I hate to say "I told you so," but I did. And, the truth be told, in this instance, I do not hate telling you that I was prescient when I predicted the upcoming visit of President Obama to Pope Benedict would occasion gnashing of teeth within the conservative blogosphere. What has been especially curious, and flattering in its way, has been the venom sent my way for merely asking the question how or why it is so different for Pope Benedict to receive Obama than it was for Notre Dame to invite him to be their commencement speaker.
The first blasts came from Christopher Blosser at "Catholics in the Public Square" and Margaret Cabannis at "Inside Catholic." Both were especially at pains to point out that the Pope receives heads of state all the time, that this is what he does, that there is no honor bestowed by such a visit, that Notre Dame could have chosen someone else, etc. Leaving aside the fact that the Pope could, of course, announced he was departing for his vacation a bit early and the fact that to accommodate the President’s schedule he is receiving him at a special late afternoon meeting, it is my understanding that when the Swiss Guard line up, their formation is called an "honor guard." How is that so different from an "honorary degree?" I do not have an honorary degree but I suspect it does not entitle a recipient to a tenured chair or to health benefits. Notre Dame, of course, has a tradition of inviting the President of the United States to their graduation that, like the tradition of Presidents calling on the Pope, goes back to Eisenhower. If they were to set aside that tradition, why should not the Pope set aside his tradition of receiving the President.
"Ignatius Insight Scoop," the blog at Ignatius Press asks what planet America magazine is on and points to my blog post on the Obama visit. Of course, here at America, like the blog there, the opinions expressed on the blog do not represent the editorial opinion of the magazine, but let us set that aside. The writer accuses me of penning "spittle-stained spin" and echoes the objections first raised by Blosser. He adds another. He says the Pope and the President will engage in real dialogue which is not what happened at Notre Dame. Forgive me for pointing it out, but it sure seemed like for two solid months, the Catholic community engaged in a very substantial dialogue about the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, the role of abortion within Catholic political concerns, the continued relevance, or lack thereof, of the "seamless garment" approach to life issues, etc. The commencement itself might not have involved dialogue, although I am sure the President was aware of the discussions surrounding his visit, seeing as he referred to the controversy in his speech. In fact, until the Notre Dame invitation, discussion of abortion policy almost never broke through into the mainstream media since the collapse of the economy, or even earlier in last year’s campaign. Whatever else Father Jenkins intended to accomplish, he certainly succeeded in letting the entire country know that Notre Dame’s Catholicity is something worth arguing about.
My favorite posting came from "What the Prayer Really Says" where Father John Zuhlsdorf nicely refers to "Amerika" magazine and helpfully points out that previous pontiffs received Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat and Idi Amin. I would have thought the more proximate comparison might be to, say, Richard Nixon who, we now know, advocated abortion as necessary in the case of inter-racial children and who, we knew all along, was a President of the United States. I suppose Father Z invoked this trio to echo the rightwing talking points that Obama is a socialist (Castro) and a coddler of terrorists (Arafat) though no one has yet suggested the President is a cannibal which is what I remember about Idi Amin. Just as interesting as Father’s Z’s screed were the comments. He has removed some, specifically the one that suggested the Pope should pack a gun for the meeting and the posts that went on to discuss the Second Amendment. None of us is responsible for the views of our readership, of course, but those comments suggested to me that evidently what Father Z’s readers think the prayer really says is that we should watch Fox News, join the NRA and vote the Republican ticket.
As I said, gnashing of teeth.