Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Step Forward, A Step Back

I had hoped that with the discontinuation of the Queer Film Festival and with the announcement of the Center of Ethics' new pro-life fund (as covered on the First Things web site) that Notre Dame was traveling the path of convincingly and publicly embracing its mission as a Catholic university. Given Obama's positions and recent actions in regards to abortion and embryonic stem cell research, that ND has chosen to award him an honorary law degree astounds me.

I have no objection at all to Obama being invited to speak at Notre Dame. I do have a rather stringent objection to him being awarded an honorary law degree. While I do not agree with Obama's policies in regards to the economy, taxation, or national defense, I would never cite these differences in opposition to Notre Dame bestowing an honorary degree on him. Indeed, he would be welcome to offer his views. Hell, even if he was somewhat wishy-washy on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, it wouldn't raise my hackles for ND to honor him: if Our Lady's University can stand having a clown like Richard McBrien on its Theology faculty for 30 years, having such a character receive an honorary degree isn't such a big deal. However, Obama's positions on life issues - and his actions as Illinois senator and now as President - are as callous and about as anti-life as one can get. His actions in regards to embryonic stem cell research are, as Charles Krauthammer recently wrote, "morally, ethically, and scientifically bankrupt". The same could easily said about his vote against the Born Alive Infants act and his support for FOCA (which would permanently enshrine the most specious and ill-supported court decision in US history as a fundamental right).

There is simply no logically sound method by which one can claim (as some Catholic writers have attempted to) that Obama's policies are somehow "pro-life". The argument that his economic policies will offer more economic opportunity to the poor (which is a dubious argument in and of itself), thus reducing the demand for abortion, is vitiated by the lengths he is willing to go to ensure that there is no impetus whatsoever for anyone that desires an abortion - at any age, at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason - to obtain one. I could not reasonably be thought of as pro-bank security if, in addition to addressing what I believed was the cause of bank robbery (lack of money), I removed all police, security personnel, and all security measures from banks, and required all bank employees to cooperate with (whatever their personal beliefs about the wrongness of robbery) and assist the robbers. Trying to convince oneself that Obama is really pro-life requires a similar suspension of reason.

Even claiming that Obama is merely "pro-choice" and not "pro-abortion" does not match either his rhetoric or actions. "Pro-choice" would imply that there is a choice to be made between the value of the unborn child's life and the degree to which a woman should have the authority to terminate that life. The death of a child is a greater imposition on the child than the carrying the child to term is on the mother. So unless the mother's life is in eminent danger, the life of the child must be preserved. Others would make exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Still others would weigh the value of the life of the child vs. the woman's autonomy to varying degrees. Obama, however, has given no indication that he thinks there is anything at all of value in regards to the unborn child's life worth weighing; in fact, his callous rhetoric and lack of any recognition that a life is being extinguished (or, in the case of embryonic stem cell research, being created in order to be stripped for parts) should trouble anyone with even an ounce of moral sense, as should his view that each person should be able to decide for themselves whether a human life has intrinsic value. Neither is a mark of a careful thinker, as the logical concluding point of these views is societal suicide.

President Obama speaking at commencement? No problem, and he's most welcome. Him receiving an honorary law degree? Completely inconsistent with an institution that values human life at all its stages.


  • Bravo Jerry...great writing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 1:21:00 AM  

  • I oppose his being invited to speak at Notre Dame. While debate and dialogue are important to discovering truth, there will be no debate or dialogue when President Obama speaks, which is contrary to the nature of Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

    Also, the commencement speech is the sending off of the graduating students, a sort of congratulations, here is what to expect in the real world and may God send you on your journey. If that is the case, then why in God's name would a Catholic school pick a person with a system of beliefs completely contrary to nearly every Catholic teaching (abortion, infanticide, subsidiarity, social justice, freedom of speech, so called gay rights, right to defend one's life, pornography, parents as primary educators, the list goes on.)

    Finally, without the balance of the Catholic teaching, Notre Dame is in fact giving a voice to someone completely opposed to the gravest of Catholic teachings.

    Therein lies your problem.

    By Anonymous unfatmatt, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 10:53:00 AM  

  • unfatmatt:

    First, congratulations on your state of "unfat"-ness. I am trying to achieve the same.

    Finally, without the balance of the Catholic teaching, Notre Dame is in fact giving a voice to someone completely opposed to the gravest of Catholic teachings.

    Two points about this statement:

    1. President Obama will not be the only one speaking at the commencement. Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, will receive the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 Laetare Medal at the commencement. Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said this about her in the announcement: "Both as a public intellectual and as a diplomat, Mary Ann Glendon has impressively served our Church and our country. She is an articulate and compelling expositor of Catholic social teaching who exemplifies our University’s most cherished values and deserves its highest praise." I imagine he will have further praise for her pro-life work at the commencement, and I would imagine that she will get to speak. Fr. Jenkins will also speak. So I would posit that Catholic teaching will have its say.

    However, while this might alleviate your concerns that the Catholic view won't be represented, it won't alleviate your opposition to having Obama speak. While I'm not thrilled with it, and think it inappropriate in the wake of his recent rhetoric and decisions, I wouldn't publicly oppose it, for the following reasons:

    1. Respect for the office of the President of the United States. Regardless of his decisions and rhetoric, Obama is the legally elected President of the country. He will be the 6th President to speak at commencement (Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II preceded him). Whatever your respect of the man, respect for the office is due.

    2. Notre Dame has had its share of speakers that are certainly not pro-life, and/or had views in direct opposition to the Catholic Church. Bill Clinton spoke there in 1992 (though not at commencement), and I don't recall any debate session afterward. Oliver Stone, whose views are in direct opposition to anything resembling historical reality, spoke there in 1993. The Jehovah's Witnesses (who certainly don't hold a positive view of the Catholic Church) hold an annual summer conference in the Joyce Center (the basketball and hockey arena). The list could go on.

    3. If Obama has an ounce of sense, he will not go near life issues in his speech, and instead talk about his enthusiasm for voluntary service. This would make for a good speech, provided he has his teleprompter with him.

    All that being said, I think that people of good faith and Catholic standing could disagree on whether Notre Dame should have invited Obama to speak at commencement. However, I do not extend such latitude to Notre Dame bestowing upon Obama an honorary law degree, especially since the action he seeks to enshrine as a permanent fundamental right was granted legal status in the most specious, most dishonestly argued, and ill-supported legal decision in US history.

    Furthermore, ND's bestowing of an honorary law degree to Obama goes directly against the 2004 US bishops statement against universities bestowing honors on those who actively seek the enacting of laws that do violence to the sanctity of human life. However, the statement said nothing whatsoever against having such a person speak, or even offer a commencement address.

    So, while I'm not thrilled about Obama speaking at the commencement, I believe it is debatable as to whether it is a moral misstep (or, if it is one, to what degree it is) on Notre Dame's part. However, I firmly believe that bestowing an honorary law degree to Obama is a violation of not only the bishops' 2004 statement, but a violation of the very mission of the University of Notre Dame.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 12:06:00 PM  

  • Dear Jerry,
    I agree with unfatmatt. Respect? Obama represents all that is contrary to our way of life as Catholics and conservatives.
    I think ye protesteth too much. It is immoral and evil to have such goings on. Why is Bishop D'Arcy staying away?
    We have to stop the madness sometime. You can't point to past bad behavior to justify present bad behavior.
    Notre Dame has to comply with Catholic teaching or become just another has-been Catholic Institution of Higher Learning. How sad. I can see why you are equivocating in some way.
    I like your style of writing very much though and look forward to your articles almost as much as I do Tom's.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:30:00 PM  

  • Let's cut to the chase. Notre Dame is a secular institution presenting a facade of Catholicity in order to keep the bucks rolling in.

    Tio Roger

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:45:00 PM  

  • My bucks stop here.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:46:00 PM  

  • Ugh.

    This is what I get for trying to offer a balanced, carefully thought-out view.

    AC asks "Why is Bishop D'Arcy staying away?" From his statement:

    This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith "in season and out of season," and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

    My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

    I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

    It is debatable as to whether Obama, in giving the commencement address, is being given a platform which would suggest support for his actions, especially since he will be sharing the stage and podium with pro-life-to-the-core Mary Ann Glendon (who is receiving a much higher honor) and Fr. Jenkins. I would be tempted to argue that he is being given such a platform, and should therefore be denied it; in response, one could reply that I have no idea what he is going to say, and follow that by invoking "academic freedom" and "role of dissent" - terms that make debate almost impossible, as you soon find yourself splitting hairs as to what those terms actually mean. Been there, done that, slammed head against wall. It is a debate that would go round and round, and I have no interest whatsoever in engaging in debates that will bear no fruit - it may allow me to feel good and bask in the glow of like-minded individuals, but will only harden the resolve of my opponents.

    However, it is not debatable at all that Obama, in being awarded an honorary law degree, is being given an honor which would suggest support for his view of law and its application, especially in regards to legally unsound and morally reprehensible Roe decision. This is a cause I will pursue with great fervor. As such, I...

    a) am signing the petition put forward by the Sycamore Trust, a group dedicated to preserving Notre Dame's Catholic identity.

    b) have composed a letter of concern and protest (including much of what I have written on this blog) that will be sent to ND's president, Fr. Jenkins.

    c) spent Sunday afternoon compiling a list of addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of Board of Trustees members at the request of William Dempsey, president of the Sycamore Trust. Each of these folks will receive the letter I am sending Fr. Jenkins.

    d) will contact the Law school, to inquire as to what role they played (if any) in the decision to award this honorary degree to Obama. I have a hunch that this was not their initiative, but I'd like to know. If it was, they'll be getting a letter from me also.

    If AC, or anyone else, feels like I am "equivocating", well, that will have to do. I have explained my position as carefully and thoroughly as I can.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Wednesday, March 25, 2009 1:24:00 PM  

  • Tio Roger:

    OK, fine, let's cut to the chase:
    It is evident from your comment that you know little-to-nothing about the University of Notre Dame. I shall attempt to inform you.

    Notre Dame is university that is struggling to be both a Catholic university and premier academic and research university. Notre Dame is not Georgetown or Boston College, both of which are premier academic and research universities, but whose Catholic identity is so tenuous that they cannot even decide whether to crucifixes in their classrooms without lengthy discernment and plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Notre Dame is also not Christendom College or Franciscan University of Steubenville, whose Catholic identity, on a scale from 1 to 10, is at about 28, but could not by any stretch of imagination be referred to as premier academic and research institutions, and - in my experience - tend to produce graduates who have a marked difficulty interacting with those who do not believe and practice their faith with their level of fervor.

    Your claim that Notre Dame "is a secular institution presenting a facade of Catholicity in order to keep the bucks rolling in" is a ridiculous slander, easily refuted by anyone who has spent even as little as a semester there. ND’s theology (under the leadership of Fr. John Cavadini since 1997-8), philosophy, business, history, architecture, and law schools have all received favorable notices in Catholic education circles, as has engineering (though issues pertaining to Catholic thought and teaching don’t really come up very much). Their Center for Ethics and Culture recently created a hugely ambitious pro-life fund (as noted by First Things), and the ND Pro-Life club is absolutely enormous. There are plenty of folks on the faculty and the Board of Trustees that not only see no conflict between being a truly Catholic university and a premier academic and research university, but believe that they mutually strengthen each other. I could provide a list of outstanding Catholic scholars at ND, as well as those who are not Catholic but fully support the Catholic identity and mission of the school.

    However, ND's faculty and BOT also has within its ranks a cadre of individuals who view Catholic identity as a detriment to excellence in academics and research. (They also view having a nationally competitive football team with disdain, but that is another discussion for another time.) Such a prejudice is rather prevalent in the higher echelons of academia, which for more than a century and a half has accepted as its default premise an intrinsic conflict between science and religion, and hence reason and religion. For example, the co-founder of Cornell University, Andrew Dickson White, wrote the hugely influential two volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, a work that accomplishes the rare feat of having at least one historical inaccuracy on each page. While modern historians of science, law, and economics refute this premise, such scholarship does not receive wide mainstream attention, and old prejudices die hard.

    As is also common, those in dissent from the majority are often the most active; in academia, these are the ones who take the most interest in getting on the faculty senate, who make the most noise in regards to hiring decisions, and are most active in recruiting like-minded colleagues. As a result, Notre Dame’s faculty senate is comprised of a strong majority of faculty whose views on faculty hiring and university identity do not reflect the majority of the entire faculty. It has been this way for at least 15 years now.

    This was compounded by the presidency of Rev. Edward ‘Monk’ Malloy (1987-2005), during which ND’s percentage of Catholic faculty dipped from 85% to 53%: Malloy’s great vision for Notre Dame, to judge by his own words and actions, was for Notre Dame to become Stanford, complete with a perennially mediocre football team. It was in the last few years of Malloy’s tenure that the Vagina Monologues and Queer Film Festival found their way onto ND’s campus.

    Fr. John Jenkins took over in 2005, and offered those who were concerned with Notre Dame surrendering its identity some hope: he announced he was reconsidering allowing the Monologues and QFF on campus, and said all the right things about increasing Catholic faculty hiring. However, his actions over the last 3 years offer plenty of evidence that a) he is not very skilled at persuading those who disagree with him (i.e. the faculty senate) and b) he very much wants to please everyone. As a result, his presidency has been somewhat of a mixed bag: he caved on the VMs, allowing it to continue, though it could not be sponsored by ND, and could only be on campus every other year; he allowed the Queer Film Festival to continue, though the conditions put on it in every proceeding year caused it to be eventually cancelled altogether; the percentage of Catholic faculty has not increased, but it has not decreased either. On the VMs and QFF, Jenkins seemed unwilling to make a stand; on the percentage of Catholic faculty, he seems to lack any idea about how increase Catholic faculty over the entrenched objectors in the dissenting faculty. Hardly anyone I know has any confidence in him as a leader, and I wonder if his first term as president (to end in 2011) will be his only term. There are a couple of folks whom I would love to see succeed him – Fr. Tim Scully or Fr. Wilson Miscamble. While Miscamble has almost no chance, as he has been very publically critical of ND’s hiring practices, Scully has a shot.

    As you can see from the above, ND is currently struggling to maintain and increase its Catholic identity. However, contrary to your comment, the battle has not been decided, and those working to preserve and enhance ND’s Catholic identity are becoming more vigilant and organized. To claim the cause already lost is to insult the faculty and alumni who are spending their time, talent, and treasure in its service.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Wednesday, March 25, 2009 2:49:00 PM  

  • Dear Jerry,
    As wife to 'Tio Roger' I can only exclaim...WOW.
    I can see by your voluminous answer that you are in love with ND and I don't blame you. Being schooled in secular institutions, I do not feel the same fervor, but am always saddened by these tumultous events because I love all things Catholic.
    I pray that ND does find its original footing. We need sound Catholic formation more than ever.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:51:00 PM  

  • Notre Dame University is a wonderful, educational institution whose local Ordinary refuses to attend its commencement. This is truly a stuggling-to-be-Catholic school. It has some "Catholic" features, and some Catholic faculty, but so do many other schools which are not Catholic. But, as the old saying goes, "It doesn't matter how much ice cream one adds to the dog poop, it still doesn't taste good."

    Full disclosure: I think that Christendom College and Thomas Aquinas College are top-drawer liberal arts schools.

    Tio Roger

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, March 26, 2009 10:53:00 AM  

  • Tio Roger:

    The point of disagreement between us is whether

    a) Notre Dame is an authentically Catholic university that is making (and has sporadically made in the past) a decision that is not consistent with its Catholic identity


    b) Notre Dame is not an authentically Catholic university, though it does have a 'veneer' of Catholic features and individual faculty that are Catholic.

    You began your latest rebuttal by stating "Notre Dame University is a wonderful, educational institution whose local Ordinary refuses to attend its commencement." Yes, Bishop D'Arcy is not attending commencement this year due to the specific Notre Dame decision to award Obama an honorary degree and have him deliver the commencement address. This is the first time he has missed commencement during his tenure as bishop, and he gave no indication whatsoever that he plans on boycotting future commencements. This would support a), not b). Should he continue to boycott commencements (regardless of the speaker), his actions will support b). However, to reiterate, he has given no indication that he intends future boycotts.

    As for "It has some 'Catholic' features, and some Catholic faculty, but so do many other schools which are not Catholic", please alert me to non-Catholic schools that have a majority of Catholic faculty, a pro-life group that could fill the Joyce Center, a percentage of student post-graduate service that comes anywhere close to Notre Dame's, single-sex dorms with parietals (no opposite sex members allowed after midnight on weeknights or 2am on weekends), a group such as the Sycamore Trust - and a good portion of the alumni - who take an active interest in the school's Catholic identity, a growing list of on-campus organizations (presently numbering a dozen) that would leap to protest (within 5 days of its announcement) the University's honor of Obama, and a theology department that the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things fame claims is the "best place in the country to study the Early Church Fathers". Feel free to include schools you consider to be "presenting a facade of Catholicity" (as you do ND) that can claim even half of the above.

    I imagine it will be a rather short - or likely non-existent - list. This also is more supportive of a) than b).

    Lastly, Christendom and St. Thomas Aquinas may indeed be "top-drawer liberal arts schools". They are not, however, premier academic and research institutions - institutions that offer, excel at, and do high-level (and expensive) research in multiple disciplines (liberal arts, architecture, engineering, business, economics, physics, chemistry, etc.). The claim that because ND is not Christendom, Franciscan, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc. it should be lumped in with BC and Georgetown in the "nominally Catholic" category is not valid in the face of the contrary evidence I have provided.

    Of the positions I outlined above, you believe b), and I believe a). I believe that I have demonstrated that the facts and information are more supportive of my position than yours.



    By Blogger Jerry, at Thursday, March 26, 2009 12:20:00 PM  

  • "Love is blind."

    Tio Roger

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, March 27, 2009 10:26:00 AM  

  • And apparently ignorance is bliss.

    By Anonymous Matt F, at Friday, March 27, 2009 1:45:00 PM  

  • Tio:

    So, no rebuttal to my arguments, no response other than to cast aspersion on my perspective i.e. that I am blind to Notre Dame's faults (despite, apparently, the rather involved exposition I gave of Notre Dame's dissenting faculty and BOT members' agenda and history).

    There are those on opposite extremes: either a) that Notre Dame's Catholic identity is completely healthy or b) that it is dead or in a vegetative state. I believe in the more fact-supported middle position that Notre Dame's Catholic identity is, to continue the metaphor, suffering from a particularly resistant virus, but still very much alive, resilient, and capable of returning to complete health with the proper care. I have offered a wealth of facts and information to support my position. You have offered very little in the way of either in support of yours. The content of our correspondence in this thread supports my opening assertion addressed to you: I have shown that I know an awful lot about the University of Notre Dame, while you have shown that you know very little.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Friday, March 27, 2009 1:45:00 PM  

  • Jerry, I would be beyond arrogant to believe that I know ND as well as you do, however, I can state that I have been very proud to have such a University in our Catholic world and a nephew who is a Domer.
    My objection is that Father Jenkins cannot sell off its humanity in order to have the President speak and to receive an award, no matter the reason.

    Why don't we construct a scenario where Father Jenkins explains to Jesus and His Mother why he wants Obama at Commencement and speculate about their answer to him? Is there any doubt in your mind as to Their reply? This is Her University, after all.

    Mary when receiving the highest accolade exclaims: "My being proclaims........for He has looked down upon His servant in her lowliness, All ages to come shall call me Blessed. God who is mighty has done great things for me and Holy is His name"....His mercy is from age on those who fear Him."

    Can we take a page from the Magnificat and apply it here? Do you think that Obama calls our Lady blessed or that he fears Him? I don't.
    What is he doing on a Catholic Campus then, especially Hers? What is he doing embarking students on their Journey with his values? "Unacceptable"...I heard William Dempsey state.

    I will end on this note. I do not believe I need to know ND inside-out to understand the significance of the proposed event.

    May God hear our prayers.
    God Bless all of you who write incessantly for good things, Jerry.

    Let's pray for all involved.
    Be assured of my prayers for you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sunday, March 29, 2009 2:53:00 AM  

  • AC:

    You, I, and Tio are all on the same page as to wrongness of Notre Dame in honoring President Obama with an honorary law degree. I don't know how much clearer I could be on that. We differ slightly as to whether having him deliver the commencement address is equally wrong; you feel it is, I do not think it meets the criteria of giving him a "platform which would suggest support for his actions", but I also do not think it appropriate for a Catholic institution in light of Obama's recent actions as President. In public forums, I have chosen to focus my protest on the "honorary degree" aspect of Obama's appearance, as its wrongness is indisputable, while protesting him speaking will - as I explained in my "Some Clarification" post last week - result in one getting bogged down in numerous tangential arguments. I have stated these positions repeatedly, and offered detailed explanations for my positions.

    However, Tio's comments went far beyond Notre Dame's wrongness for this action in proclaiming Notre Dame a secular institution that only uses its Catholic heritage as a fund-raising ploy. As I demonstrated in my responses, there is a wealth of evidence to dispute his assertion. This is the dispute I had with him, NOT about the wrongness of inviting and honoring Obama.

    I spoke with William Dempsey on Saturday afternoon by telephone for about an hour. Though we are both disheartened by Notre Dame's inviting and honoring Obama, neither of us is abandoning the cause of protecting and enhancing Notre Dame's Catholic identity. As I stated in my previous comment, I believe,in regards to Notre Dame's fulfillment of its mission to be an authentically Catholic university, that the entirety of the evidence most fully supports the thesis that its Catholic identity is neither healthy nor dead, but rather "sick". Therefore, I shall devote my time, talent, and treasure in service of returning her to health.

    Thank you for your comments, and your prayers,


    By Blogger Jerry, at Monday, March 30, 2009 11:57:00 AM  

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