From the “now I’ve seen everything department”….
A headline in today’s ZENIT daily Vatican news e-mail:
From the “now I’ve seen everything department”….
A headline in today’s ZENIT daily Vatican news e-mail:
Which is which may depend on where you stand on this divisive issue. A new survey from the Pew Forum (main graf at right) shows that Catholics in general approve of Notre Dame’s decision to invite and honor Obama at commencement by a nearly 2-1 margin–good news if you support the UND invitation.
But foes of the move may be pleased that weekly mass attenders disapprove by 45-37. (And they almost mirror white evangelicals.)
Interestingly, when asking just Catholics who have heard of the controversy, support for Notre Dame’s decision goes up to 54 percent, but opposition also gains, to 38 percent.
What I think is actually most striking is how many Catholics are following the issue–over half (52 percent) have heard a lot or at least a little, which is not inconsequential for any story, and especially one that has received relatively little play in the secular press.
On the other hand, just 19 percent have heard “a lot” about it, which makes you wonder what the numbers would be if the Catholic public were better and more deeply informed.
In general, Obama’s standing among Catholics remains high, as with the general public, though he is on increasingly shaky ground with regular massgoers.
Views on abortion and stem cell research, meanwhile, tend to mirror the general public, as has been the case.
But he won’t receive the prestigious medal, as he already has it.
Instead the federal judge (appointed by Reagan) and author of several excellent books, especially his Newman-esque treatise on the development of doctrine, “A Church that Can and Cannot Change,” will “deliver an address in the spirit of the award,” which will not be given this year.
Here is the announcement from Notre Dame:
Judge John T. Noonan Jr., the 1984 recipient of the Laetare Medal, has accepted an invitation to deliver an address in the spirit of the award at Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony on May 17. His speech will be in lieu of awarding the medal this year.
“In thinking about who could bring a compelling voice, a passion for dialogue, great intellectual stature, and a deep commitment to Catholic values to the speaking role of the Laetare Medalist – especially in these unusual circumstances – it quickly became clear that an ideal choice is Judge Noonan,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame. “This commencement ceremony, more than anything else, is a celebration of our students and their families. Judge Noonan will join with President Obama and other speakers in that celebration, sending them from our campus and into the world with sound advice and affirmation.
“Since Judge Noonan is a previous winner of the Laetare Medal, we have decided, upon reflection, to not award the medal this year.” Noonan was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.
In addition to his service on the federal bench, Noonan has been a consultant for the Presidential Commission on Population, the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Law Institute.
Noonan has served as a consultant for several agencies in the Catholic Church, including Pope Paul VI’s Commission on Problems of the Family, and the U.S. Catholic Conference’s committees on moral values, law and public policy, law and life issues, and social development and world peace. He also has been a governor of the Canon Law Society of America, and director of the National Right to Life Committee.
A pretty brilliant choice, IMHO.
When I heard that The Wrestler (featuring Mickey Rourke as the eponymous lead) had just come out on DVD, it triggered a memory. An Italian friend of mine had urged me to see the 1989 film by Liliana Cavani called Francesco. And yes, it stars Rourke as…St. Francis (and Helena Bonham Carter as Clare).
I had put Francesco in my Netflix queue but had postponed watching it for months. I was pretty sure that it would be awful, that Rourke would come off rather like John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told–you know, where the Duke utters the centurion’s line at the crucifixion “Truly, this man was the Son of God” in that unmistakable drawl.
I mean, bad boy Mickey as il poverello? 9 1/2 Weeks Mickey?
But the DVD release of The Wrestler (which I haven’t seen yet) jogged my memory and I moved Francesco to the top of my queue.
Lo and behold, it turns out to be a pretty good film, at least through the first two thirds (it loses its way at that point, alas).
There are many cinematically awkward moments and strange diversions from the historical record in the film (e.g., Francis is converted by reading an illicit translation of the Gospels into the vernacular–Francis as William Tyndale?).
But there’s also much to like. Despite his physical brawniness, Rourke delivers most of his lines in mumbled whispers–and I buy it.
There are at least a dozen moments when something very beautiful and true is captured, particularly in the early scenes when Francis is attracting followers. At one point he movingly embraces a painted crucifix–and it works. Then there’s a moment when Francis gets dunked in a public fountain, followed by his first two followers deliberately jumping into that fountain, that has the aura of a baptism about it. Or take the scene when he is out on the plain confronted by many angry, alienated followers, a cardinal, and a bishop–and begins to rub his face with dirt and grass, only to be tenderly embraced by those prelates.
I could go on.
I sometimes wonder if an actor is affected by a role he or she has played. Rourke is looking pretty ravaged these days–the legacy of that bad boy lifestyle? Does he ever remember that good-time boy Bernardone?
Maybe, just maybe, when I see The Wrestler I’ll find strange parallels with his depiction of the little man from Assisi.
Since no one here has yet seen fit to honor the momentous, history-changing and completely fatuous journalistic landmark known as “The First 100 Days Milestone” of a presidency, let me dip my toe in the water. Or rather, let me cite some others who beat me to the deep end with insights–rather than mere scorecards–that I thought genuinely illuminate the often elusive nature of Obama’s personality, and thereby, his presidency.
First off, mirabile dictu, is L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily that titled its analysis “The 100 days that did not shake the world.” As John Thavis reports for CNS, the Vatican paper says Obama has “not confirmed the Catholic Church’s worst fears about radical policy changes in ethical areas” and says the “the new president has operated with more caution than predicted in most areas, including economics and international relations.”
“On ethical questions, too–which from the time of the electoral campaign have been the subject of strong worries by the Catholic bishops–Obama does not seem to have confirmed the radical innovations that he had discussed,” the paper said.
Closer to home, E.J. Dionne has a very good piece (posted here at TNR) in which he recognizes Obama’s eschewing of labels but argues that he goes beyond and beneath a “whatever works” style of deliberate non-ideology. Dionne invokes Richard Hofstadter’s distinction between intelligence and intellect and argues that Obama combines the two:
Intelligence, Hofstadter argued, is an “unfailingly practical quality” that “works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals.” Intellect, on the other hand, is the mind’s “creative and contemplative side” that “examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, imagines.”
But the best piece I’ve read is by the New Yorker‘s George Packer, whose commentary a couple weeks back, “Obamaism,” brilliantly captures what for me–and I think much of the public, judging by the polls–is the real appeal of Obama: namely, that despite all the blur of activity and activism, and the infuriating of the left and even more so of the right, Obama is in fact a true conservative:
What underlies so many of Obama’s decisions is an attachment to the institutions that hold up American society, a desire to make them function better rather than remake them altogether. Allowing the auto industry to die would create social havoc in communities around the country, and anything less than de-facto government control seems inadequate. So the President has risked a good deal of his political capital on the largest federal intervention in a sector of the economy since at least 1952, when President Truman seized the steel industry to avert a strike during wartime…Obama may not see a similar need to put the government in charge of the big banks, but he has also shown that he has no taste for such a disruption of the system—even if it were politically possible, and perhaps even if it were the most direct route back to financial health.
In his budget message to Congress, Obama invoked the value of fairness, but his budget proposals don’t create government programs—such as guaranteed-income measures or large numbers of relief jobs—that would establish equality from the top down. Instead, Obama seems to recognize that nothing has shredded the civic fabric in recent years more than the harsh inequalities of finance capitalism and the market ideology of a generation of American politics. This is not the rigid mentality of an engineer of human souls; it’s the attitude of a community organizer.
It’s also a pretty good description of what used to pass for conservatism—a sense that social relations and institutions are fragile things, and that, while government can’t create wealth or impose equality, at moments like this it has to establish a new equilibrium between individuals and huge economic forces, so that society doesn’t crumble.
Packer goes on to critique–ably I’d say–what modern conservatism has become, and also why the Republicans (and I daresay conservative Catholics) are getting no traction with their over-the-top denunciations of Obama. It just doesn’t fit with perceptions or reality. An NYT story the other day about GOP efforts to find a suitable label to denigrate Obama would have been hilarious if not so insidious. Saul Anuzis, who lost a bid to became national party chairman, said the party gained little traction with the “socialist” tag so he is starting to call Obama’s policies ”economic fascism.”
“We’ve so overused the word ‘socialism’ that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Fascism — everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.”
Maybe so. But they don’t associate that with Obama. No wonder Arlen Specter went to the Democrats, and polls show the number of self-identified Republicans at a low of 21 percent, about half of those who ID as Democrats and independents. The GOP is re-defining what it means to be a minority in America as much as Barack Obama is.
A parishioner, born and raised in Siena, told me this morning that the bells would be ringing out their joy today to feast Caterina, Siena’s doctor of the Church.
Suzanne Noffke, O.P., in her fine “Introduction” to Paulist’s Classics of Western Spirituality edition of The Dialogue writes:
Theologically there is nothing new or original. Catherine is completely immersed in the main current of Catholic teaching … What is original in Catherine is her capacity for fresh and vivid expression of the tradition. The scholars taught and wrote still in Latin. Yet all that she wrote and dictated was in her own Sienese dialect, nel suo volgare.
And here is an example of her dialogue with the Lord:
In mercy you cleansed us in the blood; in mercy you kept company with your creatures. O mad lover! It was not enough for you to take on our humanity: You had to die as well! Nor was death enough: You descended to the depths to summon our holy ancestors and fulfill your truth and mercy in them.
I see your mercy pressing you to give us even more when you leave yourself with us as food to strengthen our weakness so that we, forgetful fools, should be forever reminded of your goodness. Every day you give us this food, showing us yourself in the sacrament of the altar within the mystic body of holy Church. And what has done this? Your mercy.
“O mad Lover!” — “O Pazzo d’Amore!”
In his “About New York” column in today’s New York Times, Jim Dwyer reports on another campus kerfuffle related to student theater. The play isn’t one of the usual suspects. Dwyer describes it as “a mildly ribald farce entitled The Well of Horniness.” And the school in question, the College of Staten Island, isn’t Catholic. But somehow, Catholics got involved — at least hypothetically.
Some college officials got the idea that the word “horniness” in the title might offend the sensibilities of Catholics on Staten Island. It is not entirely clear why this would be so, but there is no doubt that Catholics from Staten Island are an important reservoir of potential students for the college. And students from Catholic high schools were invited to the research conference, to get a taste of possibilities at the college.
So over the last few weeks, this production of “The Well of Horniness” has gone through a cyclone of contradictory decisions — or, as the college’s official spokesman puts it, “discussions.”
At first, the play was supposed to be included in a showcase of student achievement. Then Robert Mahoney, the student who was staging the play, was told that it couldn’t be performed during the conference, and he couldn’t include the potentially offensive title in advertisements around campus. Why? Because there would be Catholic high school students on campus… or because there would be conservative attendees at the conference (or maybe just one easily offended nun)… or because the “College of Staten Island has a big Catholic constituency.” Dwyer got a lot of different stories. And, for the record, the college eventually decided to reinstate the excerpt from the play.
I liked Dwyer’s parting shot:
And it’s not yet known whether the Catholics of Staten Island would be more offended by the play itself, or the notion that they could not tolerate mention of the word “horniness” and the condition it describes.
However, there’s more to the play than just the title. And a description of the play I found online says it’s “a high-camp low-brow Sapphic murder mystery with one corpse, lusty lesbians, murderous dykes and mysterious women, in the cliff-hanging style of an old-time radio show.” So it’s certainly possible the excerpt slated for the conference was not so appropriate for those who would be attending. But the point — at least as Dwyer tells it — is that no one had actually been offended yet. The administration was just trying to avoid a problem. I think it’s bad for Catholics, and everyone else, if we’re getting such a reputation for stodginess that campuses overreact to “Catholic” objections that haven’t even been voiced.
What’s a day in the Catholic universe without at least one? At Pontifications I posted about a column by Mary Ann Glendon’s daughter, Liz Lev, defending her mother against criticism of her withdrawal. And another post is about, yes, an anti-abortion group flying a plane with a banner of aborted fetuses over Notre Dame for several hours a day up through commencement, when Obama will speak. The group also plans to drive similarly decorated billboard trucks around the area. I continually wonder where this all came from, and most of all, where it is all going.
We’ve recently had a discussion about whether satire can be helpful to deliberation. One way it can be helpful is by allowing people to laugh at themselves, and therefore get perspective. Here’s Jon Stewart’s satire on swine flu. And zombies.
|Economic Crisis||First 100 Days|
The Pope visited the region devastated by the recent earthquake and still experiencing the tribulations of rain and cold.
Cindy Wooden of CNS translated Benedict’s prayer for the victims and the survivors:
We entrust our loved ones to you, Lord,
Knowing that you never take the lives of your faithful, but transform them,
And that at the moment the dwelling places of this our earthly exile are destroyed,
You prepare an eternal and immortal one for us in paradise.
Holy Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
Hear the cry of pain and of hope
That rises from this community harshly tied by the earthquake.
It is the silent cry of the blood of mothers, fathers, young people
And also innocent little ones that rises up from this land.
They have been snatched from the affection of their loved ones,
Welcome them all into your peace, Lord, who is God-with-us,
Who is the Love able to give life without end.
We need you and your strength
Because we feel small and fragile in the face of death;
Help us, we pray, because only your support
Can help us get up and, with trust, take each other’s hands,
And start out again on the journey of life.
We ask you this through Jesus Christ, our savior,
In whom shines the hope of the blessed resurrection. Amen.
Our daily challenge — from the Pope’s Easter Vigil Homily:
The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezek 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!
Church teaching is pretty clear on the negative consequences of unapproved sexual behavior, and its potential to promote human vices. But we tend to hear far less about the potential for sex to promote and foster virtue. What expectations should we have for our sex lives, spiritually speaking? In the current issue of Commonweal, Lisa Fullam applies a virtue-ethics approach to this oft-neglected area of human development.
The virtues together constitute a vision of what it means to be most fully human, to manifest the virtues present “inchoatively,” Aquinas says, in our nature. …For Aquinas, virtues are the content of human flourishing, characteristics of people who more and more fulfill God’s hopes for us in calling us into being.
What happens when we apply this very traditional mode of ethical reflection to the questions of sexual ethics? What are the perfections of our character, the virtues resident inchoatively in our natures that may be developed in the context of sexual relationships? The morality of sex has long been the focus of Christian teachings — and prohibitions. But we cannot have a correct notion of virtues without a vision of the goal for our activity — the violinist had to hear an excellent violinist before he knew what might be achieved with some wood, strings, and a bow. I propose a three-fold end or goal, a telos, that might be a starting point for a new conversation about sex. I’d also like to sketch, in a very preliminary way, a few virtues of “excellent” sex — the character ideals that may be cultivated in our most intimate relationships.
Fullam suggests a three-fold goal: “a feel for incarnation, an ability for intimacy, and an eye for insight.”
A feel for incarnation  means that, contrary to social messages that reduce the worth of persons to their sexual desirability, we seek in our sexual relationships to grow closer to our partner in his or her totality….
Intimacy as one of the three aspects of excellent sex is related to incarnation — sex expresses a personal reality, not only a bodily one. At the same time, it calls us to an emotional and psychological openness and vulnerability that can be far more challenging than just physical sex…..
Absent insight, incarnation and intimacy alone lack a rich aspect of human self-awareness that transcends the more obvious levels of bodily and psychic/emotional intimacy. It is insight that invites us to see the echoes of our relationships beyond the immediacy of partners to include family, society as a whole, and our relationship to God.
That’s just a taste — the ideas are developed in much greater detail in the article (subscribers can read it online). I think it’s a promising step forward for the discussion of how sex fits into and contributes to Christian life. Now I’m interested to hear what you think. If you’ve read the article, how did it strike you? Do these virtues seem appropriate? Are there others you would propose? (And if you haven’t read the article… There’s never been a better time to subscribe!)
An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, by the religious affairs correspondent of DW-TV, Germany’s international state broadcaster, takes a different angle on what most consider Pope Benedict’s various missteps with Muslims, Jews, and Catholics, and on issues like AIDS and condoms. John Berwick writes that all of these “mistakes” were well-intentioned efforts that have in fact borne great fruit:
Perhaps we should be less worried about the pope’s bloopers than the arbiters of political correctness would have us be. In his classic Praise of Folly, Erasmus concluded: “All men are fools, even the pious ones. Christ himself, though he was the wisdom of the Father, took on the foolishness of humanity in order to redeem sinners. Nor did he choose to redeem them in any other way but through the folly of the cross and through ignorant, sottish disciples.”
There’s no accounting for folly, except to recognize that it’s perhaps the most endearing and creative human quality. And in the long run, it can be a lot more productive than prudent diplomacy.
O felix culpa? I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But it seems a rather facile bit of spin, to me, especially if one was not on the receiving end of the pontiff’s hurtful remarks. Besides, doing bad to achieve good–isn’t that against Catholic teaching? Maybe doing the right thing in the first place would be a better approach.
Rocco has a Providence Journal story about former GOP congressman (and former Catholic, I believe) and outspoken immigration opponent Tom Tancredo not being allowed to speak at Dominican-run Providence College.
A PC spokesperson, Pat Viera, indicated the student group asked late in the semester and that the groups, ”Youth for Western Civilization” (need we know more?) is “not an officially recognized group.” Vieira added that Tancredo’s views on immigrants, legal or not, contrast sharply with those of Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin (who is having no problem generating his own headlines):
“The Bishop of Providence…is a member of the college’s Board of Trustees,” Vieira said in a written statement. “If a similar request to host a speaker on this topic is made in a future semester, the college will encourage and facilitate a format that allows for multiple points of view to be expressed.”
Tancredo will apparently give his speech outside the college gates tomorrow (Wednesday), but anti-illegal immigration advocates are angry and note that abortion rights advocates Senators Ted Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse have spoken on campus.
I don’t know when or in what context Kennedy and Whitehouse may have come to PC, but the problem with that argument–and one that points up an important aspect of the Obama-Notre Dame furor–is that I doubt the senators went to Providence College to promote their views on abortion rights, unlike Tancredo, who was coming specifically to promote his views on immigration. Similarly, Obama is not going to Notre Dame to promote the view that abortion is fine. This all raises the issue of whether one particular opinion or policy position–out of many–can disqualify a person from speaking or being honored at a Catholic campus, especially is it is for an entirely different issue than the one Catholic officials would object to.
That said, my preference is for open debate, and all things being equal, it would be good to have Tancredo’s views, noxious as I find them, out there and discussed in light of Catholic teaching, as Viera indicated they could be. Double-standard? Not.
Over at the Vox Nova blog, Morning’s Minion has posted a long, thoughtful reflection on l’affaire Notre Dame. In case you can’t read the whole thing right now, here’s the outtro:
The Catholic right may think they have won a major tactical victory with the “watershed moment” over Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame, but nothing could be further from the truth. More and more, the core life issues of abortion and ESCR will be seen as the domain of the crazy fringe, and will become more disassociated from the broader culture of life issues that define Church teaching. The reaction of many supposed pro-life Catholics to Iraq and to torture will not be forgotten. And that is an absolute disaster if Catholics have any hope of persuading the general culture that abortion is not a “right” to be cherished, much as Catholics have slowly but surely been turning the tide against the death penalty. When I see the lists circulating on the right pertaining to Obama’s abortion sins, these lists seem dominated by the fact that he is appointing people who support legalized abortion to various posts. What is left unsaid is that he is appointing people whose views on these matters are very much part of the mainstream. And because of the utterly failed tactics of the Catholic right, they will remain part of the mainstream. And that is the real tragedy.
We made a similar point in our editorial “Obama & Notre Dame.” It bears repeating:
The church is not simply the prolife movement, and to the extent that every interaction between the church and our political system is held hostage to the demands of the most confrontational elements of that movement, the church’s social message, including its message about abortion, will be marginalized and ineffectual. The respect and honor owed the office of the president does not depend on any particular president’s merits…. That respect is, among other things, a powerful affirmation of the willingness of Americans to live together peacefully, despite profound disagreement. Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama is perhaps best understood in that light.
A couple months ago, Cathleen Kaveny offered a brief plug for the HBO show Big Love, which portrays the life of a polygamous Mormon family (the Hendricksons) trying to live their religious commitment to “the principle” of plural marriage in mainstream society. Following Cathy’s suggestion, my wife and I rented the first disk from Blockbuster and promptly finished the whole first two seasons in about two weeks. The show sparked controversy this season by depicting a Mormon temple ceremony that is usually only open to a very select subset of Mormons. The ceremony is particular to the “mainline” branch of Mormonism, also known as “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS). People in the LDS church have been uneasy about the show from the beginning mainly because the LDS church is portrayed in the show as the “mainstream, yuppie, suburban, politically-catty” religious foil to the humble and religiously sincere Hendricksons. On the other side, there is the fundamentalist polygamous compound that Bill Hendrickson (the husband) “escaped from,” which fills the role of “cultish, anti-modern, backwoods, economically-exploitive” religious foil to the honest-dealing, secular-friendly Hendricksons. These two foils make the Hendricksons’ polygamy look quite “mainstream” much to the understandable chagrin of LDS folks. One of my theology students, who happens to be Mormon, recently pointed me to this blog post by Matthew Bowman, who is a Mormon graduate student in history at Georgetown. I thought it was a fascinating and insightful treatment of the controversy and the show, and I just thought I’d share it along with a few of my own reactions.
Bowman attributes the recent dust-up to a long-standing tension within Mormonism between the desire for “secular” assimilation and the need to keep one’s religious tradition sacred. Indeed, this is well-trod territory in the history of the co-emergence of religion and secularity more generally. I think Bowman is right to point to this as the crux of the issue. I think the Hendricksons are most sympathetic to the viewing culture because their faith interferes little with the pursuit of their secular interests (Bill is a business owner, Nicki (wife #2) has a shopping addiction, Barb (wife #1) is a school teacher and one-time (almost) “mom of the year,” etc.). The culture at large, I think, expects the kind of “humble honesty” toward which the Hendricksons’ aspire, and they present little threat to the established political and economic order, which is the one thing, above all others, Western secularism holds sacred. Both the LDS and the fundamentalist groups are portrayed as having potential political aspirations or questionable business dealings, both of which are destabilizing to the “secular order.” Furthermore, as people insert themselves more and more into this “secular order,” secrecy becomes less and less tolerable, which you see with the Hendricksons’ “coming out of the closet” as the series progresses. Because the fundamentalists and the LDS still want to maintain a level of “separateness” from the “secular order,” they will always seem to destabilize that order. What seems most interesting here is that the stability of the “moral order,” which one would expect to be challenged most by the Hendricksons’ polygamy, is much less important than the stability of the “political/economic order.” As the long as the Hendricksons’ remain honest about their lifestyle and keep it from interfering in the commercial, political, and moral lives of those around them, they will remain the most sypathetic characters on the show. The show, then, seems to tout the long-held secular dogma that as long as religion remains private almost anything goes, but once it becomes public, watch out! Thus, the show is perhaps less about being Mormon in America than it is about how to be religious in America, which, it seems to me, could be both a source of relief and consternation for Mormons (not to mention the rest of us!).
Catholic World News has the story, and the text of Glendon’s letter to UND president Fr. John Jenkins:
Dear Father Jenkins,
When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.
Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.
First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.
Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:
• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”
• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.
It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.
In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.
Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon
One observation: Glendon writes as though the trigger for her decision was Notre Dame’s “talking point” that she would be there to present another view, and she felt that inappropriate. Yet I think it was Bishop D’Arcy (followed by other bishops) who initially put her in that position in his first public letter of protest.
UPDATE: Response from Fr. Jenkins via Amy Welborn:
“We are, of course, disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision. It is our intention to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible.”
Deacon Greg Kandra, of the Deacon’s Bench, seems like a very good man. I think, however, his take on the term intrinsic evil is quite misleading.
Incidentally, I think he’s quoting Catholic Anwers’s voting guide==not the Bishops’. The term “non-negotiable” seems to be new with Catholic Answers. It seems, as far as I can tell, to have roots in the 1960′s anti-war protest movements. Not in the long tradition of Catholic moral theology. If anyone could point me to a manual of moral theology which uses that term, I’d be very surprised.
For an interesting critique of Catholic Answers’s voting guide, see this article by Amy Uelmen.
My own analysis, too, oversimplifies what is an enormously complex scholarly discussion. The way in which we identify the object of the action has been controverted, including the degree to which circumstances can enter into the object ==the core meaning of the act. St. Thomas has a notion of the object, but the degree to which the contemporary understanding of intrinsic evil can be traced to him, or is a later development of scholastic theology is disputed. What counts as an “abortion” (the later tradition distinguishes between direct and indirect abortions) has been disputed.
The moral analysis of “mutilation”–traditionally understood as an intrinsically evil act, has evolved in interesting ways. In the 194o’s, Jesuit moralists were examining the question whether castration to stop prostate cancer was morally permitted. That, eventually, could be justified on the principle of “totality” (the well=being of the whole person). Harder to justify was mutilation to donate an organ. It was so justified. It is no longer clear why, or to what degree, mutilation is an intrinsically evil act–if it can be justified by some consequences, such as saving a life.
These are not easy categories to define or work with. Caveant blogger magisterque.
Related to several posts of the last weeks: Dennis O’Brien sent me a copy of a letter he wrote to Cardinal Francis George. I hope the Cardinal (as well as other bishops) takes it essence to heart.
Dear Cardinal George:
Prior to World War II, the Polish government urged Poles not to shop at Jewish stores. The action reflected an intense Polish nationalism in which the Jews were regarded as “outsiders” – people without a national state and hence citizens of nowhere. Cardinal Hlond, the primate, endorsed the boycott while warning Poles against antisemitism. Whatever one may think of the government decision and the Cardinal’s careful distinction between a nationalist boycott and racial hatred, it seems clear that his statement could be used – and was used – as part of a deeper and darker anti-Jewish scenario which, as we know, was to be carried forward in horrifying reality on the Polish soil of Auschwitz.
Since the election of President Obama, we have seen a burgeoning of hate groups in the United States. The sale of guns has escalated remarkably. Talk radio shows foster a “hate Obama” rhetoric which has recently escalated beyond “socialist” to “fascist.” This distressing situation was discussed in the most recent Economist . Among the causes fostering this rancid and destructive environment is anti-abortion.
I believe that the Catholic Church in America is positioning itself like Cardinal Hlond. In the severe anti-abortion rhetoric used by many bishops, in the protest against giving the first African-American president an honorary degree at Notre Dame, Church leaders – yourself included – are giving a patina of legitimacy to some of the most destructive voices in America. Continual denunciation of the Obama administration for fostering a “culture of death” suggests that extreme opposition is legitimate.
Hitler fostered a culture of death and bombing Gestapo headquarters would have been an act of justifiable revolution. One may be opposed in general to abortion – I am, I believe that President Obama is also – and yet have compassion in specific cases. Something that Abp. Sobrinho of Brazil evidently did not have in the recent case of the nine year old raped by her stepfather. One may disagree about stem cell research but at least credit the motive of the research to cure intractable suffering.
As President of the USCCB, I believe you should publically and unequivocally denounce anything that even hints at a “hate Obama” movement. As Christians we never endorse hatred but in the statements and stance of many bishops, legitimacy is being lent to hatred.
In today’s Sunday Times Magazine Christopher Buckley has an affectionate, funny, poignant piece on his parents Patricia and William Buckley. Here is the ending:
Recently, I was driving behind a belchy city bus and suddenly found myself thinking, not for the first time, about whether Pup is in heaven. He spent so much of his life on his knees in church, so much of his life doing the right thing by so many people, a thousand acts of generosity. I hesitate to put it this way, but I’m dying of curiosity: how did it turn out, Pup? Were you right, after all? Is there a heaven? Is Mum there with you? Grumbling, almost certainly, about the “inedible food,” and saying, “Bill, you’ve got to speak to that absurd St. Peter creature about getting Christopher in — I mean, it’s all too ridiculous for words.”
I am not a sentimentalist when it comes to animals. I used to hunt, and have no trouble eating meat killed by hunters, whether my brother’s venison or the wild boar (cinghiale) one can find in northern Italian restaurants. (I did hesitate, however, when offered a tagliatelle al ragu d’asino, the meat sauce was donkey-meat; but I finally tried it, and found it excellent, which prompted a niece to say, “Uncle Joe got a piece of *** while in Italy! But I digress.) I’m not going to get weepy when it comes time to condemn one of our chickens to the soup pot.
But I went to the National Zoo yesterday, the first time in over twenty years, I guess, and I found myself feeling sorry for the animals. The first one we saw was a sloth bear which did nothing but pace up and down. (It reminded me of the last time I was at the Rome Zoo where I saw a magnificent tiger, four feet at the haunches, surely fifteen feet from nose to tip of the tail, pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in his cage.) Some of the smaller mammals dug at the base of the windows that enclosed their cages. The big cats–a tiger and a male and a female lion–simply lay inert at the tops of their enclosures. A silver-backed gorilla seemed dull, bored.
I know that zoos do much good, and that there are some species which have been preserved only because of zoos, but still it was sad, and I don’t know that I’ll go back.
In the latest thread on ND below, there is a comment that deserves its own thread by someone named TK: What about torture? The time is now.
I have read and contributed to the discussions about this ‘controversy” here at the COMMONWEAL blog. As I have read and participated – and as I have watched and read the national news in the last week, I have increasing become dismayed and wonder if I am losing hope…The reason I write this is that over the few weeks, but particularly this week, we as a people and country are witnessing a particularly salient “teaching moment” occur before us in the political sphere.
With the release of the torture memos and future release of the torture pictures in May…we have spread before us what must be considered at least a serious sin and participation in evil that if not addressed will continue and lead to – if not spiritual and moral, then our own existential disaster.
As I write, I have in mind to posts from yesterday and today, both powerful.
Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan, at his Daily Dish website:
Here is a passage from the encyclical Gaudium Et Spes:
“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”
Andrew Sullivan asks – where are the US bishops?
This morning (Sunday 4/26), the Washington Post leads with a new national poll where in 52% of all Americans think torture is justified in some circumstances…
It’s just great that we as a Catholic Church are making our voice heard about the controversy over ND and Obama. Where are we in making the same kind of life issue arguments over a practice that is/has been developing NOW and has dire consequences for us all.
I am as “pro-life” as anybody… But lots of people like me and other Catholics I know would like to know why such energetic condemnations over the issue of abortion (in and of itself as a practice) but less energy and almost no pronouncement on other human dignity concerns…as if people who torture or accept torture as public policy would not also in a crunch turn to abortion if it suited their purpose/end.
I am losing hope that a church community I love and bishops I respect and accept as my guide and teacher in Christ are nothing of the sort (with an occasional rare exception)
Lots of what I have come to expect from the magisterium LOOKS too much like wanting to control uteruses and ovaries and less like implementation of the seamless garment of life. (Are the bishops afraid of women and the men who associate with them) As a Catholic, I know how to read between these lines and see the bishops good intentions. But people who think differently about this and many other issues (and they are a majority in this democracy) are NOT persuaded and that is the ecclesial and political reality the bishops and we face.
It seems to me that none of the discussion about abortion that occurs is directed at persuading someone contemplating such an act to not pursue that course…
Further, the bishops have an opportunity NOW to insert Catholic values into the back and forth about torture, but will they?
Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend issued a Statement to the members of his diocese that concludes with these words:
Proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops — and a large number of the faithful.
That division must be addressed through prayer and action, and I pledge to work with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach, which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church. It cannot be allowed to continue.
I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.
The Washington Independent is running this account of the UND story. Focuses closely on Patrick Reilly and Brent Bozell.
When Stephen Colbert first went on the air, I thought his “real” beliefs were similar to mine. At the same time I noticed that politically and religiously more conservative Catholics thought his “real” sensibilities were similar to theirs. So I eventually came to the conclusion that his show was a Rorschach test of sorts==you projected yourself in some way upon the show.
Is it a virtue? If so, what kind of virtue? A religious virtue? A domestic virtue? A political virtue–in a democracy? Under what conditions?
Last Friday night I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater to see Jonathan Miller’s staging of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I didn’t realize this was the fourth time Miller’s production has been to BAM (the first was in 1997). But I was intrigued by what I read about it at the beginning of the season. Miller brings the musicians down off the risers and seats them in a circle; two choruses and two sections of an orchestra, facing each other and creating a playing space in the center. All are in street clothes, including the performers who sing the solo parts, and the text is in English.The effect is to bring out the drama, not just in the events of the Passion, but in the meditations it provokes.
If you know the piece well, you’ll know that a “living stations” approach wouldn’t really work, since so much of it is devoted to meditations on the Gospel text. I didn’t know the work well at all (aside from the familiar “O Sacred Head Surrounded” chorale), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But while the narrative sections are acted out to an extent, the staging is more about creating relationships among the performers, and emphasizing the emotional texture of the piece. The two choirs engage each other in genuine conversation as they struggle to comprehend the story’s events. The vocal soloists and instrumental soloists draw each other into an emotional exchange as they perform. Read the rest of this entry »
When I lived in Arlington, Virginia and saw things like the Jefferson Davis Highway, I often wondered why people who consider themselves patriotic would celebrate the Confederacy, which was, after all, an act of mass treason against our nation’s government. Now I have new fodder for this conundrum. From TPM:
A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll finds that Rick Perry’s suggestion at the Tea Party last week, that Texas might have to secede from the Union, actually has significant support from his home state’s Republican voters.One question: “Do you think Texas would be better off as an independent nation or as part of the United States of America?” The top-line number is United States 61%, independent nation 35%. Among Republicans, it’s a dead-even tie at 48%-48%.
And then there’s this one: “Do you approve or disapprove of Governor Rick Perry’s suggestion that Texas may need to leave the United States?” The top-line is only 37% approval to 58% disapproval — but among Texas Republicans, it’s 51% approval to 44% disapproval.
President Chuck Norris (of the Texas Republic), here we come!
“We’re experiencing right now in Koranic studies a rise of interest analogous to the rise of critical Bible studies in the 19th century,” said Gabriel Said Reynolds, a Notre Dame professor and organizer of the conference.
The Notre Dame conference probably could not have occurred in a Muslim country, for the rigorous application of historical analysis to the Koran is as controversial today in the Muslim world as its application to the Bible was in the 1800s.
Muslim scholars who are unable to speak on this subject in their home countries were able to discuss their work at the Notre Dame conference.
It’s interesting that such a gathering was held in the United States. I think that someday, Muslims in America will significantly influence Islam in general, much as the experience of American Catholicism was influential at Vatican II (in the decree on religious freedom). Mosques in the U.S. bring together a very diverse congregation of people from many nationalities, exhibiting a universality that is important in Islam but not often seen elsewhere. The experience of American Muslims can set an important example.
Reginald Foster, OCD, the famous Vatican Latinist, has been seriously ill for the better part of a year now. He was supposed to teach an intensive week of Latin at ND for Notre Dame students last summer, but was unable to do so because of health issues. Reggie nearly died in January–but miraculously, he pulled through. After spending three months in an intensive care facility in Rome, he is well enough to come back to the United States. In fact, as I type this, he is on medical air transport from Rome back to his home state of Wisconsin, where we hope and pray he will convalesce and grow strong.
He has many good friends, and loyal friends, in Rome; they threw him a party before he left today.
If anyone wants to send him a card, the new address is below. Obviously, Latin cards are preferred–but be careful–they could come back corrected in colorful ink if you mess up your endings!
Rev. Reginald Foster, OCD
3939 S. 92nd St.
Greenfield, WI 53228