The Official Death of a Catholic Institution

Not that it stands alone in betrayal, but Notre Dame has decided, officially, to renounce its Catholic standing.

One of her own writes the school’s obituary with perfect clarity:

No comments are necessary.  It’s a duck.

Thanks to the gent who forwarded this to me.


15 Responses to “The Official Death of a Catholic Institution”

  1. Mark Grannis Says:

    Ah, yes. In spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of excommunication.

    It was almost a year ago that we had what I thought was a pretty thoughtful exchange on the whole question of Catholic identity at Catholic universities. Now it’s Notre Dame’s turn in the dock, and I don’t know enough about Catholic identity at Notre Dame either to rise to the defense or to join the stoning. (Reasonable Minds readers with experience at South Bend: I won’t out you, but you know who you are and I hope you weigh in.) For my part, I have nothing to add to the longish general comments I wrote last year on Catholic identity. And I know of no reason to expect President Obama to say anything constructive about abortion when he visits Notre Dame, though I’ll try not to sin against Hope.

    I’m more interested (this year at least) in what the McInerny piece tells us about the state of public debate on abortion. It is intended to persuade, but to persuade whom of what? McInerny does not try to persuade anyone that abortion is evil; for that much is simply asserted. Instead, McInerny attempts to persuade his readers that President Obama is a bad man for supporting abortion (he is called “the abortion president,” which seems a little hasty to me) and that Notre Dame is a bad Catholic university for inviting him anyway. The intended audience seems to be fellow Catholics with some relationship to Notre Dame. And not even all of them; in truth, he is speaking primarily to fellow Catholics related to Notre Dame who already agree with him about both abortion and Barack Obama. And for this select group, the piece functions as something of a disapproval-fest. Jeremiah Wright is gratuitously invoked, and the commencement invitation is invested with comically exaggerated significance. (“Notre Dame is telling the nation that the teaching of the Catholic church on this fundamental matter can be ignored”? Please.)

    By chance, at about the same time Tim was posting the McInerny piece, a different college classmate sent me this piece by Lynn Harris. She sent it with the comment, “This so pisses me off,” and given her own personal history of choosing life under difficult circumstances I can see why it would. Harris, like McInerny, is writing to those who already agree with her — “Broadsheet” is apparently a blog on feminist topics. She is dismissive of pro-life views and she demonizes the people who hold them, without any apparent regard for the strong moral convictions that lead many women to disagree with her.

    When I read a piece like Harris’s, it doesn’t take too long for me to figure out that I am not being addressed. As a man, I don’t really feel the sting of being excluded from the feminist circle, but I can only imagine how I would feel about that if I were a woman whose entire life had been irrevocably altered because I chose motherhood over abortion. Women who have walked that road seem to me to deserve a lot more respect than Harris gives them. Can it be that she doesn’t know anyone like that? Whatever the reason, by affecting superiority to those women, Harris diminishes herself.

    Similarly, when I read pieces like McInerny’s, I think of the many wonderful people I know, including some Catholics, who consider themselves pro-choice. Some are outspoken about it, but most are not; some have had abortions themselves. I always want to sit down and talk with these people, for hours, over beer, and work the whole problem out; I want to persuade them. I rebel against McInerny’s apparent inclination to stop talking to these people on the ground that they have allegedly excluded themselves from communion with the Catholic Church.

    What would happen if we got McInerny and Harris together for an evening of debate about abortion? One might expect to be able to answer that question after reading published articles from each. But alas, the articles are no help because Harris is not addressing McInerny and McInerny is not addressing Harris. The one thing we could probably predict with some confidence is that a whole bunch of people would go away mad at the way their views had been trivialized and condemned. Would that be helpful for anyone’s purpose, let alone Christ’s?

    Back in January, at the March for Life, I asked a friend who works for a pro-life organization how much time his organization spent on legislative affairs as opposed to direct persuasion of women as decision-makers. He told me it was almost all legislative, and he explained how important it is for the law to inform private choices by legally restricting abortion as far as the Supreme Court will permit. I’m a big believer in the teaching function of the law. At the same time, it has not escaped my notice that smoking is now prohibited in practically all public places where I live. That legal development followed, rather than caused, a seismic shift in public attitudes about smoking. Banning cigarettes in restaurants and office buildings would have been impossible 35 years ago; people had to be persuaded to make better choices before the right choices could be ratified as the law. Is it possible that the right to life movement could be as successful as the anti-smoking movement if we were willing to work on the problem from the other end? If we were more focused on persuading?

  2. Timothy Peach Says:

    Yes! You did it! I predicted an under/over on the number of words in the response and you CRUSHED it! Multiples of it! Nobody delivers like you do Granulous.

    The trick is really trying to guess in advance what the obfuscation will be, because it’s always really clever, and never the same. I didn’t predict that part right. I thought it was going to be something along the lines of why having Obama at ND was actually a pro-life decision in some twisted way.

    No, you outclevered me again! This time you decided to simply address something McInerney wasn’t talking about.

    All the points you make about the most effective way to persuade are totally valid. And although I’m a little wary of the easy equation between the sanctity of human life and the evils of smoking, I agree that creating a toxic environment for vices like smoking and infanticide is way more useful than being a phlegm-spewing zealot (like me).

    That’s not McInerney’s point was. If Obama came on campus and wanted to have a cup of Joe and talk to students about social issues, it wouldn’t make sense to protest loudly that he was an affront to Catholic values. No one is saying you have to show a rosary to come on the grounds.

    The point is that the graduation speaker serves as overt punctuation on what was supposed to be a Catholic university education. It is sensible tradition that that person embody the principles of the Church. The sanctity of human life is not a footnote in Catholicism; it’s a central theme.

    Notre Dame is choosing someone who, among other things, has a clear and consistent track record of supporting the most aggressive pro-choice posture. He snuffed out legislation to ban infanticide, and lied about it more than once to the press during his campaign. And so far, he is the “Abortion President” — in a short period of time, he’s already kept key promises he made to the radical feminist bloc on abortion funding and embryonic stem cell research. Soon we’ll be looking at forcing doctors and nurses to perform these “services” at the risk of losing their jobs and being sued.

    As a result, McInerney thinks that Notre Dame should be stripped of its designation as a Catholic University. It has been a long, gradual road down the rabbit hole, where, as McInerney says, the goal was always that “… they would continue to call themselves Catholic, but the definition of the term was constantly under construction. And this by institutions whose task is decidedly not to define what Catholicism is.”

    Notre Dame (and many other “Catholic” colleges) have, for decades, been trying to hijack responsibility for defining what Catholicism is, all wrapped in the flowery logomachy of “wider discourse” or “guided intellectual exploration”.

    Enough is enough. They can keep the leprechauns and green beer. Notre Dame is no longer a Catholic institution. Doesn’t mean it won’t be a great place to go to school, and I’m sure a lot of great Catholics will be there, but it’s no more Catholic than midtown Manhattan on St. Patty’s Day.

  3. Timothy Peach Says:

    For you word salad fans, here’s a signature piece of obfuscation (from a New York Times article on the Obama/ND debate):

    “At Notre Dame there’s the audacity of hope that the president will make good on his promises to take these issues seriously and dialogue with his critics,” said R. Scott Appleby, a history professor at the university, who supports the invitation. “This visit is one occasion, among others, for Notre Dame and the entire Catholic community to find ways to deepen and extend the dialogue on life issues.”

    I can’t speak for all Catholics, but I can say without hesitation that I’m not looking for opportunities to “deepen and extend the dialogue on life issues.” (It’s also odd to think that a commencement speech counts as dialogue. I’ve never heard a commencment speech being given in Q&A or panel format. I think that by this standard, putting a pole dancer on the altar at mass would count as dialogue on human sexuality.)

    An aside: To Granulous’ point, I’m certainly open to suggestions to me personally on how I might do a more respectful and effective job of persuading fence-sitters on the moral superiority of the Catholic position on abortion. I’m an angry, vicious man, and on occasion, I’ve even managed to alienate myself. I have some things to work on.

    There is no need to deepen or extend dialogue on a settled matter. The Catholic position on abortion is clear, and the sanctity of life is a core Catholic issue. There is tons of room for sympathy for and support of pregnant women in difficult circumstances, of course. But there is no room for pro-choice rationalization in Catholicism, any more than it would be a good idea to rethink positions on the divinity of Christ or to debate the upside potential in pederasty.

    Note that I am not saying debate about abortion should be shut down at Catholic colleges. Students should be free to express any opinion they have, because being Catholic is not a requirement of attending a Catholic college. What should be off-limits is financial support by the college of groups that are advocates for positions that directly challenge central church dogma, and, specifically, inviting commencement speakers whose personal and political actions are a direct affront to central church dogma.

    Many of you right now may be getting the feeling that I’m baiting Granulous. Trust me on this: he loves it.

  4. Pat O'Donnell Says:

    First things first, it’s “St. Paddy’s Day” in Manhattan, like the whiskey. Patty is feminine; St. Patrick wasn’t.

    Second, there’s nothing unreasonable about the hope that the President will engage in or at least spur a useful dialogue about abortion through his commencement address. He’s clearly a thoughtful man, and he’s made some political effort not to stick his thumb in Catholics eyes over abortion. For instance, he ended what the pro-abortion folks call the “gag rule” on international family planning without a big press festival, and he avoided doing it on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He’s also made a point of not pushing the “Freedom of Choice Act.” (In fact, it looks to me like the anti-abortion side is the one talking up the Act, probably as a grass-roots fundraising tool.) I don’t expect the same old drivel out of him about choice and respecting disagreement.

    Third, the overwrought objections by McInerney and others inflate and distort the meaning of a commencement. The only ones who are going to read Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama as an endorsement of his views on abortion are folks already pissed off at Notre Dame as part of intramural Catholic culture wars. Does anyone think that Notre Dame’s invitation to Bush constituted a de facto endorsement of the Iraq war? (I mean anyone disinclined to go to protests and wear silly costumes.)

    It’s tempting to get off on the self-defining aspect of the abortion debate, but to the extent one’s goal is to end elective abortion, it’s not productive. But inviting Obama to speak might be. Hopefully, he’ll say something thoughtful about abortion. Whether or not he does, there’s reason to hope for some good out of this flap: perhaps others will take the occasion to discuss abortion seriously and attempt to debate the issue rather than strut their ideological purity for their own sides. Neither Mr. McInerney nor Ms. Harris would likely find such a discussion satisfying; neither may even comprehend it. But plenty of folks with conflicted and still open minds about the issue will. And that’s a more important audience.

    There would be reason for gratitude if Notre Dame’s invitation to the President contributed even a little to opening up people to discussion and persuasion on abortion.

  5. Timothy Peach Says:

    I suppose it’s also important to point out that St. Patrick isn’t even an official saint…. but I digress.

    I can practically guarantee you that President Obama will say absolutely nothing about abortion in his speech. Calling Obama “politically astute” is an understatement, and he would never want to risk further agitation by opening that jar up with all us zealots watching. Catholics helped get him elected — why would he mess with that?

    If correct, of course, a no-show on the topic would nullify all that blather about “deepening and extending dialogues”. And you know what, having him on campus to speak on other issues would be awesome for ND and its students. No one wants to ban the man from campus, for Pete’s sake. It’s the venue that bothers conservative Catholics.

    No one reads the invitation to Obama as an endorsement of his views on abortion. Notre Dame’s liberal Catholics aren’t, as an example, glib about infanticide. What the invitation represents is a challenge to the Magisterium, another attempt, as McInerney says, to co-opt the right to define what Catholicism is.

    One thing I’ll never understand is why Catholics who take issue with core dogma simply don’t realign with another Christian denomination or some other religion. If you don’t like the menu, why eat at the restaurant? Is the feeling of direct affiliation during Notre Dame sporting events that important?

    • Mark Grannis Says:

      “One thing I’ll never understand is why Catholics who take issue with core dogma simply don’t realign with another Christian denomination or some other religion. If you don’t like the menu, why eat at the restaurant?”

      Well, that part at least is easy. It’s because Catholics define themselves by their membership in a community of faith rather than by their adherence to particular fragments of the truth about God. You might as well ask why any Catholic who thinks it’s all about having the right set of doctrinal beliefs doesn’t just admit he’s a type of Protestant.

  6. Timothy Peach Says:

    No, a lot of Protestants and some Catholics “define themselves” by their membership in a community of faith — “pastoral” is the term you use for it. Catholicism, it strikes me, is much less susceptible to a “church shopping” mentality than most flavors of Christianity, because it’s not just about community.

    Most Catholics still think that adherence to some pretty freaking important “fragments of the truth about God” is a huge part of being Catholic. One particular fragment — that human life is sacred — isn’t optional. The Church couldn’t be clearer about that.

    It is nearly impossible to be a good Catholic in isolation, and immersion in parish life enhances the experience immensely. (This is something I’ve been bad at.) But if all it is is a really tame version of “Survivor” where real transgressions are defined away, and being collaborative and not breaking alliances is all it’s really about, forget it. I’d rather just organize a “community” around professional sports. It’s more honest, and there’s more wagering.

  7. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Two anecdotes.

    Last Sunday, the KofC in my parish were having their annual spring membership drive. They spoke at Mass and handed out literature. I really have no inclination to join the KofC (one more fraternal organization could turn me into a bachelor) but it occured to me that even if I were so inclined I could not join. I imagine a very cold reception for any man, no matter how willing to engage in the charitable works of the KofC, even a man who holds that abortion is an objective moral evil, if that man did not take the further step of holding the jurisprudential opinion that the criminal law of the United States is a good tool to minimize that evil.

    Last night, my 8th grade CCD students and I had a really good lesson. We read St. Matthew on the Love Command, did a bit of the Prodigal Son as an example of the Command in action and we went over the liturgies that make up the Easter Triduum. As part of the Triduum unit I played for them the Pange Lingua, O Sacred Head Surrounded, the Strife is O’er and Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Sadly, but not surprisingly, very few of my students had ever read the texts before and none had ever heard the music. All of them know however that to be Catholic means you can’t have sex, you can’t be gay and you can’t get an abortion.

    What’s the point? I fear that the issue of reproductive ethics, its relationship to US law and the bishop’s total fascination with it is swallowing whole the rest of the pastoral mission of the Church. The bishop of East Jesus, Indiana won’t “validate” the commencement ceremony at ND because of the POTUS’ constitutional views and Tim, you say ND isn’t Catholic anymore and therefore he is right to stay away. Really?

    What about the hundreds of kids graduating that day who performed countless hours of community service in his diocese since the day they arrived at ND, motivated principally by their faith? What about all the seniors heading to Latin America and Africa and every other place under the sun to identify with the poor, again largely motivated by their faith? What about the kids who served at the altar, both in ND’s basilica or in the residence halls, or performed liturguical music, or lectored? Don’t they make ND Catholic? Doesn’t the bishop have a pastoral and sacred obligation to validate them as they head off to be “like sheep among wolves”.

    The Spirit blows whither it will, I guess. I pray that while the bishops continue to throw their toys out of the pram, ND and places like it, will always be “Catholic”.

  8. Timothy Peach Says:

    Those kids are the standard bearers of Catholicism, the hope of the future, proof that the power of faith transcends a jaded, consumerized, tired world that is all too ready to appease at the expense of truth.

    Their faith isn’t diminished one iota by the Bishop’s stand any more than the villification of steroid-abuser Alex Rodriguez diminishes the grand nobility of Lou Gehrig, the greatest Yankee.

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” — G.K. Chesterton

  9. Steve Grannis Says:

    I’m not Catholic but it seems Obama’s far-left stance on abortion is irreconcilable with a critical part of Catholicism, making him unworthy of this once-a-year invitation from THE Catholic University. The fact that he was invited anyway is an insult to pro-lifers, Catholic or not, and a PR coup for both Obama and the entire abortion industry. I haven’t seen someone so undeserving of something since Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    And I ask myself, for what consideration is Notre Dame doing this? Obama likely isn’t going to have an epiphany about abortion on stage that day. As someone said above, this isn’t a debate. And it’s certainly not going to help the University’s endowment fund. Is this happening simply so that a few folks in the University’s hierarchy can bask in Obama’s rockstar glow? Is any reason more likely?

  10. Mark Esswein Says:

    I have been watching this debate from the sidelines, but David’s point about the withering of the pastoral mission as a whole came to mind as I read this today:

    They knew! Not only that, they knew long ago and now their excuse is that the bearer of the news was a crackpot? Not good enough!

  11. Pat O'Donnell Says:

    St. Patrick not a real saint!?! Now that comes closer to challenging core dogma than does inviting the President to give the commencement address at Notre Dame.

    Dogma says even less about who gives a commencement address than it does about Patrick’s sainthood, so it’s pretty strained to assert a doctrinal rather than a merely political basis for the charge that the invitation marks ND’s disqualification as a Catholic institution.

    The argument that this is not really about whether he should speak on campus strikes me as only slightly less strained. He’s the President of the United States. A standard way a President addresses a university’s general populace is through a commencement address, and no one will see that as an endorsement of his views on abortion or anything else.

    Mr. Peach actually seems to agree with that last point, but if the invitation doesn’t constitute an endorsement of his abortion views, how can it be a betrayal of faith?

    The President’s wrong on abortion, but that’s not a reasonable basis to denounce a Catholic institution as faithless for inviting him to give the commencement. Such denunciation is exactly what tunes out the open minded and snuffs out the possibility of the kind of “hearts and minds” discussion that might actually sway folks.

    Finally, it’s not too much to hope that, directly or indirectly, his visit will spur reasoned discussion. Maybe he’ll allude to abortion (hope) or maybe not, but the visit has already spurred discussion like this. There will be plenty more. The fruitfulness of that discussion will depend partly on its tone and largely on whether it’s aimed at the other side or just part of another circular firing squad in our own little intramural culture war.

  12. Timothy Peach Says:

    St. Patrick was never canonized by a pope, like a lot of the Irish saints. On the other hand, neither was my dad. I have no doubt they’re having a big fat cigar and a big Tanqueray martini together right now. (My father was, per his wishes, buried with some of both.)

    Enough of this ludicrous wishful thinking about Obama’s latent pro-life tendencies. Love for the man combined with vanity is driving hordes of moderates to attribute to him qualities and positions that were never there… no evidence for it whatsoever.

    His track record is absolutely pure on the matter — he is as pro-choice as they get. He gets 100% ratings from the usual suspects. Sure, he’s not trumpeting the fact that he’s keeping his promises to the abortionists. That would be just plain stupid. And no rational person wishes there were more abortions. On the margin, he’s choosing between the helpless unborn and the hard left advocacy groups that backed him from Day 1. Guess who wins?

    Obama has already put his stake in the ground. Political outcomes — viz. winning elections and maintaining power bases — are more important to him than the sanctity of human life. Way more important.

  13. Timothy Peach Says:

    Looks like I’m not the only one who’s uncomfortable being glib about where the Church stands on abortion sympathists:

  14. Steve Grannis Says:

    I didn’t know about the honorary degree angle. Ms. Glendon certainly weighed in on that:

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