Thursday, May 14, 2009

Irish in the Wuerlpool

With "Domesday" -- i.e. Sunday's Notre Dame commencement -- close at hand, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington (who made his name as the US church's "Education Bishop") makes his first extended (albeit veiled) comment on the matter in his column for today's run of the capital's Catholic Standard:
Every now and then a news item surfaces about a decision by a Catholic institution that may seem at odds with its Catholic identity. Discussion that follows provides an opportunity to arrive at a better understanding of the unity of the Catholic Church and how institutions relate to the broader Church community.

Institutions that are recognized as Catholic and that exercise their ministry and activities as a part of the Church and in the name of the Church are not independent from the Church. As members of the Catholic community, they must live and act within the structure of this community. That means working in solidarity with the bishops who as the successors of the Apostles are given the responsibility for preserving the unity of the Church, and providing leadership as well as teaching and sanctifying....

Sometimes the bishops will make a practical judgment that a particular course of action best serves the unity and teaching of the Church. This happened in 2004 when the Bishops of the United States agreed that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" (Catholics in Political Life). While everyone may not agree with how an individual bishop applies this principle for institutions within his own diocese, it, nonetheless, is the bishop's call. Communion in and with the Church obliges its members, even in practical decisions, to support the legitimate exercise of a bishop's responsibility. Solidarity, which is a practical expression of spiritual communion, requires such support. Otherwise, the unity of the Church becomes a theoretical consideration and the role of the bishop, who has the responsibility of unifying, is diminished.

What makes the valid request of the bishops in the 2004 document all the more significant today is the context. There is a current in our society today that suggests that the bishops are just one among many voices offering legitimate direction and guidance to Catholics and the wider community in the name of the Church.

The very nature of a Catholic institution, which is part of a larger community of faith, makes it incumbent upon that institution to work out of a lived and concrete communion with its diocesan bishop whose task is to oversee all ministry in the local Church.

When an institution of higher learning or any Catholic institution - for example, health care, social service or Catholic Charities - chooses to disregard a legitimate instruction, it weakens the Church's practical communion and fails to recognize the authentic role of the leaders of the Church.

Public honors are different from the internal affairs of a university, such as the formulation of its budget, the advancement of faculty or the regulation of normal student activities. Honors are a public declaration in the name of the institution. They therefore automatically invoke the institution's self identity and very mission. Such action necessarily touches on the school's relationship to the whole Church community and its leadership....

As we move into the future, renewed attention should be given by the leadership of all Catholic institutions to examine in collaboration with the shepherds of the Church how ecclesial communion is best sustained, Catholic identity manifested and practical solidarity expressed in meaningful terms.
Meanwhile, seeking to counter what he termed "the often strident outcries" over Barack Obama's appearance on the South Bend campus to address the graduates and receive an honorary degree, one of the two US bishops who's spoken in favor of the university's invite -- retired Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco -- sent the President a letter wishing him "great blessings":
I acknowledge certain critical differences between us, especially on the issue of abortion. But without minimizing the gravity of these issues, I want to state several things which I believe of major importance at this time.

First, I am personally deeply gratified by the election of an African American as President of the United States and I share the jubilation of many Americans and in particular of many African American Catholics in the United States over your election. It is significant that the Vatican newspaper compared your election with the fall of the Berlin Wall and I recall that the Pope personally offered his congratulations to you.

I believe it important to acknowledge the fine example you have given in your married life and in your love and devotion to your children. The ideal of stable family life has long been a focus of interest for the Catholic Church. This, together with your frequent call for personal responsibility, is a great contribution to our nation.

It strikes me that you have shown a measured, thoughtful approach to issues of public concern and your ability to listen to and weigh views different from your own is an asset to the discharge of your high responsibilities. This admirable quality inspires hope for further dialog on issues over which there are major differences.

Mr. President, I address this letter to you not to deal with matters of policy or legislation, but simply to wish you great blessings and to assure you of my prayer that your service as President will bring lasting benefits to all Americans who, with you, cherish the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”
While Quinn and retired Bishop Syl Ryan of Monterey have backed South Bend's move, a chorus of American prelates numbering some 60-plus have voiced their opposition to the President's appearance come the weekend.

Yet again, though, a freshly-released poll shows approval of Notre Dame's invite running even higher among American Catholics than the population as a whole.

In its survey on the controversy, Quinnipiac University found the fold backing the appearance 60-34%. All told, US voters polled sided with the Golden Dome by a 56-31% margin.