Saturday, May 02, 2009

Tornata a Roma

On deck in the Eternal City this weekend: Mary Ann Glendon.

The former US ambassador to the Holy See might no longer be in the government's employ in Rome, but Glendon -- the first woman ever to head a Vatican delegation to a global event (namely, 1995's UN Conference on Women in Beijing) -- remains president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Vatican think-tank on economics, politics and law established in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, who named the Harvard Law prof to its top slot on its founding.

Fresh from renouncing Notre Dame's Laetare Medal -- envisioned as an American echo of the ancient papal honor of the Golden Rose -- Glendon is presiding over the Academy's 15th annual plenary session, opened yesterday behind the city-state's walls. The five-day gathering, kicked off by an address from its president, is dedicated this year to the theme of "Catholic Social Teaching and Human Rights," and the Academy has posted its prep-book for the event.

Much of Glendon's four decades of research and work in the law has been devoted to the theme of rights. As president of the PASS, the professor will lead the traditional wrap-up press conference on Wednesday in the Holy See Press Office... but don't be surprised if, er, non-Academy questions end up getting asked.

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And speaking of the continuing "Obama Dame" controversy, the wire hones in on the nearly 60 US bishops from across the spectrum who've spoken up to protest Notre Dame's selection of President Obama as its commencement speaker and an honorary degree recipient:
This coming week, Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orlando, Fla., will take the unusual step of celebrating a Mass of Reparation, to make amends for sins against God.

The motivation: to provide an outlet for Catholics upset with what Wenski calls the University of Notre Dame's "clueless" decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at its commencement and receive an honorary doctorate May 17.

The nation's flagship Catholic university's honoring of a politician whose abortion rights record clashes with a fundamental church teaching has triggered a reaction among the nation's Catholic bishops that is remarkable in scope and tone, church observers say.

At least 55 bishops have publicly denounced or questioned Notre Dame in recent weeks, employing an arsenal of terms ranging from "travesty" and "debacle" to "extreme embarrassment."

The bishops' response is part of a decades-long march to make abortion the paramount issue for their activism, a marker of the kind of bishops Rome has sent to the U.S. and the latest front in a struggle over Catholic identity that has exposed rifts between hierarchy and flock.

Bishops who have spoken out so far account for 20 percent of the roughly 265 active U.S. bishops — a minority, but more than double the number who suggested five years ago that then-Democratic presidential hopeful and Catholic John Kerry should either be refused Communion or refrain from it because of his abortion stance....

As for Wenski, he issued a statement and then came up with the Mass idea after angry Notre Dame graduates from central Florida asked for guidance about how to respond, he said in an interview.

"I figured, 'I'm a bishop — I'm not going to tell them to attack Notre Dame with a pitchfork,'" said Wenski, who is not among the nation's more confrontational bishops. "I'm going to tell them to go pray."

Wenski said he will not "preach a tirade against Notre Dame" during the Monday night Mass at Orlando's Cathedral of St. James. What must be atoned for, Wenski said, is complacency among U.S. Catholics about the legal killing of unborn children, which contributed to the climate that allowed Notre Dame to think it was all right to honor Obama....

Wenski, the Orlando bishop, said bishops are not angry at Obama in this case, but the university leadership. Yet their disapproval "is also an expression of our frustration" with Obama administration decisions on funding for overseas groups that perform abortions, expanded embryonic stem cell research and "conscience clause" protections for health workers, he said.

On being a voice on abortion, Wenski said: "We've been doing this pretty consistently. Perhaps in the past, some bishops have been a little bit too indulgent of what we tolerate in some of the dissent."

Wenski also has spoken out about banning torture and finding a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — issues he said can be common causes for bishops and the White House.

"Bishops are like most other people," he said. "We really don't want to look for conflicts or fights. "But this has been egregious enough that we have to be clear. We're standing on principle, not looking for a battle."
The South Bend ceremonies take place two weeks from tomorrow.

In other commencement-clash news, in a statement yesterday one of the nation's most outspoken prelates -- Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton -- voiced public regret over one local Catholic college's decision to host Democratic US Senator Bob Casey as its graduation speaker.

The decision by King's College -- like Notre Dame, an apostolate of the Congregation of Holy Cross -- was, the prelate said, "an affront to all who value the sanctity of life."

The Senator's vote to confirm Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius -- a pro-choice Catholic -- was, Martino added, proof that Casey "is a reliable vote for President Barack Obama’s aggressive pro-abortion agenda, one which pro-life advocates claim is promoting the 'culture of death' in the United States.

In a previous letter to the senator, Martino had urged Casey to "strenuously oppose" Sebelius' confirmation.

A son of the late Democratic Pennsylvania governor whose courage on the issue remains a gold standard to many pro-lifers, the younger Casey has made his opposition to abortion a central plank of his public platform.