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The Notre Dame Controversy: Dissension Among U.S. Catholics is Nothing New

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Regular readers of Blogcritics Magazine's Politics pages know that I am not a religious man. What most of you don't know, however, is that I have more than a passing familiarity with the Roman Catholic religion. Understandably, most of you won't care about my personal religious viewpoint, but I bring it up it because it is germane to this discussion.

I was raised in the Catholic faith by my very devout mother, with the acquiescence of my father, who was an Agnostic, leaning toward atheism. My mother had me baptized as a baby, confirmed as I approached adolescence, and sent me to Catechism classes throughout my childhood. I was even graduated from a Catholic high school.

Throughout this period of indoctrination by my mother and the Church, my father stood benignly by, never interjecting his own viewpoint unless I asked him a direct question. I asked him many questions, as I did of the priests whose paths crossed mine, and finally, in my late teens, I decided that my father's answers were more cogent and made better sense than those of the clergy. While I obviously cannot characterize myself as impartial on the issue of religion, clearly my bias is not on the side of the Church.

I have watched with interest as the controversy over President Obama's invitation to speak at the University of Notre Dame commencement tomorrow has raged across the country. Obama will be the ninth sitting U.S. President to deliver Notre Dame's commencement address, and certainly the most controversial.

Many of the pundits on both sides of the issue have aimed their opinions at the question of Obama having been invited to speak at the commencement, in spite of his pro-choice stance. But this is only part of the controversy; Catholic opinion is divided, and many of the Catholics opposing Obama's appearance have another concern: the customary conferring of an honorary degree (in this case, in Law) on the President. While many of the Catholics who have vowed to protest Obama's appearance have indicated their opposition to his presence, the stance of the Vatican, in the person of Pope Benedict, has remained studiedly neutral, with the Pope refraining from even discussing the controversy. The locus of official opposition on the part of the Church is a vocal minority (about 20%) of U.S. Catholic Bishops, led by Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who reacted to the announcement from Notre Dame, saying, "It is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation."

One of the most principled and important of the protesters has received little mention in the press. She is Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Glendon, a conservative Catholic voice, was also slated to speak at the commencement, undoubtedly as a counterpoint to the President's speech, and was to have received the Laetare medal, considered to be one of the most important Catholic honors for a lay person. Glendon, in protest, bowed out. Notes John Kass, in the Chicago Tribune:

In her letter, Glendon said that she did not oppose Obama speaking to the graduates. What bothered her was Notre Dame conferring an honorary degree on a president who supports abortion rights.

She noted that such an award would be in direct violation of a 2004 statement by U.S. Catholic bishops declaring 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."

About Clavos

Raised in Mexico by American parents, Clavos is proudly bi-cultural, and considers both Spanish and English as his native languages. A lifelong boating enthusiast, Clavos lives aboard his ancient trawler, Second Act, in Coconut Grove, Florida and enjoys cruising the Bahamas and Florida Keys from that base. When not dealing with the never-ending maintenance issues inherent in ancient trawlers, Clavos sells yachts to finance his boat habit, but his real love (after boating, of course) is writing and editing; a craft he has practiced at Blogcritics since 2006.
  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Exactly. I’m able to emotionally dissociate myself from the practical question and consider the form of the argument in its purity; just as I can relate a a beautiful work of art or music and indulge myself in my aesthetic impulse while forgetting for a single moment that there is a great deal of injustice in the world.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Are you related to Bryan McKay? (Sorry if that is too personal a question, just ignore me.)

    It’s not too personal a question. Yes, we’re related. And he’s one of the Books editors here!

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ Jeannie Danna

    Hi Clavos, I was hoping you were around at 9:30 I’m having trouble uploading pictures and thought someone could give me a clearer instruction hint or tip! oh well, nite :)

  • Baronius

    I’ve got no problem with Tenet; I think we should have gone to war sooner; Krauthammer’s wrong.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Great to know, Lisa. I’ll do a few review myself just to get away from the political crowd.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Assertions don’t cut it. In fact, K was probably pushing for going to war sooner.

  • http://twitter.com/tolstoyscat Cindy

    Lisa,

    I really really really love his piece about global feminism.

    Maybe some day he’ll write something in politics.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    I do know that he has some book reviews in the pipeline (and published one here last week). I did see the comment you left on the feminism piece, and agree that it’s a good one. You might be interested in checking out his blog.

  • Clavos

    Anyone seen my thread?

    It’s a cute little thing, about a week old, has something to do with the controversy surrounding Obama’s commencement speech at that school in Indiana that used to be Catholic?*

    *Just kidding folks — carry on, I’m enjoying the B & F.

  • http://twitter.com/tolstoyscat Cindy

    Lisa,

    Thanks. I’ll check out the book reviews.

  • Clavos

    Cindy,

    *Can’t help it either. I took Latin.:O]

    So did I — four years of it.

    De Facto distinguishes that which exists in fact from that which exists in the law, De Jure.

    You were saying, if I read you correctly, that all torture is in fact, wrong, period. Since some torture is actually legal, it is, De Jure, not “wrong.”

    Hence my quibble. You could, at this point, tell me de minimis non curat praetor ,to which I naturally would have to respond, dura lex sed lex.

  • http://twitter.com/tolstoyscat Cindy

    Roger,

    What you are calling form, I don’t quite understand. It seems like you’re saying that K brought up what you feel is a reasonable point, a convincing scenario (at least in your mind with your particular sensibilities). Is that what ‘form’ is? What is ‘form’?

    What do you think of this. Would it not be a good idea to check arguments with good form (plus reliable facts) that dispute K, no matter how much his form seems to please?

    See what you think about Michael Kinsley’s form:

    Torture for Dummies: Exploding the “ticking bomb” argument.

    “What if you knew for sure that the cute little baby burbling and smiling at you from his stroller in the park was going to grow up to be another Hitler, responsible for a global cataclysm and millions of deaths? Would you be justified in picking up a rock and bashing his adorable head in? Wouldn’t you be morally depraved if you didn’t?

    Or what if a mad scientist developed a poison so strong that two drops in the water supply would kill everyone in Chicago? And you could destroy the poison, but only by killing the scientist and 10 innocent family members? Should you do it?

    Or what if an international terrorist planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in Manhattan, set to go off in an hour and kill a million people. You’ve got him in custody, but he won’t say where the bomb is. Is it moral to torture him until he gives up the information?”

    (continued at link)

  • http://twitter.com/tolstoyscat Cindy

    Clav,

    Ahhhh, I see. But if you said: dura lex sed lex

    I would, of course, reply:

    Ego reputo lex est indignus or maybe–

    Cogito lex est indignus.

  • http://twitter.com/tolstoyscat Cindy

    Roger,

    Just in case you are not very tempted to go to my link, based on what I already put–Michael Kinsley is dealing specifically with K’s argument as he sums up below:

    “The argument, made by Charles Krauthammer in the Weekly Standard, is, in a nutshell: 1) No rational moral calculus could possibly justify sacrificing a million innocent lives in order to spare the would-be mass murderer a few minutes of pain. And 2) once you accept that torture would be justified in one situation, avoiding the use of torture on other situations is no longer a moral imperative. The question becomes where you draw the line.”

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Where do I draw the line? That’s easy.

    Before CHAT

    The line —————————–

    After

  • http://christianconservative.blog.com/ Rick

    I am a devout Bible believing Christian, and a former Roman Catholic. Religion/spirituality aside this man Barrack O’bama not only supports abortion – he supports infantacide. leaving a born baby to die ! How inhumane is that. You can be arrested for doing that to an animal, but not a human baby. Even if you are an atheist there is something sick with that. I’m a DAV and i know Combat Vets that could not and would not have the heart to do that. Would you support a warped and vile killer such as he is?

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ Jeannie Danna

    Rick, your comment is an absolute lie and you know it. President Obama does not support infanticide…prove it with an article or video! If you cannot do that then take your lie home with you.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Hi, Jeannie,

    Spoken like a champ. I’m surely glad you’ve joined our little community. You bring to the table that rare quality of kindness and toughness – a winning combination.

    Good show.

  • Irene Wagner

    Rick might have been referring to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act that (then Senator) Obama blocked.

    Once upon a time, a nurse was outraged about what she was ordered to do to a fetus who was a persistent little bugger and persisted in clinging to life after being aborted…

  • Irene Wagner

    And I’m happy to have the comment stand on its own merits, without references to the kindness/lack of kindness of the person who posted it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    You don’t have a problem with a kindness/toughness combo, Irene, do you?
    It’s a great quality to have. I should be so lucky to try to have the two work in tandem. Working on it, though.

  • Irene Wagner

    Nope. Not when babies and other innocents are involved, I don’t.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    What about the rest of us, the sinners? It’d seem to me that is us who need it the most.

  • Irene Wagner

    That’d be the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, Jeannie. The reference has scrolled back to the “Previous 20 Comments” page.

  • Irene Wagner

    I believe its called “triage,” Roger.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    But Irene. I wasn’t focusing on the example at hand. I was addressing the optimal mode of relating to one another. I just think that Jeannie has that quality; and you, too.

  • Irene Wagner

    Rick, I don’t think you’re a liar.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    From a quick look at the Wiki, though, triage strikes me as a form of (moral) utilitarianism.

    An interesting example of such from I. Asimov’s “I, Robot,” the movie: the robot rescues the protagonist (Will Smith) because of the 40 percent chance of survival (instead of the little girl with only 10 percent).

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Quite right, Irene. Rick is not. But he does believe that Obama’s a kind of monster.

  • Irene Wagner

    He couldn’t save both. I’m not sure that’s “utilitarianism.” Hospital personnel have to do “triage” every day.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Utilitarianism in the sense of maximizing the benefit – be it moral, pragmatic, or whatever.

    The “moral objection” – in the movie – is that this kind of rational calculation is akin to playing God. There’s something to be said for this kind of sentiment, despite the dictates of logic.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Nice talking to you, Irene.
    Till next time.

  • Irene Wagner

    All right, Roger. That’ll probably be in comment #890 or thereabouts.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ Jeannie Danna

    Rick might have been referring to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act that (then Senator) Obama blocked.
    Rick & Irene, I need to learn about this!
    (Once upon a time, a nurse was outraged about what she was ordered to do to a fetus who was a persistent little bugger and persisted in clinging to life after being aborted…) Was it snuck into another bill he was blocking or did it stand alone?

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ Jeannie Danna

    Roger, Do you have two computers? I only have one.. I am jumping around here like a rabbit! Why don’t we all have a teleconference and have done with it!