Monday, April 27, 2009


Father Jenkins has used a variety of talking points and defenses to counter criticisms of his decision on President Obama, including employing poor Biblical citations. I don't appreciate his attempts to spin those of us who are seriously concerned about his actions, but I feel worse for Notre Dame Club officers who are getting spun by him as well at the same time as these officers are hearing lots of criticism and concern themselves. According to a source who attended this weekend's Alumni Senate gathering at ND and heard Fr. Jenkins speak, he not only isn't backing down (as we know), he thinks alumni officers should be "on the front lines" defending the University's positions. Apparently he also made light of Bishop D'Arcy's Thursday letter chiding him for not consulting the bishop ahead of time and for propogating incorrect statements on the USCCB document; he said that he didn't consult the bishop, but then again he doesn't consult him on most decisions regarding the university.

Now granted, there are alumni who have no problem with the Obama invitation and honorary degree (a few even approved of his response to the bishop, unfortunately). But there are quite a few who are very upset, and they didn't sign on (in being involved in their local clubs) to defend a position that they completely disagree with and that seems to directly contradict Church teaching.

Again, what is the Board of Trustees going to do here?

Compounding the embarrassment

Breaking: Mary Ann Glendon, in a public letter to Father Jenkins, has declined to receive the Laetare Medal this year. In her letter, posted at First Things where she is on their editorial board I believe, she says she was originally honored to receive the award, but then realized she would have to change her speech once President Obama was announced. Finally, she decided that she couldn't accept for several reasons: first, granting him an honorary law degree was (as Bishop D'Arcy pointedly noted on Thursday) in violation of USCCB directives and Catholic teaching (and I would add, cheapens the value of her own much-deserved honorary law degree). Second, she realized she was being used by Fr. Jenkins (in his "talking points") to be the university's counter to President Obama, and apparently as the primary means of "engaging" the President on life issues -- at commencement exercises that shouldn't be focused on those issues in the first place. I commend Professor Glendon for taking this stand -- but feel continued embarrassment for the university -- *our* university -- that would honor a pro-abortion, pro-embryo-destructive-research leader over one of our nation's foremost Catholic legal scholars.

I understand that the Board of Trustees is going to meet this coming Friday. I would encourage people to write (politely, of course) to members of the Board to express their opinions. I know some of them are already upset by Fr. Jenkins's course of action here, but the question is, what will they do about it? Is this issue something the university is prepared to suffer loss of its good Catholic character and division of its alumni over?

ETA: David Freddoso (an alum) at NRO reports that Fr. Jenkins's reply to this is that he's disappointed but intends to find "another deserving recipient." Says Freddoso, rather snarkily: "Joe Biden, perhaps?" Perfect.

More in reply to Fr. Jenkins, though: Really? No reply *at all* to the reasoning given by Professor Glendon? Doesn't she merit more respect than such a curt "move on" statement in response?

This is getting out of hand.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Poor excuses

I am hearing from a few relatively high-placed sources that Father Jenkins is continuing to change/extend his justifications to donors for conferring the honorary degree on President Obama. While he consistently states that the University is pro-life, and does not and will not support the President's positions (and actions, one should add) on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, among other things, Fr. Jenkins does not think the honorary degree controverts Notre Dame's mission. In fact, he is now employing biblical analogies to affirmatively justify the degree -- he is citing 1 Peter 2:17 to say that while we honor God above all, we must also "honor the king" since we live in this world.

I'm pretty sure this passage does not apply at all in this situation, and I'm hardly the biblical scholar Fr. Jenkins should be. Honoring the king (even in spite of persecution, which is the context St. Peter was writing in) means that "for the Lord's sake" we "accept the authority of every human institution," accept Caesar's authority to rule, and do not revolt against him -- it does not, by any reading, mean fĂȘting him, especially if he is not using his authority wisely. In Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Benedict reads this passage in concert with Romans 13 ("There is no authority except from God") to discuss how Christians should relate to the state. (Hint: it doesn't involve honoring those who support use of the law to kill the innocent.)

The task of the state is . . . [to] ensure peace at home and abroad. As I have said, this may sound somewhat banal, and yet it articulates an essential moral demand: peace at home and abroad is possible only when the fundamental legal rights of the individual and of society are guaranteed.

Our constitutional and federal statutory law -- as actively supported by the President -- does not respect the fundamental legal right to life of the unborn. We can respect the office of the president -- be polite, offer prayers -- without at all being able to justify celebrating or honoring the officeholder who doesn't understand that most fundamental obligation of the state. I just finished reading Archbishop Chaput's Render Unto Caesar the other day, and he is very much on point in this question of what the Bible really teaches us our responsibilities are as Christians living in this world:

What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God? To Caesar we owe respect and prayers for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:2); respect for the law; obedience to proper authority; and service to the common good. It's a rather modest list. And note that respect is not subservience, or silence, or inaction, or excuse making, or acquiescence to grave evil in the public life we all share.

I'm pretty sure St. Peter never meant for us to affirmatively and freely grant honors to leaders who advocate, vote for and enact laws that destroy innocent human life. Because before that "Honor the king" directive comes the more important one: "Fear God."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ironically, ASU apologizes . . .

... for not doing enough to properly honor President Obama during his commencement speech at Arizona State. In fact, after they said that they were not conferring an honorary degree because, they said, the president did not yet have a body of work sufficient to merit it, they heard howls of outrage from people who thought this was an insult and completely inappropriate. It now turns out that ASU's policy is simply to not give honorary degrees to sitting politicians (hey, that would solve some of our problems right there), but they already backpedaled hard to show the proper amount of deference to Obama. Their president assures that Arizona State "will honor President Obama in every way" (!) and they even created a "Barack Obama Scholars" scholarship program in his honor. ASU has no institutional or moral reason to oppose the president's policies, of course, while ND does. The contrast between the two schools and who has been outraged by each is (or should be) instructive, however.

I'm sure others have suggested this, but can't ASU and ND just switch? They can give the honorary degree, and we can decline to confer one. Then all the right people should be happy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Getting the (canon) law wrong

Canon lawyer Ed Peters is harsh in his reply to Fr. Jenkins's interpretation of the USCCB statement "Catholics in Political Life." Fr. Jenkins said, in a letter to the ND Board of Trustees, that he consulted with canon lawyers who confirmed his reading that the bishops' statement only applied to Catholics who acted against Catholic teaching. On the face of it, this might sound plausible, but a moment's thought (which one hopes the Board of Trustees would give it) reveals it is ludicrous. As Peters says:

Is the man serious?

Does Jenkins really think that Catholic bishops would countenance a Catholic institution honoring a philanthropic murderer, or a free-speech crusading pornographer, or a right-to-privacy pimp, provided merely that the awardee was not a Catholic? Really, that's too bizarre for words.

Fr. Jenkins also says that conferring the honorary degree does not connote support for the President's positions on life issues. "In every statement I have made about the invitation of President Obama and in every statement I will make, I express our disagreement with him on issues surrounding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research," he said. "If we repeatedly and clearly state that we do not support the President on these issues, we cannot be understood to 'suggest support'."

If one needs to clarify repeatedly and in every instance that conferring the degree does not "suggest support," doesn't that indicate that yes, the degree itself does suggest support? Otherwise there wouldn't be a need to be constantly clarifying. And how prominent are ND's disavowals of support of the President likely to be in the public eye, and how long are they likely to last in the public perception? Answers: Not that prominent, and not that long. I hope the Board doesn't buy into this.


Over the past two weeks, the University has only been digging in with its defense of inviting the president and giving him an honorary degree. 32 bishops around the country have spoken up to condemn the decision to honor the President in contravention of Catholic principles and the 2004 USCCB statement. But I've heard the dismissal from University backers that that's only a small fraction of the total number of US bishops, so it's insignificant. I've also been told by a University spokesman directly that they are bothered by the "lack of consistency" in the bishops opposing ND's decision but not speaking out against Obama at the Al Smith dinner in New York last year. My points would be: first, the importance of any number of bishops speaking out in this context is that they, as authors of the USCCB statement, certainly have some authority in clarifying what it meant. (Fr. Jenkins has claimed it was ambiguous and intended only to apply to Catholic pro-choice politicians, but the bishops are rebutting that interpretation.) Second, whether or not there was opposition to the Al Smith dinner last year, it doesn't speak to whether the bishops are right in this instance with regard to Notre Dame. As a response to my question about whether ND was affected by Bishop D'Arcy's statement and declining to attend commencement, this administration official's reply was disappointing.

I've also talked to a few high-level donors who are receiving the same standard responses as everyone else. Extending invitations to new presidents is "customary"; they aren't honoring Obama's pro-choice or anti-Catholic positions; they're disappointed by Bishop D'Arcy's response but it won't affect their decision; and of course they understand concerns from the alumni but they want this to be an "opportunity for dialogue," and who knows? Maybe the President will be changed by the encounter. Finally, they are being told, Laetare Medal honoree Mary Ann Glendon may well take the opportunity for her speech to directly challenge the President's positions on life issues. I don't think the alumni are too reassured by this, but rather continue to be distressed. (I've also talked to "regular" alumni who, like me, aren't any kind of high level donors but just love the school, and are so upset by the University's decision and seeming lack of response to alumni concerns, that it's coloring their whole perception of the school.)

The latest news ought to be as publicly embarrassing as three dozen bishops censuring the school: Arizona State, which is also having the President speak at its commencement, is not conferring an honorary degree, because, according to its spokesman, "It's our practice to recognize an individual for his body of work, somebody who's been in their position for a long time. His body of work is yet to come." Ouch. Well, it's yet to come except in the key bits of policy he's managed to find time for in the first few months, like taxpayer funding of international abortion advocacy groups, federal funding for newly destructive embryonic stem cell research, appointment of pro-choice Catholics to key positions, and so forth.

ND's spokesman officer seems as bland in his response to this as to the story overall:

University spokesman Dennis Brown said it's customary at Notre Dame to confer a degree on every guest speaker. The university tries to select speakers who have made significant contributions to society or can give a compelling message.

Those statements don't follow, and I wonder if Brown made them in sequence. It's clearly possible, as ASU demonstrates, to invite a speaker to come without conferring an honorary degree. And whether or not it's "customary" to give the degree, perhaps there should have been an examination of the particular circumstances in this case to see whether it was appropriate this time. More Brown:

"Every university has its own traditions and has its own missions. I don't think it's at all fair to gauge one against the other. Everybody's different."

Yes, and Notre Dame's supposed to be different in a meaningful way. That's what I always thought, anyway.