Friday, May 22, 2009

What profit a man

Watching the ND Commencement on television Sunday, my first thoughts were that Fr. Jenkins and President Obama were going to come off very well in most subsequent reviews. They were clearly a hit with the students, and they did very well in seizing their moment. That, of course, made it all the worse for Notre Dame, the pro-life movement, and the Catholic Church.

Jenkins sounded confident in his speech, but I wondered as I was listening in the beginning, as he kept talking about dialogue, reason and faith, truth in the abstract, dialogue again, and debate -- would he ever actually name the things we were meant to dialoguing about with the president? Jenkins kept going, and cited Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II on dialogue and debate. Finally, in a single sentence he named the issue: "President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research." That's good, and direct. But Fr. Jenkins then immediately went on to cite more Church teachings on dialogue, respect for differing views, and dialogue again -- and finally he started into the glowing portrait of President Obama that I was expecting. Indeed the whole talk was more or less as expected: a single sentence confirming that ND disagreed with Obama on life issues, with the bulk of the enthusiastic remarks celebrating both Notre Dame's own openness and Obama's great list of admirable qualities. Throughout his own talk and Obama's, Fr. Jenkins was pretty much beaming the whole time.

Obama's speech also celebrated the value of dialogue, and he named the issue of abortion. In characteristic fashion, however, he said a lot of nice-sounding words that have no relation to his actual actions or (apparently) beliefs. He made the customary gestures toward abortion being "a heart-wrenching decision" with "moral and spiritual dimensions," without ever engaging any of those. He talked about finding common ground and dialogue, but while his language suggested he thought abortion was at least regrettable, he neatly avoided mentioning that he has never once supported a single legal restriction or qualification on abortion rights through all nine months of pregnancy. He talked about respecting even irreconcilable differences and rights of conscience, but he supports taxpayer (so forced) funding of abortion and ESCR, and he is actually repealing Bush-era conscience protections for physicians.

The president said, "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away." What is his argument for abortion, though? He didn't actually say. Ultimately, his best anecdote on being open-minded and fair-minded was that he once agreed to stop calling pro-lifers "right-wing ideologues." So generous! But in the meantime he, like Fr. Jenkins, agreed debate and dialogue were great things.

The net result of both talks was that both parties celebrated their openmindedness and tolerance, while neither engaged the actual issues. Listening to Fr. Jenkins, one would think that dialogue was a higher virtue in the Catholic Church than protecting innocent life. Listening to President Obama, one would think he was a reasonable moderate on abortion and other life issues, when in fact he's been remarkably extreme in his support of unlimited abortion rights. There's no doubt the president emerged triumphant from this visit, because most observers would think, again, that he sounded perfectly moderate -- and by all lights he had the endorsement of the nation's premier Catholic university in addressing these issues. One line from Fr. Jenkins was hardly enough to save Notre Dame's credibility here, no matter how sincerely he believed it.

Looking hard, there may be some good things to come out of this. The fact that the Catholic Church stands for life was prominently disseminated, and maybe in the course of the national debate some people have become more aware of what Obama actually stands for on life issues. ND Response's efforts certainly helped in that regard, and the networks did cover their prayer vigils (although not as much as the outside protesters). But I'm not so optimistic that the end result isn't just Notre Dame tarnishing its own image as a Catholic institution, hurting its relationship with the institutional Church, and providing the means for Obama to continue his outstanding tradition of getting credit for his pretty words while his actions are relentlessly the opposite.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On campus this morning

Cool and calm on campus this morning, but with a bit of an edge in the air. It looked like ND Response was going to get a good turnout as people were streaming in hours early, though not yet collected on South Quad. I saw Bill Kirk driving around in his golf cart to check on arrangements.

Now the ceremony is being broadcast live on the cable news networks. Fox is doing a good job with its coverage. I'm disappointed but hardly surprised to see the wildly enthusiastic reception for the president from faculty and staff, as well as big smiles from Fr. Jenkins. Fox is reporting that Obama is going to speak "at length" on abortion based on a leaked copy of the speech. I hope, but without any real cause, that he won't insult our intelligence by pretending the controversy on abortion and embryonic stem cell research is all some minor policy disagreement he has with the Catholic Church. Well, not much else to do now but watch, and pray.

UPDATE: CNN is reporting Obama is going to use all the "social justice" codewords. Great. Well, as someone just said to me, he can't do worse than Cuomo on giving cover to pro-choice Catholics because he's not Catholic. Still, looks like there will be plenty for administrators to feel pleased over, and not a lot for pro-lifers to respect.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Center of the storm

This afternoon at the St. Mary's commencement ceremony (which was lovely, by the way) a huge military plane flew in low over the campus -- advance agents and materials for the president's visit tomorrow. Since getting into town yesterday, I've seen a lot of protesters on ND Avenue and Angela/Edison and heard a lot of people talking about the controversy. It looked like platforms for the NDResponse demonstration were being set up on South Quad tonight - I've read they're expecting thousands of people, which I hope is true. Hopefully this peaceful witness being shown by so many will make it harder for the media to misrepresent the objections to ND honoring Obama. (I have noticed that the South Bend tv stations have been mentioning Bishop D'Arcy and the bishops' statements more than some other outlets.)

One thing I forgot, for whatever reason, until today's commencement, was that the honorary degree recipients have glowing statements about their lives and achievements read aloud before the degrees are conferred. They don't publish the biographies in the Notre Dame commencement program like they do at some schools (like St. Mary's), so we don't know what the introductory statement on the president as he's presented for a doctor of laws, honoris causa, tomorrow will be, but we can be fairly certain it won't involve dialogue or nuance, both because of course that's not customary for these things, and because we've become pretty familiar with Fr. Jenkins's enthusiastic plaudits of the president over the past two months. So I fear we can expect a nice, unqualified hagiography, with smiles all around.

Some people don't think any of this matters. But walking around campus tonight, by the Grotto, in the Basilica, even in LaFortune, and feeling that whole special sense of place that Notre Dame always conveys, I felt again how keenly it does matter -- because Notre Dame matters to the Church in America. It's a special place, and betrayals of Catholic values like we expect to be seeing tomorrow only diminish it.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

No news isn't good news

I haven't heard or seen anything at all regarding last Friday's Board meeting for Notre Dame, which I think is disappointing. Presumably if the trustees had decided to take action or make a public statement censuring Fr. Jenkins, they would have done so by now. As it is, graduation is a week from Sunday and it seems that, despite hundreds of thousands of signatures in opposition, public outcry, division (and not a little disillusionment) sown among the alumni, and public opposition from no less than one-third of the U.S. bishops, including Bishop D'Arcy, Fr. Jenkins hasn't been moved a whit.

The good news is that the student-led prayerful protest movement has organized and will be peacefully demonstrating during the commencement exercises. Bishop D'Arcy will be participating in this, and I know the organizers are hoping to have a huge turnout. I am keeping them in my prayers and hope to be able to participate somewhat, at least on Saturday.