More Fallout from Notre Dame

The bishops of the United States will meet in San Antonio next month and there is a new agenda item for them: Deal with the fallout from the controversy surrounding Notre Dame’s bestowal of an honorary degree upon the President.

At the center of that debate has been a document the bishops issued in 2004 entitled "Catholics in Political Life." As the title indicates, it was unclear to many of us, including Notre Dame’s President, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., why a document so entitled would even apply to President Obama who is not a Catholic at all. And the text was issued by a committee set up to focus on (and the text only refers to) "Catholic politicians." Bishop John D’Arcy replied that if there was any question, Father Jenkins should have asked him. To clarify for everyone, however, the bishops need to decide if the document and the strictures it contemplates are meant to apply to everyone or just to Catholics.

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Most opponents of Notre Dame’s decision to honor the President focused on one part of the text: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles." Now, it is a fair question whether Barack Obama, in promising policies that seek to reduce the abortion rate, is acting in defiance of anyone’s fundamental moral principles. (The abortion reduction language he used throughout the campaign and again at Notre Dame certainly annoys and angers some pro-choice activists.) There was a time when Catholics could be skeptical of the claim by some that they were "pro-choice but not pro-abortion" but Obama seems to making that a distinction with a difference.

It is also the case that virtually every American politician acts in defiance of some fundamental principle of the Catholic Church. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney is justifying the use of torture (and his arguments are echoed on EWTN) by invoking the age old maxim that the ends justify the means, but that is a utilitarian principle not a Catholic one. Nor is the recourse to the category of intrinsic evil much help here. Lots of things are intrinsically evil including birth control and as I have pointed out before there is not a mayor nor a governor who does not sign a budget that funds some form of birth control policy.

Commentators have tended to ignore the second sentence in the document’s bullet point on the conferral of honors: "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Now, I thought Father Jenkins made it very clear, both in his initial announcement in March and at the commencement ceremony on Sunday, that Notre Dame was not honoring the President because of his positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research but for his other notable accomplishments. The bishops may want to strike this sentence and say – do not honor these guys period. But, any fair-minded person would be wrong to fault Father Jenkins for violating this document when you read it in its entirety.

So, the bishops have their work cut out for themselves at San Antonio. I suspect that at the end of the day, the authority of the local bishop in such matters will, and should, be highlighted. As Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, one of the most thoughtful and theologically sophisticated bishops in the country, wrote in his weekly column last week discussing this very document, "While everyone may not agree with how an individual bishop applies this principle for institutions within his own diocese, it, nonetheless, is the bishop's call." That may not make everyone happy – indeed, it won’t make everyone happy. But, the central role of the bishop as teacher within his diocese is more important than any political point. Yes, some bishops may turn their universities into intellectual ghettoes, allowed to invite no one with a differing or provocative position to campus. Others will follow James Joyce’s view: "Here comes everybody!" But, as Wuerl said, at the end of the day, in a hierarchical church, it’s the bishop’s call.

 

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8 years 6 months ago
Perhaps we should seek common ground on enhanced interrogation methods.  Many people do not agree on this issue and yet we can all agree that it is a heart-wrenching decision to conduct EIM's with both spiritual and moral implications.  Instead of outlawing them, we should work to reduce the need for them and work to make terrorists more cooperative.  Do not outlaw EIM's -only work to reduce the need for them.
8 years 6 months ago
What part of "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions," do you not understand? Do you think NARAL or Planned Parenthood would be stupid enough to invite Pope Benedict XVI to give an address and then grant him an award? Those in the pro-abortion movement would be screaming because it is clearly a contradiction of their support of abortion. And this is what has Catholics "who practice the faith" and have a very good understanding of the Church's moral teaching very upset with the imprudent decision made by Fr. Jenkins and the board of directors of ND to grant an "honorary laws" degree to the most pro-abortion president in the history of this nation. Obama talks about the need to reduce abortion, but his actions are clearly not consistent with what he says. Actions speak louder than words.
8 years 6 months ago
The principal fallout is this:  Notre Dame has given a clear signal that support for abortion is no impediment at all to receiving the highest honor a Catholic institution can bestow.  Liberal Catholics had a choice:  they could use their political muscle to try to make the Democratic Party pro-life, or they could use their political muscle to try to make the Catholic Church's clear teaching on abortion politically irrelevant.  They have chosen the latter course, and Obama and other Democratic politicians know this. 
8 years 6 months ago
Notre Dame is not a diocesean institution, so it is not the local Bishop's call. I don't believe they need to follow the lead of the USCCB, which is why they were so miffed.  The decision to invite Obama was the call of the University itself and its Order.  If the Holy See has a problem with the Order's decisionmaking, it could have informed the Order of its displeasure and directed the withdrawl of the invitation.  Of course, it knew how to do this, but did not, so I would imagine His Holiness approved of the actions of Father Jenkins.  Don't infer any doctrinal implications on what amounts to a continuing episcopal hissy fit regarding non-diocesean schools.  The Bishops would do well to remember what they can control and what they can't - and either let this issue die or clarify which institutions their letter applies to. It is calumny to say Obama was the most pro-abortion President in history.  That would be either Nixon or Reagan, who appointed the judges who decided Roe and Casey, with the latter signing California's abortion statute. Liberal Catholics are not making the pro-life movement and the Church politically irrelevant, they are doing a good job of that by themselves.  I have been tireless in stating how its strategies can be made more relevant, but my posting have been casting light on blind eyes.  Here's a hint, forget about overturning Roe.
8 years 6 months ago
The "Catholics in Political Life' was written and titled to be directed at Catholic politicians...  So some bishops want to stretch this poorly written ,poorly titled paper to cover some of their partisian agenda?.. I'm afraid Obama was singled out because he was a Democrat  and in some cases, because of the vitriol language used by bishops, because he is African American.. Yes Church race has reared its ugly head in this controversy. Does the absence of African American and Hispanic Bishops on the 'hard 'list give us a clue that maybe they too have experienced  latent racisim ? As said above.. if artificial contraception is intinsically evil, why don't the bishops  ban about 88% of everybody from 'honors'. especially all those academics with one or two kids..    Most pew Catholics believe fly paper is more valuable than Honorary degrees so to  base the 'bann Obama' on such a weak basis is  to be laughable.. ....The 'intrinsic' missteps of some bishops have weakened their already soft credibility. Can any bishop now engage the Congress or the Executive branch agencies and say  'we want to cooporate and help reduce abortions'? I can imagine the reception Catholic  lobbyists will be getting at State houses around the country on any Catholic issues.. ' What do the bishops want now'? Go try down the hall ..Good luck'.. Even silent bishops will be shut out... What is the real effect of the  'hard'  bishops' actions??? Randall Terry and Alan Keyes were given blood transfusions. ..  
8 years 6 months ago
Our church's descent into the abyss over the President's speech is most disheartening. Do we not know that sin only feeds evil and will never overcome it? To snub the President whom God has appointed over us is a sin. To speak with vitriol to our opponents is to not love our enemies, which is a sin. To think that we have all the answers so that we don't have to listen to others comes from pride, which is a sin. To invoke God's name to promote political agendas is to use God's name in vain, which is a sin. To demonize those who are pro-choice is to deny the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, which is the "unforgiveable" sin. Yet we regard these sins as justifiable under the pretense that the President is "evil" because he is "the worst baby killer in the world." Bearing false witness is a sin. What baby has Barak Obama murdered? Please name one. The President did not make our abortion laws, and like many of us, has grown up in a society that accepted abortion, along with many other evils, as reasonable necessities under certain circumstances. This does not make abortion right, but it also does not in any way make the President evil or even personally complicit. But rather it is us Catholics who have a long history of harboring evil in our midst and doing nothing about it - the pedophilia scandal is most fresh in our minds. We want so badly to pick the speck out of our brother's eye, but the log in our own is making us too blind to see. Jesus repeated over and over that the only way to change the world was through love. That is our main calling as Catholics - to love one another - to love our enemies - as Jesus loved us. We do not love someone when we hate them or call them names or refuse to sit with them or refuse to invite them into our colleges and give them degrees. Jesus ate with Levi the tax collector and all his friends. By doing so I am sure He changed many lives. So why do we, who claim to follow Jesus, have so much trouble doing the same?
8 years 6 months ago
The principal fallout is that you US Catholics are in a fine mess and the rest of the world has much more important things to worry about.
8 years 6 months ago
Now, it is a fair question whether Barack Obama, in promising policies that seek to reduce the abortion rate, is acting in defiance of anyone’s fundamental moral principles." Yes, he has promised policies that purport to be in favor of life but what have his actual actions on prolife issues been since taking office?  Overturning the "Mexico City Ban" on overseas abortion funding and extending federal support for embryonic stem cell research which I would think are in defiance of the fundamental moral principles of any self-identified prolife Catholic.  At the same time, has the President offered any support either explicitly or implicitly for the Pregnant Woman's Support Act?  One would think that a President who is committed to dialogue and compromise would not be hesitant in lending support to a bill crafted by Democrats for Life, introduced by prolife Democrats, and endorsed by groups as diverse as the USCCB and Sojourners.  I hope  Catholics will not fail to hold the President accountable when either he actively promotes anti-life legislation or fails to promote pro-life legislation.   Otherwise, all we've done is change the party for whom we're willing to be useful fools.
8 years 6 months ago
O.K. let's all accept the premise that President Obama tried to find a common ground by advocating a reduction in the abortion rate.  Everyone smiles and feels good about that.  The next question that rears it's ugly head is how are we going to reduce the abortion rate? Well, I guess to reduce the abortion rate we are going to have to reduce the pregnancy rate. The Catholic Church has had a long standing position against artificial birth control and sex only within marraige.  Do you think that President Obama will champion the position of the Catholic Church in reducing pregnancy rate or maybe the position of Planned Parenthood, a major supporter of President Obama?  I may be cynical but I think the Planned Parenthood position will  win with President Obama. Either way, Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to someone who is fundamentally opposed to Catholic teaching and morals. Invite him to speak, but like Arizona State, do not give him an honorary degree.
8 years 6 months ago
Thank you Michael.  A brilliant analysis. Please email it to all the bishops. Better yet, start up an online petition for Catholics to sign and send that to all the bishops. God Bless
8 years 6 months ago
There was not a full third of the bishops coming out and objecting to the commencement.  Those numbers were skewed by the Cardinal Newman new math.  First of all, they took any off hand comment any Bishop made and claimed they had "come out" against ND.  Secondly, they claim it was 80 out of 265.  Well, the 80 includes retirees and auxiliaries.  The 265 is just actives - the number that should be used if you want to include all, is roughly 425.  And, rest assured that there were many Bishops who would have come out in favor of ND but didn't deign to lower themselves or to enter in to the astonishingly childish gutter fight.  Watch over the next months how many Bishops start showing up on campus, appearing at ND Clubs, etc.
8 years 6 months ago
Milbo, we did get rid of the need for EIMs by ridding the Executive and Legislative branches of Republican control.
8 years 6 months ago
This is one of those issues that keeps me saying, ''well, on the one hand...but then again on the other''.  Mr.  Winters makes a pretty strong case for the appropriateness of NDs invitation to President Obama to speak at the commencement ceremony.   On the other hand (here I go again) let us consider a situation that occurred to me and that I will refer to as the ''David Duke scenario''.  David Duke, we remember, was a white supremecist and founder of the group ''National Association for the Advancement of White People'' who ran for United States Senator in Louisiana during the early nineties and narrowly lost.  Imagine that Mr. Duke had actually won.  Would it be appropriate for a Catholic university to invite him to speak on their campus and bestow an honarary degree upon him?  Would othe Catholics be out of line to oppose such a course of action?  Also, let us imagine that (Heaven forbid) a Catholic equivalent of David Duke were to emerge on the American political scene.  Would a bishop be misguided in denying such a person communion or publicly calling for him to abstain from communion since what he promotes is considered to be intrinsically evil? How can we be both consistent and just in every situation?  
8 years 6 months ago
Well, with a full third of the US bishops having spoken out about this while the scandal was occuring (and all but a few unequivocally denouncing Fr Jenkin's decision), and who knows how many more who didnt release statements for this or that reason (though they belived it to be scandalous), this will be a meeting to follow closely.
8 years 6 months ago
As I understand it, Cheney is personally against torture. But he supports an interrogator's right to choose.
8 years 6 months ago
It's amazing how unwilling we seem to be to listen to our Church leaders. They are the ones meant to guide, with dispositions to guide, with education to guide, with grace (if we are confident enough to believe so) to guide. So how is it that we still pick and choose the views of those bishops who support ''our'' position? 70 bishops said ''Bad thing... Don't do it.'' That's 70 out of over 200. Two sentences out of one document are thrown around as if holy writ. Question: Can we be as passionate and vocal about other parts of the bishops' documents? Especially perhaps the primary intent of some, as for example their statements on war and torture? Or are these conveniently forgotten or overlooked? Yes, it will be interesting to see what the bishops in San Antonio will do at this point. I for one will want to read their entire response and discover what grace is shared from their common wisdom.
8 years 6 months ago
While I agree with Michael Sean Winters for the most part and also with Father Jenkins decision to invite President Obama and give him and honorary degree, I still think it's misleading of Mr. Winters to infer that "some bishops may turn their universities into intellectual ghettoes, allowed to invite no one with a differing or provocative position to campus." Although Mr. Winters does a great job of dissecting elements of very complicated debates, he has continously fallen victim in this and past columns on this issue, to the assertion that "some bishops" would not invite President Obama to step foot on campus. This debate was not about President Obama's presence on campus, but about the honary degree bestowed upon him. I support Notre Dame's decision, I support the majority of Mr. Winter's assessment of the situation, but I ask that he stop impyling that "some bishops" want to create "intellecutal ghettos." It is misleading, unfair, and inappropriate for this discussion.

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