Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama @ ND

“I can think of no better way of redeeming this tragic world today than love and laughter. Too many of the young have forgotten how to laugh, and too many of the elders have forgotten how to love. Would not our lives be lightened if only we could all learn to laugh more easily at ourselves and to love one another.”
- Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus, U. of Notre Dame

I graduated from the U. of Notre Dame in 2004, and I liked it so much that I stuck around for 2 years of grad school in Theology. I loved my college experience, and being back at ND brings emotions out of me that no other place on earth can. I love the Masses, the quarter dogs, and the vicious sprinklers.

But there are a few things about Notre Dame that have made me sad:
1. Our football program of late. Yikes. Better this year, right? Please, Charlie?
2. The weather. Give us our sun back, Michigan!
3. ND inviting President Obama to speak at commencement.

Now, let me be very clear. Yes, I was saddened that ND invited an aggressively pro-choice politician to such a public platform. But I was even more saddened by the backlash that I knew would result from the Catholic community. ND is a part of me, and the insults against ND are tough to brush off these days.

Probably the most vociferous group in speaking out against the so-called "Notre Dame scandal" has been the Cardinal Newman Society, a group dedicated to renewing Catholic higher education in the U.S. Now, a few years ago the CNS released a study on the Catholic identity of some major colleges and universities; and it was fairly well done. And ND was such an anomaly to them that they dedicated an entire chapter just to the Catholicism of Notre Dame. (Read it here.) Basically, what the CNS said was that Notre Dame is the most academically prestigious of any Catholic school, and the most Catholic of any academically prestitious school.

And that's the dichotomy that ND is forced to face; nearly every day, someone at the University is making a decision that can either be true to Catholic doctrine or further ND's academic prestige, but not both. And contrary to popular belief, the latter option isn't always chosen.

In this singular situation, Notre Dame chose prestige over Catholic identity. But couldn't we have said the same when ND invited President Bush to speak at commencement in 2001? The man who was Governor of Texas (which executes 3x more humans than any other state), declared a war that was criticized by Pope John Paul II, and constantly acted against Church teaching on immigration reform certainly wasn't a "Catholic" speaker. Granted, abortion is one of the only moral teachings of the Church that is unequivocal; abortion is never ok. But nevertheless, where was the massive petition against Bush's anti-Catholic stances?

And even more poignantly, if we're looking to invite only public figures that are perfectly aligned with Catholic teaching, who'll be speaking at commencement from now on? Only practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church? Only priests, bishops and Stephen Colbert (I could deal with that!)? But seriously, ND would sacrifice quite a bit if they were ever to go to those lengths; maybe that's a sacrifice some would expect of ND, but I personally wouldn't.

I will never defend President Obama's actions against the pro-life cause, and I don't necessarily believe that Notre Dame should have invited him so soon after his inauguration. But I'm hopeful that Obama can deliver some Catholic action on immigration, health care and social services and that this invitation can open a dialogue on other issues, such as abortion and marriage.

Tangent 1: When did it become the "Catholic" thing to publicly criticize our nation's leader? And when did the Republican Party become the Catholic party? The Democratic Party clearly supports abortion, embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage, but isn't every other plank in their platform mostly Catholic? (Just FYI, I'm neither Rep nor Dem - they both drive me crazy.)

Tangent 2: Wouldn't it be great if we could all agree on a common moral basis (i.e. don't kill babies, etc.) and let the politicians actually make political decisions? Since when did suits in Washington form the moral framework of our country?

Tangent 3: Finally, there's no way that ND (or any other school) will ever uninvite the President of the United States from any event. I understand the efforts of the petitioners, but if you're a University, you just don't do that.

Lemme know what you're thinkin'!
Peace, y'all.

P.S. The new DMB single, "Funny The Way It Is" is out. Awe. Some.


Kate Boran Aitchison said...

Last year St. Thomas invited,then un-invited, then re-invited Nobel Peace prize winner Desmond Tutu to speak at the annual Peace Jam festivities. It was ridiculous, and embarrassing, but certain voices were heard and listened to in the community after the announcement that he would be speaking.

Granted, Obama is probably the most popular person on the planet these days...I think he'll make the ceremony.

Anonymous said...

Well spoken, Pat. Your points re the which party is the "Catholic" party were spot on. I worry that certain actions/groups move to close the lines of communication between the two sides.

Ben said...

You knowwww I couldn't sit this one out.

Although your disagreement with the invitation of a politician (not to mention the President of the United States) with a dissenting view from the one held by the Catholic Church is extremely worrisome, your frustration with CNS is slightly reassuring.

CNS is basically a fringe religious group. Catholics everywhere just shuddered. But it is. It's founder, a schmuck named Patrick Reilly, so enraged at the idea of gays congregating on his campus, thought the Catholic universities nationwide needed a shot in the arm of reactionary orthodoxy. You generously called it "renewal". They have since been in the business of McCarthyism, going mostly after Jesuit priests (who I have often found to be the most thoughtful, intelligent folks to wear the collar) . In the style of Michele Bachman (the nutty Congresswoman from your current home state), CNS seeks to expose "heretical" priests at Catholic schools. To put it bluntly, they toe the line of every extreme right-wing religious view in existence.

So weep not for controversy from them. People who take them seriously gave up on free-thinking ages ago. And as is often the case, those who hold the most extreme view, are usually the loudest.

The larger point here though is this: Why is it antithetical for an institution of higher learning (ND is still claiming to be that, right?) to invite a speaker with a dissenting view to address its student body? What is ever gained by constantly listening to the same point of view? (Rush Limbaugh listeners, I'm talking to you.) Drowning out dissent with the choirs of "yes-men" only breeds ignorance and extremism.

Your point about President Bush is valid, but the actions (or lack thereof) of Catholic protesters is not at all surprising. The Catholics that start massive online petitions and line the streets waving pictures of fetuses have resigned themselves to complete and utter obedience to the Papacy (notice, I didn't say "to the Catholic faith"). They simply shut down the part of their brain that allows them to question that branch of authority. And nothing could be more dangerous.

Why? Because the Papacy is a flawed institution at its very core. Their most egregious flaw, of course, is the tenet of Papal infallibility. The first thing intelligent Catholics need to do is understand the possibility that their Pope can simply be wrong. Pius' public indifference/silence during the Holocaust is the most recent example of an absolutely grave inaction. And I'm sure Catholics have come up with an explanation (see, excuse) for these darker moments in Mother Church's history (see The Spanish Inquisition), but who are you really trying to convince? Call them what they are. Mistakes. But the number of those that refuse to acknowledge the mere possibility of the Church erring are fading quickly. As time marches on, the ignorance that is the cornerstone of unconditional ideological acceptance is bred out. It just seems like the Papacy is always 2 steps behind. So much so that it risks ultimate irrelevance.

In conclusion, I hope I didn't offend too many of the flock. And of course, I could be wrong. I'm just a former member who wishes more people would choose to more Christ-like, even at the risk of being less Christian.

Michael Heneghan said...

I don't have much of a problem with Obama speaking at ND (who knows, maybe someone will get to him and have a meaningful dialog); but giving him an "honorary" degree (emphasis on honoring him) is way over the line. If Fr. Jenkins actually lays honor on Obama, it will turn it into a travesty for ND by compromising it's Catholic values in favor of prestige.

Becki said...

Hank Aaron was "honored" at my graduation. I guarantee he has had premarital sex. And postmarital sex (he was divorced!!!). Shame on ND for bestowing an honor on a citizen whose great accomplishments should be clearly overlooked because of one transgression.

Luke J said...

Ok, as badly as I wanted to leave a serious reply addressing several issues in your blog as well as a few in the following comments, I am not going to. It is sunny, I just climbed a tree, and my 12 year old brain is still in high gear. So I'm going to tell you what I really think. I THINK... that my Alma Mater Luther College has down the Commencement Speaker criteria perfectly.
Criteria #1- You must be marginally famous.
Criteria #2- You must mention God at least once (even if it is only in a joke)
Criteria #3- You must be able to make reference to Samwise Gamgee, Rudy, and Goonies in the same breath.
If Notre Dame just follows similar guidelines, I am sure that- while Sean Astin is most likely booked- Fred Savage or Henry Thomas may be available for an appearance.