Friday, May 08, 2009

Dome Digest

With nine days to go until the Notre Dame commencement featuring President Obama, tensions remain high in church circles, and the interventions from the nation's bishops -- now numbering some 65 of the 265 active prelates -- show little sign of letting up.

For one, Sunday night saw the aforementioned Mass of Reparation in Orlando celebrated by Bishop Thomas Wenski, who delivered the following homily:

Meanwhile, the "first among equals" of the American bench -- Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore -- added to an earlier statement of "disappointment" over the university's decision in his column for yesterday's Charm City weekly, the Catholic Review:
Was it a fear of being “too Catholic” and a hankering to be “mainstream America” that prompted the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to our President not only to give this year’s Commencement address but also be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University?

The response of many Catholics to the Notre Dame case is not a slight on the Presidency or an attack on our President, nor should it be seen as such. It is about a flagship Catholic institution singling out for unique honor an undoubtedly dedicated and popular figure who unfortunately happens to be a most powerful leader in supporting abortion and threatening the conscience rights of medical professionals who refuse to cooperate in the killing of innocent human lives.

Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Forth Worth-South Bend, Indiana, spoke out swiftly and forcefully against the University’s decision in announcing his decision not to attend the commencement. He said his choice was consistent with his responsibility as a bishop to “teach the Catholic faith in season and out of season,” adding that a bishop “teaches not only by his words, but by his actions.”

I applaud Bishop D’Arcy for his stance and also for his words urging “all Catholics and others of good will” to avoid “unseemly demonstrations” on a day that belongs to Notre Dame’s graduates and their families.

The teaching responsibility that Bishop D’Arcy cites was at the heart of the 2004 guiding statement of the U.S. Bishops, “Catholics in Political Life,” which states: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions” should not honor those “who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” with awards, honors, or “platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

I do not think Notre Dame will withdraw its invitation. And I am not sure what good would be accomplished if they did, beyond fueling the prejudices of conscious or unconscious anti-Catholics. The damage has already been done.

The fact is that this debacle need not and should not have happened. It is unknown at present, what really prompted Notre Dame’s invitation – and then its awkward attempt to have the staunchly pro-life former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon somehow justify that invitation in a five minute acceptance speech for her reception of the University’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal. Whatever the rationale, it cannot undo the confusion it has caused among Catholics who rightly look to their bishops and to the leaders of major Catholic institutions for moral guidance and for a consistent application of Church teaching. Hopefully, when it’s all over, the administration of Notre Dame will reassess that decision, be willing to bear the traditional and inevitable burden of being solidly Catholic and fully return to the Catholic fold.
While not a single active bishop has spoken up in the university's defense, two retired prelates have taken the task onto themselves -- and both in the pages of the Jesuit weekly America.

Following retired San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn's late March retort amid the gathering storm, recently-emeritus Bishop Sylvester Ryan of Monterey penned a letter running in the mag's current edition.

for one, strongly support the president of Notre Dame," Ryan wrote, "and although retired, know many active bishops who hold to the same position, precisely because we understand that holding a strong conviction about abortion (which I do) even as a fundamental moral imperative does not abrogate the need for cooperation with and recognition of our current U.S. president, especially considering the multiplicity of issues in our complex world.

"To honor President Obama for what he represents simply as the president, and especially as the first African-American president, is a genuine and deserved action from and by the University of Notre Dame," the bishop added.

What's more, while the protest -- and the fact-checking -- ran heavy on these shores, the Vatican's official newspaper has conspicuously stuck by its relatively mild assessment of the Obama administration's first 100 days.

First published in Italian on 29 April, Giuseppe Fiorentino's lead editorial in L'Osservatore Romano was translated and re-aired in the journal's weekly edition in English, which rolled out on Wednesday.