The University of Notre Dame made twin announcements that President Barack Obama would be giving the commencement speech and Ambassador MaryAnn Glendon would be receiving the university’s Laetare Medal this past weekend. The first news about Obama came on Friday, and blogger extraordinaire Rocco Palmo broke the story about Glendon Saturday evening. Whoever devised this timing in the Notre Dame press office deserves a raise! Maybe even a bonus!
The right wing of the Catholic Church was, as we noted on Saturday, up in arms within a twinkling of the eye over any honor being given to the President. Mr. Hudson is in high dudgeon at his blog, even issuing a veiled threat to Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy: "Bishop D’Arcy, who has challenged Notre Dame before, must invoke the guidelines of ‘Catholics in Political Life’ or risk some of the other bishops doing it for him." (Must? Call me conservative but I do not think laymen should issue "musts" to prelates.) The Cardinal Newman Society has started a petition drive to protest the decision. Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the matter, urged a letter writing campaign to the university’s president. (Someone at the Catholic News Agency, a conservative propaganda outfit that pretends to be an unbiased purveyor of news, has contacted me to say that the Archbishop’s office is denying he said any such thing. The link above indicates someone thinks they heard otherwise. In the event, Archbishop Chaput has my email and if he objects to the characterization on the blog referenced above, I will be happy to change it.)
Now, of course, the stage at Notre Dame will be shared by someone whom the right has seen as a champion, Ambassador MaryAnn Glendon. There is no denying her credentials either as a conservative or as a pro-life advocate. I will bet dollars to doughnuts the next few weeks will make clear, however, that some on the right will begin attacking Dr. Glendon. Of course, Dr. Glendon, like the University of Notre Dame, is a source of pride for all Catholics, not just for conservatives. I view the world through very different lenses from Dr. Glendon, but I would be blind not to admire her accomplishments, her intellectual force, and her love for the Church. Whatever disagreements I have with her are disagreements within the family. (Of course, the right wing doesn’t view Notre Dame with the same "All in the Family" spirit.) And, in any event, here is a chance to fight another battle in the culture wars so who cares if Dr. Glendon must be thrown overboard?
This latest contretemps is disturbing not only because some of us are more than tired with the right wing insisting that only they can lay claim to the mantle of Catholicism, that those of us who see the demands of the world, or the challenge of the Gospels, differently are bad Catholics. Last week, before the latest mess, I ran into a priest whom I have known for more than twenty years but whom I had not seen recently. He did not discuss President Obama, he ranted. He did not offer a conversation or even an argument, he threw out slogans, and vulgar slogans at that, despite the fact that he is one of the least vulgar men I have ever known.
What is it about President Obama that makes the right wing so crazy, so uncharitable, so frothing-at-the-mouth unreasonable? I asked another priest who ventured racism was part of the answer. I am not so sure. I suspect that many people, with profound sentiments about abortion, had convinced themselves that our nation was close to seeing Roe v. Wade overturned and that Obama’s victory makes that less likely. But, overturning Roe would not have a large effect on the abortion rate as most states would codify the decision in their statutes. Besides that, what did the pro-life movement really gain from eight years of the George W. Bush’s presidency? Mr. Hudson may have had access to the White House, but what did the movement gain from the association? A phone call at t he Right-to-Life March? The Mexico City Policy, which is not nothing but it is not exactly a casus belli? I suspect the problem is that many on the far right listen to each other only, they have convinced themselves that FOCA will pass and Obama will be the "most pro-abortion" president in history, their understandable and laudable disgust at the entire nation’s tolerance of abortion has been channeled to focus on this man and like water entering a narrow channel, that disgust moves quickly and destructively. They are sincere, but sincere in the sense that they are the first to believe their own propaganda.
This crowd of conservatives does not own the Catholic Church. They certainly do not own Notre Dame. They are about to find out that they do not own Dr. Glendon either. The rest of us Catholics, however, must not let the public square think that they do. Our voices must be raised to say that we are thrilled such a distinguished Catholic university is considered such a part of the life of the nation that our President will be coming to address its graduates. We are thrilled that he will be sharing the stage with one of our Church’s and nation’s finest scholars and diplomats. And, we should be thrilled that the right wing commentariat has again adopted its smug "I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like other men" stance. The Master condemned many things when he trod the earth, but none more than the smug judgmentalism of the Pharisees. Alas, like the poor, the Pharisees will be with us always. You will be able to find them on Graduation Day protesting outside the gates at Notre Dame.