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Phoenix Bishop says Notre Dame prez "disobedient"

A remarkable development in the Obama-to-Notre Dame saga, via Thomas Peters, the "American Papist": BishopThomas Olmsted of Phoenix has sent Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, an email saying his invitation to Obama to speak at the May 17 commencement and receive an honorary degree was "a public act of disobedience to US Bishops."Olmsted concludes: "I pray that you come to see the grave mistake of your decision, and the way it undercuts the Church's proclamation of the Gospel of Life in our day."Peters says he was given the email and permission to print it by Mike Phelan, Director of Marriage and Respect Life for the Diocese of Phoenix, who said:

"Due to the fact that the invitation by Notre Dame's president, Fr. John Jenkins, to President Barack Obama to give the commencement speech at Notre Dame's May graduation is a public act causing widespread public scandal due to the US President's clear support of policies which fail to protect and even attack innocent human life, Bishop Olmsted has given permission to release the attached email text publicly."

A screen shot of Olmsted's letter is below:

Olmstead Letter.png

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Is this how a bishop ought to register such a complaint? In public? Is this an attempt to embarrass the president of the University of Notre Dame? Presumably Bishop Olmsted has not sent a similar missive to Cardinal Egan, who invited then-candidate Obama to speak at the Al Smith Dinner in October.

Why is this remarkable, David? It seems pretty predictable to me.Whenever somebody (Obama) or something ("The Vagina Monologues") is slated to appear on the ND campus, it spawns a whole bunch of squabbles about what's appropriate for a Catholic college to host, and to what extent engaging with the larger world crosses a line and seems to be endorsing something that's not in line with Catholic teaching.Is this going to change any time soon? I don't think so, and this is the last of the threads on the ND/Obama event I plan to read.

I wonder what Bishop D'Arcy thinks of this letter? Maybe "turf war" is too strong a term, but this strikes me as not being much of Olmsted's business, as it has very little to do with the goings-on in his diocese. It especially seems not to warrant a public letter from him rebuking someone who isn't under his pastoral care.I understand the public nature of this invitation and the concern for public scandal, which Mike Phelan refers to. But it doesn't negate the fact that if anyone should do anything (and that if can be debated), it should be either D'Arcy or Jenkins' religious superiors.More in-fighting among the bishops, perhaps? Is Olmsted trying to make up for what he perceives to be D'Arcy's more squishy response? Pretty audacious, if you ask me.

I also oppose Notre Dame's honoring President Obama. But I am a little troubled by the quotation from "Catholics in Political Life" as I thought the document applied more to Catholic politicians who espouse views that run counter to Church teachings. Am I misreading the document?

Olmsted's letter is just one more nail in the coffin of episcopal credibility.Where was the uproar (i.e., from the reactionary ecclesial right) when Notre Dame honored George W. Bush?Truly, these bishops --- like their leader --- appear increasingly out of touch with reality. I've noted before that Benedict amazes me with his ability to continually outdo himself with outrageous statements and decisions. I can only imagine Olmsted, Burke, Vasa, and the like constantly vying to outdo one another in obesiance to the "Holy Father." With his episcopal appointments, a control-oriented JPII assured the continual decline of genuine episcopal leadership in the Church of Rome. The "birds" are coming home to roost.And the church is worse off for it.

. . . those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles . . . .How about "those who disagree with moral principles we hold to be fundamental and act according to their own understanding"?

How is this invitation an act of "disobedience"? "Catholics in Political Life" simply says that universities "should not" do this or that, not that they are forbidden from such activities. Semantics? Perhaps. But once you start throwing around words like disobedience, you invite these kinds of questions. Unless you are possessed of an inordinate amount of self-importance.

For the record: there are strong groups (nearing 4,000) on Facebook of alums in support of Jenkins' decision.Obama does not come as a representative of the Catholic Church; Bush, when he spoke in 2001, did not either. It's basic parity. It's also basic to the life of the mind. This hysteria is self-serving, as though the authors of it can be sure that they are not complicit in any sin for having shouted loudest. I continue to be unclear as to why there was not similar outrage when Bush (author of Guantanamo, two unjust and church-opposed wars, repealing of environmental standards, etc., etc.) spoke. The end of our faith isn't politics and it isn't the U.S. and it isn't noise. It's God.

I'd just also note that Catholics United has a petition from ND alums asking support for Fr. Jenkins against these "extremist groups."More divisiveness in the name of standing up for truth just hurts the Church more and more -Maria's got it right!

The appropriate response to this letter? Yawwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Suggested headline for the New York Post or any other tabloid wanting to cover this story:Catholic Church: "Obama Evil!"

George Bush spoke in May, 2001. Maria's argument is not relevant.Since Father Jenkins is a good and Holy priest who respects the Dignity of Human Life and God's intention for Marriage and the Family, I believe he approved of the invitation only because he thought he may be able to help President Obama understand these Truths of our Catholic Faith.Truth is not divisive. It is not standing up for Truth that is divisive.

I assume everyone agrees that the bishops have no practical or effective control over ND. It's legally and financially independent of the episcopy (or even the Holy Cross order), true?That being the case, it makes me wonder, which is better: for the bishops to concede that there are areas of church governance over which they have no control, and to bite their tongues, but while retaining some semblance of their aura of unity and omnipotence;Or, to wage a feisty but losing battle that shows that they mean what they teach, even when they have no effective way of enforcing it?The former perpetuates the notion of bishop as power-broker, a very traditional American image. The bishop as insider, counselor to kings - high priest, if you will.The latter has the unfortunate side effect of portraying the bishop as ineffectual and powerless, but the virtue of speaking the truth (as they see it). Bishop as prophet. Which do we want - high priest or prophet? It seems that the American bishops have been casting themselves more in the prophetic role lately. Perhaps they will adopt the camel-hair-and-leather look (kind of like Adam on American Idol) and locusts will be the featured dish at their next conference dinner.

Regarding the huffington post and the so called Republic "right "wing conspiracy, long before there existed a Democrat or Republican Party, God created Human Life, for "God alone is the Lord of Life from its beginning until its end." -ccc,no.2258

Bishop Olmstead's criticizm seems to have the underlying assumption that there is an obligation to obey the USCCB in all cases. With respect to the bishop, this is not correct.Catholics have an obligation to obey authentic teachings. The USCCB, however, is incapable of authentically teaching by itself except if it is unanimous. If memory serves, the 2004 statement he quotes was not unanimous. I'd be happy to be corrected on that, though.

Paul, I'm not sure that the rule of thumb you cite applies to all church matters. There are some areas where the national conference has jurisdiction, and a unanimous approval isn't necessary, e.g. certain liturgical responsibilities. To what extent a national conference would have control over Catholic universities I'm not sure - but I assume that the universities have a lot of leeway. I'd think that Ex Corde Ecclesiae would be a place to check on it.

Jim, I'm making a distinction between the episcopal conference's authority to make law (which it has in matters delegated to them under universal canon law) and its authentic teaching authority (which it has only unanimously or with Papal approval). Or so says John Paul II:When the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops. However, if this unanimity is lacking, a majority alone of the Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration as authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the recognitio of the Apostolic See, which will not give it if the majority requesting it is not substantial. The intervention of the Apostolic See is analogous to that required by the law in order for the Episcopal Conference to issue general decrees.John Paul II, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Apostolos suos 22 (1998).

Jim, a few more thoughts. I do not think anyone can make the argument that the 2004 statement is normative, or that the bishop's conference was canonically authorized to make that statement normative. If someone makes the argument that the conference had been delegated that authority, they would need to quote the law so authorizing.For example, one can quote canon 283 as the authority for the bishop's conference to regulate clerical attire, and canon 838 3 as the authority for the bishop's conference to prepare vernacular translations of the liturgy.Neither the code, or anywhere else in the law, gives the bishop's conference the authority to make law regarding Catholics in Political Life, though I'd be happy to be corrected on this one.My argument is that Catholics in Political Life was a teaching, and while I think it should be respected, it is to be respected on its own merits and not on the authenticity of the USCCB which, according to the Pope, does not exist here to lack of unanimity.Just to clarify, my concern is Bishop Olmstead's assertion that Father Jenkins disobeyed hierarchical authority. It is possible that Father Jenkins did not do the right thing, but he is not guilty of disobeying hierarchical authority at least with respect to the USCCB for the simple matter that it did not have it in this case.

That first canon should be 284, not 283, by the way.

Bishop Olmstead doesn't have enough to do in his diocese apparently. Why he would weigh in with the President of Notre Dame when there is no apparent jurisdictional or personal connection. Look like a case of ecclesiastical overreach to me! The bishops are becoming more of side show jockeying around this issue. It's just too bad they don't know how to be leaders in the Church. Perhaps as they shut down vibrant parishes in the name of reconfiguration, we laity ought to form some commissions to "reconfigure" and "consolidate" chanceries and give many of them a chance for another job.

In my experience Irish and French and Japanese bishops are humble -- humbled -- men. American bishops seem to be a different breed, especially the Bush-worshipers among them.Obama should tell Notre Dame to get lost. He should refuse to appear in a venue that is likely to make him look ridiculous, and even expose him to danger from crazed Catholic rightists.

There is a very interesting take on the ND-Obama controversy by student Andrew Nesi in the (March 26, 2009) issue of The ND paper The Observer Obama, protesters and my graduation At one point he says:On both sides, this is Notre Dame at her best - actively navigating the place of the Church in education, and the role of religion in a world too often ignorant of its extraordinary power for good and for evil.The article can be seen at: hope Bishop Olmstead reads it.

I worry about all of the thousands and thousands of potential converts who hear comments like these from clergy and think, "There is no place for me in the Body of Christ. I am not welcome. The Good News is not for me." For 41 years I was one of them, but through grace, by witness of lives well lived, I will come home at the Easter vigil. It wasn't public criticism and intimidation that brought me home. It was love. I pray that the Bishop will continue to have his heart changed as grace continues to change mine.

"Just to clarify, my concern is Bishop Olmsteads assertion that Father Jenkins disobeyed hierarchical authority. It is possible that Father Jenkins did not do the right thing, but he is not guilty of disobeying hierarchical authority at least with respect to the USCCB for the simple matter that it did not have it in this case."... and just so I am clear, I do agree with you. I also thought "disobedient" was overly strong, and am glad you commented on it.My train of thought is along these lines: I am familiar with what Apostolos Suos stated, and it was in the back of my mind when I raised the question. The portion you quoted pertains to doctrinal declarations. Implicit in my comments (which I'll now make explicit) is the question of whether Catholics in Political Life would qualify as a doctrinal declaration. My assumption is that it is a statement of church discipline, not a doctrinal declaration. That is why I'm not certain that what Apostolos suos said would apply in this case.If I am right in this, it still leaves unanswered the question, 'What authority does the national conference have to direct a Catholic university?'I took a few moments to consult Ex Corde Ecclesiae, so I'll hazard a suggestion: in the General Norms section of the document, Article 5 concerns "The Catholic University Within the Church". #2 within that article states, "Each Bishop has a responsibility to promote the welfare of the Catholic Universities in his diocese and has the right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic character. If problems should arise conceming this Catholic character, the local Bishop is to take the initiatives necessary to resolve the matter, working with the competent university authorities in accordance with established procedures(52) and, if necessary, with the help of the Holy See." Footnote 52 in turn states, "52 For Universities to which Article 3 1 and 2 refer, these procedures are to be established in the university statutes approved by the competent ecclesiastical Authority; for other Catholic Universities, they are to be determined by Episcopal Conferences or other Assemblies of Catholic Hierarchy." I'm not completely clear on all of the juridical distinctions here, but I believe that Notre Dame would be classified as one of the "other Catholic Universities" in footnote 52. If that is so, then it seems that both the local bishop (which would be Bishop D'Arcy) and the Episcopal Conference (i.e. the USCCB) - and indeed the Holy See - does have some authority over the university if "problems should arise" concerning the university's "Catholic character". The Catholic character of the university, istm, is at the heart of this dispute over President Obama's appearance.I don't think this means that the local bishop and the national conference can ride roughshod over Notre Dame. Ex Corde Ecclesiae seems to contemplate that the national conference will take the general norms expounded into the document, and apply them via local norms that make sense for an American Catholic university; and that Notre Dame incorporate those local norms into its charter. Whether any of that applying and incorporating has formally taken place, I don't know. Perhaps the relevant portion of "Catholics in Political Life" could be considered such an application of the general norms, though.

"Perhaps as they shut down vibrant parishes in the name of reconfiguration, we laity ought to form some commissions to reconfigure and consolidate chanceries and give many of them a chance for another job." Bishops are pastors by identity and history. They should oversee, supervise (definition of bishop) a few parishes and tend work to build up the faithful. Large dioceses are monarchical, anti-gospel, unwieldy and temptations to grandeur. The present setup is theologically and scripturall incorrect and inauthentic.Constantine made them Lords and the church has not recovered since. Now is a good time. The paishes need help and the administrators (bishops) are lost.

Jim, I think you may have a point regarding universities established by private persons or groups under art. 3 3 (i.e. Ave Maria University). An argument could be made that the episcopal conference would have more authority to regulate them than the universities established by dioceses or by religious institutes.Notre Dame, though, is a university established by a religious institute, so it would fall under art. 3 2, not 3. According to the footnote you cite, issues regarding its catholicity would be resolved by its own statutes, not by episcopal conference norms.

You can sign a petition in support of Notre Dame here:

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