Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jeer, Jeer for Old Notre Dame

The uproar over the University of Notre Dame inviting pro-abortion President Obama to speak at commencement demonstrates the polarization that has arisen among members of the Church these days. A public confrontation pitting Catholic against Catholic is unfortunate. Making the situation even worse is the growing resentment between the two sides.

On one hand, we have orthodox Catholics who try to live their faith according to the teachings of the Church, especially when it comes to protecting human life from conception to natural end. They are rigid in their adherence to moral and ethical behavior, and hold other Catholics, both individuals and institutions, to high standards. They tend to be vocal when they see behavior they do not like, and therefore may be stereotyped as intolerant or self-righteous.

Being of the former bend, I find it more difficult to catagorize the other side. My guess is that most of them are more accepting of the secular world in which they live. It would be too easy to simply dismiss them as not living their Catholic faith, though I am sure that is often the case. They may still be good Catholics in their personal beliefs, but do not pass judgment on the diverse behavior of others. I suspect that deep down, they view acceptance of Catholic teaching a personal choice more than absolute truth. I also suspect they take a more humanistic view of Church hierarchy as opposed to being a Divinely-guided Magisterium. For this reason, they may be viewed as worldly or heterodox.

Judging from the outcome of the last presidential election and the acceptance of President Obama to be honored at Notre Dame by the administration and probably a majority of the students, those of us embracing the Catholic Faith to the fullest are in the minority. Being tolerant of opposing opinions is one thing, but providing a pulpit at a supposedly Catholic institution for those views when they promote intrinsic evil is unacceptable, especially when we appear to be losing the moral battle.

Students who do not expect or accept Catholic teaching at a Catholic University should probably be attending school elsewhere. In this case, those who do expect orthodox Catholicism should look elsewhere too. Why would anyone expect to get a first class education in any discipline from a Catholic University that cannot even profess the truth of its own Faith? Some might argue that universities can maintain their Catholicity while entertaining diverse or contrary thought, or that academic freedom requires open dialogue with dissenters. In the sciences, humanities, arts and other disciplines, this may be true, even in the case of theological science as long as it does not conflict with Catholic doctrine. But when it comes to matters of Faith and Morals, dissention should not be an option, and promoting or providing a public forum for such dissention is inexcusable.

In 1967, many Catholic Universities, including Notre Dame, signed what was known as the Land O’ Lakes Statement, so-called because it came from of a conference of Catholic educators held in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. The meeting took place to address the issue of a perceived conflict between the Church and academic freedom. The gist of the statement can be summarized in the second sentence: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Although the Land O’ Lakes statement also stressed the importance of keeping Catholic higher education distinctively Catholic, the barn door was now open and Catholicity was trampled in the academic stampede to freedom. Dissenting priests were given positions of authority at Catholic Universities where they cast doubt among believers and undermined Church teaching. Instead of lifting up the Catholic Church as a beacon of truth beyond reproach, many Catholic universities demolished the Faith by allowing the secular world to dictate curriculum and university policy.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued a lengthy document called Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). Seen as a rebuttal to the Land of Lakes Statement, it defines what makes an academic institution Catholic giving bishops the authority to affirm or deny catholicity. Some Catholics are organizing an effort to have Bishop D’Arcy remove the Catholic label from Notre Dame. While the good Bishop is unlikely to go to that extreme, he said he will boycott the graduation ceremony, and may even take part in an organized protest.

According to an article by sportswriter Curt Rallo in the April 21, 2009 edition of the South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins defiantly reaffirmed his decision at a celebration of 60 years of black student athletes. Defending the invitation of President Obama, Jenkins said, “He’s one of our great orators of our time, and we’re just so proud to have him.” It would be interesting to know how many of the students who cheered his remark are Catholic.

At my weekly catechism class earlier this evening, we got into a discussion of moral ethics. A number of hypothetical ethical dilemmas were proposed where object and means seemed to be at odds. One commonly used example involves lying in order to protect the lives of others. In my mind, the answer is obvious. I have lied for much lesser reasons. Yet I realize the morality of doing wrong to achieve a right deserves serious thought, and questions such as these are certainly pondered in academia. Then I wonder if Father Jenkins gave any serious thought to the moral consequences of inviting a pro-abortion president to speak at a Catholic university. I can understand some of Father Jenkins’ (and Obama’s) supporters speaking from ignorance, but Father Jenkins himself should know better. Even if he were right, the fact he chooses to ignore his Bishop demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the Church hierarchy.

Father Jenkins recently wrote that his invitation to Obama was in accordance with a 2004 statement by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops called Catholics in Political Life because Obama is not Catholic. This past week, Bishop D’Arcy responded with a letter to Jenkins, excerpts of which were released to the public. The Bishop cited one of the highpoints of the USCCB statement that says, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” How can Father Jenkins reconcile what he is doing with that statement?

Father Jenkins has placed his superiors, the university, and the Catholic Church in an awkward position. If he is disciplined as he should be with the loss of his position, Obama’s supporters will try to paint Catholics as intolerant racists. The local paper has printed dozens of letters in support of Jenkins, some of them from students, alumni, and at least one priest. One woman boldly stated that she was a Catholic who is pro-life and pro-choice. A man accused pro-lifers as being cafeteria Catholics because they are not as vocal about other problems in the Church. Another supports Obama because of all the hunger and starvation in the world, as if he will end it all and his opponents are the cause.

It’s only a matter of time before the mud-slinging starts. Non-Catholics smell blood in the water and join in the frenzy. A writer in today’s paper said, “When you discuss the sanctity of life, you may wish to skip over the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of thousands of women as witches, the vile behavior of the Catholic priests who told their faithful to pay the English rents while their children starved during the Irish potato famine and the alleged collaboration of the Vatican with the Nazis.” Oh boy. Now, do we go off on another tangent and defend these charges, or just let it ride.

A pattern is evident in most of these letters. These are not people who hold Church teaching in high regard, despite some of them claiming to be “devout” Catholics. I wonder how many of the “devout” Catholics make frequent confessions, attend weekday Mass (or even regular Sunday Mass for that matter), spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, or pray the Rosary. These are things the rest of us should be doing for all concerned, especially the aborted children, President Obama, Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.