the nomination hearings.  There may be a few blog entries about it at Catholic Action, America, NCR and a few other places - but given that the process is pretty much a done deal, unless something abberant occurs, this one will be a snoozer.  If some "smoking gun" remark about the right to abortion is found in the nominees writings is found, it may be good for fundraising - although the association with Obama should provide that.  Of course, if the person has a pro-life skelaton in his or her closet, the left may vent, which might get more coverage.  I don't see that the pro-life movement has that much else to talk or fundraise about in the near future.  Pity that. In regard to the question of Judicial Activism, which many I am sure will raise, I would submit that it should be used as a litmus test, with any who complain about it rendered unfit for appointed or elected office.  Let me explain.  The reality is, most rulings that are regarded as "activist" are really the exercise of the rights of a minority to overturn equal protection violations by a legislative majority.  This is a core right in a natural rights democracy.  I would submit that any who reject it are unfit for office, since it is at the heart of our entire constitutional system.  Any who insist that the power of the majority to oppress the minority under the color of law is sacrosanct are dangerous, probably fascistic, and need to find another line of work besides public service.
9 years 8 months ago
A Catholic University can not view Academic Freedom as "freedom from", because in order to be Catholic, one must be in communion with the Catholic Church to begin with. To be Catholic an autonomous is an oxymoron from the beginning.


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