Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend announced yesterday that he will not be attending graduation exercises at the University of Notre Dame this year. His statement was not one with which I could entirely agree, but its measured tone was a welcome change from the histrionics that have been launched against both Notre Dame and President Obama by some Catholic critics on the right.

Bishop D’Arcy made clear in his statement: "I wish no disrespect to our President, I pray for him and wish him well." The adverb "our" conveys the difference in tone between D’Arcy and others who have, in recent days, called the President everything from "extreme" to an "agent of death." Pastors, unlike pundits, can never close their hearts to the flock, even to those who stray, especially to those who stray. D’Arcy is a pastor.

That said, when D’Arcy writes that "President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," he should have made clear that the President certainly did not see the issue that way. D’Arcy had written a thoughtful, strong statement after President Obama revoked the regulation banning the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, if this is the presidential decision that makes Obama so unacceptable on a Catholic stage, we should remember that Sen. John McCain was pledged to the same policy. So, what D’Arcy is saying is that in 2009-2012, no Catholic college or university should host the President of the United States. That is at least consistent and non-political. Those who fail to make such a distinction are merely carrying water for the Republicans.

The statement began with the information that the president of the university only informed the bishop about the invitation after it had been issued and accepted and moments before it was announced. You don’t need a degree in psychology to read that this circumstance peeved the bishop. Indeed, it is important to read this statement in the context of a long history of complicated relations between Bishop D’Arcy and the University of Notre Dame. Most recently, D’Arcy objected to the university’s decision to host performances of the "Vagina Monologues." When D’Arcy says he is absenting himself from the graduation because he must teach the faith by his actions, it is pretty clear he is trying to teach Notre Dame, more than President Obama.

I had almost written in my lede that Bishop D’Arcy was not attending the ceremonies BECAUSE President Obama would be there, but that is not exactly right. D’Arcy made clear the he encouraged Dr. Mary Ann Glendon to go to the ceremonies and receive her award, so sharing a dais with the President is evidently not going to put someone on a sure path to Hell. The Bishop noted that both he and Glendon were teachers, but in different ways, a somewhat opaque comment but one which nonetheless reinforces the sense that his disappointment is with Notre Dame.

Second-guessing bishops who make decisions about which we do not know many factors is a dangerous business. I wish that Bishop D’Arcy had reached a different conclusion, that he had used the occasion to reach out to President Obama to tell him why he thought his decision on stem cell research was so wrong. I wish he had pointed out that the President is not a Catholic and, just so, he does not agree with the Church on purgatory or the role of the Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation either, but that even profound differences do not – ever – obliterate our common humanity rooted in the common Fatherhood of God. Still, the bishop’s statement was moderate, polite, thoughtful. Two cheers for the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 3/28/2009 - 5:46pm
" Wake up and smell the coffee, Obama is not coming to ''dialogue'' but to sell his policies and bask in the limelight. " so I guess when Pres Bush went to ND he also was just engaging in a big publicity stunt?? It seems to me that it is very obvious that there is absolutely no chance that abortion will be made illegal in this country. Therefore - to continue to pursue the strategy currently pursued is insanity and will in fact do NOTHING to reduce the number of abortions in this country. If people are genuinely concerned about the killing then it is time to adopt another strategCy such as PREVENTING abortion by addressing issues that lead to abortion - such as poverty, fear of raising a child alone and the role MEN have in woman getting pregnant. One must say that while our Bishop's NEVER speak to this issue - male responsibility for their sexual behavior - Obama has addressed in strong terms this issue. I just do not understand why this great storm of protest over abortion without a word about the horror of torture, killing civilians in an unjustified war, and supporting capital punishment. I am suspicious of the motives of those who were silent when Bush spoke at ND but are attacking the decision to allow Obama to speak. I also would suggest that all ostracizing people does is solidify them in their belief.
Anonymous | 3/28/2009 - 5:39pm
" .. he does not agree with the Church on purgatory or the role of the Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation .. " Neither do I ... so sue me.
Anonymous | 3/29/2009 - 7:47pm
As a lifelong practicing Catholic, I find it sad that Church leaders will boycott President Obama's address to the graduating class at the University of Notre Dame and yet the Church basically stood silently as former-President George W. Bush violated so many human and ''respect for life'' principles across the board - denying basic human and civil rights as well as fighting an unjust war - while giving lip-service to being anti-abortion and stem cell research (private stem-cell research was still taking place anyway). Some of the most rigorous social science research provides evidence to support the hypothesis that there is absolutely no relationship between abortion rates and whether or not abortion is legal. What does seem to be positively related to lower abortion rate are education and access to health care. The debate about whether or not abortion is legal appears to be a red herring. When considered in tandem with recent positions and statements from Rome that seemed to be quite accommodating to a Lebfeverite who still denied the Holocaust, I am increasingly embarrassed by a Church leadership that is rigid where it does not make a difference and creates needless division, nor establishes common ground or makes progress on issues about which all of us care so deeply. Let's work together on the issues and policies that would actually make a difference in people's lives instead of grand standing and ''making a point'' that accomplishes nothing. The bishop of course is free to attend or not - however, his reasoning for doing so seems to be applied rather selectively. Very few politicians in the U.S. - R or D - would align perfectly with the Catholic Church's positions on every issue - life issues or otherwise - including everyone sitting in the pews every Sunday. Why not boycott us as well and see how that works?
Anonymous | 3/26/2009 - 7:23pm
I imagine that, going back to at least FDR, any US President invited to speak at the commencment of any Catholic University would have SOMETHING in his quiver about which SOME Catholics could and would find objection. It guess that means that the Holy Sanctified Guardianship of All Things Bright and Beautiful would therefore ensure that no POTUS would ever speak at any Catholic institution of education, no matter the level. That would take us right back to the insularity of the early 1900’s. Right were we need to be, you betcha.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 10:59pm
Domer Frank, Obama's visit to ND is simply a big publicity stunt for him and his administration. I am certain no one plans to "speak-truth-to-power" at this event, and even if some of the students or administration try to, it will get little or no coverage. You seem quite naive. Wake up and smell the coffee, Obama is not coming to "dialogue" but to sell his policies and bask in the limelight.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 8:58pm
I protested the war in Iraq by writing letters to politicians, attending the major protest march in my city, and by arguing against the action with whomever was prepared to converse. It seemed from my vantage point WMD’s were just a pretext. For the same principled reasons I am vigorously opposing this decision by the University of Notre Dame. The University is feting Obama for prestige, power and money using the pretext of engaging in debate. Whatever one says about the war in Iraq, it was never obviously the direct killing of innocent life. Cloning for destructive research, Born Alive Act, Roe v Wade, Partial Birth Abortion, FOCA support, Mexico City etc etc amounts to indisputable evidence of open disdain for the only possible unifying principle of civil life. This line has to be defended, there is no other place to retreat to. The decision does not send the message of a confident Catholicism engaging with the world at all, it sends the message that the Church’s teaching is irrelevant. Confident Catholics should make a stand and expose the vacuity and near treachery of Catholic supporters of Obama, who in the name of 'dialogue' would have the Church's identity further tarnished and Catholics further assimilated into the dominant religion of secularism. Faithful and genuinely progressive Catholics should take up the standard and leadership abrogated by individuals like Fr Jenkins. Hail Mary!
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 7:10pm
If Obama had any class, or any respect for the Catholic faith, he'd withdraw right now. He'd realize all he's going to do is ruin hundreds of students graduation day.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 5:08pm
When did the Truth become so fragile and wimpy? The Truth has nothing to fear from error. If we believe that Catholicism represents the truth then we have a responsibility to engage - with love - those who persist in error, NOT vilify and demonize, because by doing so one distorts the truth about the person and denies the very human dignity we claim to be defending. As an alumnus, I'm proud of Notre Dame for taking this on. They knew the furor that would erupt. Perhaps it was a calculated risk to create a ''teachable moment'' that might show us all how to speak Truth to power, rather than simply claim Truth and cower. To have a prophetic voice as Christians, we cannot become co-opted by the over-simplified arguments of the left or the right. We lose all credibility when we do. To be prophetic as Jesus was we need to be able to affirm what is good and true about Obama while at the same time call him out on the issues where he's wrong, like abortion. By opting out, Bishop D'Arcy misses his chance to do either. Thank you to Notre Dame for stepping up and being willing to engage in the conversation with someone it disagrees with. Notre Dame is the only Catholic institution around with the guts and clout necessary to be prophetic.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 1:58pm
I'm sorry, but I can't give two cheers to bishops who attended ceremonies or graduations or addresses by torture supporting, war-mongering presidents and cabinet who support the death penalty but then draw the line arouond abortion. I find this "witness" unpersuasive and inconsistent. Plus self-righteous! Disagree with a presient in whatever way you wish. Issue a statement that your presence does not mean assent. But I wouldn't deny Obama's right to speak anymore than George Bush's with whom I disagreed profoundly! Catholic campuses are soon to be propaganda centers if this line of thought is followed. Let the new ghettoization begin!
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 1:39pm
Furthermore, not agreeing with the Church's teaching on Mary or purgatory are not a cause for alarm. On the other hand, not agreeing with the Church's teaching on Abortion and ESCR is a promotion of human rights violations, which should persuade any ethical person no matter what faith they hold. The Bishop doesn't need to teach Obama anything. Obama knows what takes place when a sperm fertilizes an ovum-- any intelligent person moderately familiar with the life cycle knows what takes place-- yet he manifestly persists in feigned ignorance of scientific fact because it is politically expedient for him to do so. Read your science textbook. Then read your Catechism. You get one cheer, for acknowledging that ESCR is unjust. Unfortunately, those who fail to recognize Abortion as a grave violation of human rights and dignity are only carrying water for the Democrats.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 1:37pm
By refusing to attend the ceremony Bishop D'Arcy has avoided being attacked by the holier than thou rightwing screech hawks who would surely be calling for his head if he showed up to see the Anti-Christ. Two cheers indeed.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 1:21pm
Mr Winters, Mr Winters! You seem to have glossed over something extremely obvious to everyone familar with Obama's record as President. You observe the following: That said, when D’Arcy writes that "President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," he should have made clear that the President certainly did not see the issue that way. D’Arcy had written a thoughtful, strong statement after President Obama revoked the regulation banning the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, if this is the presidential decision that makes Obama so unacceptable on a Catholic stage, we should remember that Sen. John McCain was pledged to the same policy. Ummm...Obama's decision about ESCR is only the tip of the iceberg of his administration's human rights violations. Obama's long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred began on day one of his presidency (on day one of his campaign-- on day one of his political career for that matter) as evidenced here: http://www.lifenews.com/obamaabortionrecord.html I don't know how you could possibly have concluded that what makes Obama odious is his record on ESCR, rather than ABORTION.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 3:08pm
None of today’s “outraged” protesters had much to say when pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-torture Condoleezza Rice spoke at Notre Dame’s commencement. At least President Obama agrees with the Catholic Church on most of these issues. Support the University’s decision. Sign the petition: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/4ObamaatND
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 10:11am
It is misleading to claim that ''what D’Arcy is saying is that in 2009-2012, no Catholic college or university should host the President of the United States.'' The bishop's statement references the USCCB's ''Catholics in Political Life,'' which counsels against giving ''awards, honors or platforms'' to ''those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.'' The President was not invited to Notre Dame to dialogue about life issues; he is going to be honored there, and the university obviously feels itself (and perhaps the Church in America) honored by his presence, as you yourself admitted when you gave ND three cheers for inviting him. In addition, as anyone with a Jesuit education should know, Catholics do not see respect for human life as just one more in a long list of dogmas from which other Christians often dissent. We see it as a universal and foundational moral principle grounded in ''our common humanity rooted in the common Fatherhood of God.'' That is why we find it so alarming when the world's most powerful leader brushes aside that principle as mere ideology unworthy of serious consideration.
Anonymous | 3/25/2009 - 9:59am
Excuse me? D'Arcy says: "President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. ... and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life. " You're calling that "moderate" and "thoughtful"? He is saying that he believes that never in history has the U.S. supported the killing of innocent human life until the presidency of Barack Obama. What a breathtaking lie. I guess those babies blown to bits in Iraq by Bush's criminal war weren't "innocent." As to Obama's "long-stated" unwillingness to hold human life sacred, I'd like to know exactly where and when has Obama ever stated "I am unwilling to hold human life as sacred"? D'Arcy's statement is still a clear attempt to portray Obama as a butchering monster, albeit in smoother tones of bishop-ese. How pathetic.
Anonymous | 3/26/2009 - 12:27pm
JB et al, I guess if it comes down to Naive vs. Cynical, I'll live with naive. The cynical see nothing but selfish headline grabbers and politics & prestige at stake. The naive, on the other hand, HOPE (that is at the heart of Jesus' mission, isn't it?) for transformation through relationship. The cynical rob the individual of their human dignity by stereotyping and cutting off any chance for change or growth. Whether I believe that it is LIKELY that President Obama will change his mind on abortion after a brief visit to Notre Dame is not the point. The point is that the path of relationship and engagement is our only hope of that ever happening. The tactics of demonizing him and anyone that attempts a middle-road approach only serves to fan the flames of irrationality and immaturity. It certainly does not succeed in winning any converts to the cause of Life....and certainly not a potentially influential one like President Obama. The methods of the rabid right are reckless - they do more harm than good - only further alienating moderate observers who will make the rational choice to opt out of the (non)discussion.