The National Catholic Review

I’ve found the conversation on Mary Ann Glendon very interesting, and wanted to follow up on some of the points made.   Hopefully my comments will clearly respect the points of view of those who shared them; that’s certainly my intent. 

I completely appreciate Professor Glendon’s right to withdraw, and as I said, I think Notre Dame made some serious blunders in the way it treated her. I guess my question is, what does she add to the conversation through her withdrawal? Her principled voice against President Obama’s position on abortion?  Ok, yes; though she expresses the same set of arguments any number of others have taken, her stand brings new momentum because it's her doing it.  

Yet in refusing to be present to the occasion, she tacitly accepts the us vs. them mindset that dominates the issue.  And I wonder whether there wasn't another way of proceeding in which she could have embraced the plight she found herself in, rather than rejecting it, and brought the conversation to a place where some sort of progress could be made. The lady is a former ambassador and a Harvard professor of law, after all. As we used to say as kids, she's got skills. Maybe the circumstances weren’t right, or Notre Dame just went too far; but it's a disappointment, I'd say. 

And my question to those who disagree: if you think the conversation is really “getting somewhere” through the ongoing litany of condemnation, what is the progress you see being made? 

A number of commenters thought I was arguing semantics when I said President Obama has not been uncompromising on abortion. Yet I find much evidence to support my claim.  Despite being pro-choice Mr. Obama has actually been critical of the pro-choice movement, and has repeatedly spoken of abortion as a serious moral question. So at the democratic forum at Messiah College in April of 2008 he said: “There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that’s a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.”

During the campaign he also argued that no one (including himself) thinks abortion is a good thing -- a position one hears almost no one in the pro-choice movement make; and he has spoken out against partial-birth abortion, saying as long ago as October 2007, “I think there is a large agreement that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation. And it should only happen in terms of the mother’s life or severe health consequences.” He reiterated the point a year later at the third presidential debate. What's more he has spoken out in favor of abstinence, adoption, education and even the idea that people considering abortion should speak first to clergy -- which again, did not go over terribly well among some who are pro-choice.

I would suggest a more conciliar, balanced approach from a pro-choice politician would be hard to find.  And that’s why I think Professor Glendon's comments are indeed unfair. 

Since before he began his run for the presidency Mr. Obama has expressed a willingness to reach out to those whose points of view he doesn’t agree with. Indeed, many of his speeches during the campaign argued that the polarizing divides among us are not the last word, that beneath what seem intractable disagreements lie important but forgotten underlying sources of connection and agreement. So in his presidential acceptance speech, he could

Comments

Anonymous | 5/1/2009 - 6:33pm
Fr. McDermott, I hope that you agree that federal funding for abortion is revolting. This "vinegar" was added to the pudding by the administration. I can think of other harsher words for such a vile proposition but I would not use these amongst clergy.
Anonymous | 4/30/2009 - 8:56pm
"And I want to note -- as of yet, no one responding has responded to my question of how the ongoing series of condemnations is actually making any sort of progress on the issue." I don't think there's anything to which to respond. For extremists on both sides of the issue, it has long ago ceased being about saving human lives, but in entrenching themselves in old behavior. There's a crude and ironic narcissism afoot when people set aside important principles (like alerting authorities about child rape or the ideological cannibalism practiced on Sam and Doug) to emphasize their tunnel visions. The sad thing is there's a lot of energy still on the Catholic Right. They have yet to realize that shouting louder and banging their heads against the wall faster is only going to isolate them further from the mainstream, which is where elections have always been decided.
Anonymous | 4/30/2009 - 3:17pm
To Jim Belna, I'd push on two points. First, while the pro-choice lobby is an important one, I think you've gone too far when you say it's the Democrats' most important lobby. The fact is, they had this group behind them the last two elections and lost them both. It's not the pro-choice group that put him over the top, and I think that gives him a different kind of freedom. And second, I'm with you, what Mr. Obama says depends on where he goes. But unlike some politicians, who seem to make careers out of charm and seduction, I find underlying Mr. Obama's comments a pretty consistent attempt to reach common ground that allows some progress to be achieved on this and other issues. That is to say, yes, he's strategic, he uses charm, but he's not out there throwing each group some red meat. I'm with you, Greg Popcak, ''Pretty words are not enough.'' We need deeds. But limiting embryonic research, having a group advising him that includes pro-life politicians, supporting a bill that limits abortion -- these are concrete measures. These are efforts. And I want to note -- as of yet, no one responding has responded to my question of how the ongoing series of condemnations is actually making any sort of progress on the issue. Thanks for the conversation.
Anonymous | 4/30/2009 - 3:03pm
Thanks to everyone for your comments on this topic. Some nicely thought out points. (As well as some humor; sorry you're not digging the pudding, Joe. I find it tastes better when I use less vinegar. :) ) Speaking of pudding, Anne B., thanks for your question. You might want to check out the most recent editorial of L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Vatican. It notes that while Mr. Obama did at times talk pretty awful on matters of life during the campaign, in point of fact he and the Democrats, too, are in practice doing some pretty interesting, positive things. Speaking about embryonic stem-cell guidelines, L'O R notes that the new federal guidelines ''don't permit the creation of new embryos for purposes of research or therapy, for cloning or reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used solely for experimentation with surplus embryos.'' It's still allowing embryonic research, which is clearly a problem, but this is a positive (and unexpected) step. Likewise, the editorial notes that the Democrats have introduced the Pregnant Woman Support Act, which would move to actively limit the number of abortions in the U.S. through aid initiatives. The editorial speculates that this project ''could represent a rebalancing in support of motherhood.'' This is the semi-official voice of the Vatican, praising Obama for making some unexpected moves. Which again to me suggests, he's not as uncompromising as some are making him out to be.
Anonymous | 4/30/2009 - 11:30am
Well put, Mr. Gleason. I've lost a lot of respect for Glendon, due to her effort to "deftly turn up the heat," as Greg Popcak put it. If Finn, Bruskiewitz, et al, are acting like ecclesiastical Rush Limbaughs, Glendon is the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Her act is better educated, but it's the same act.
Anonymous | 4/30/2009 - 12:22am
At his press conf. Wednesday, Obama fielded a Notre Dame abortion flap question. He said that pro-choice people should acknowledge that abortion has an ethical and moral component. Also, that he has a task force of pro-life and pro-choice people working and looking for common ground. Bishop Finn in Kansas wants to go to war with Obama and his supporters. I suggest Finn take his 'troops'google a map to Wash.DC and attack the benches of the 5 Catholic, Republican appointed Supreme Court Justices. That's the hill to die on! Meanwhile I'll support women who are faced with a crisis, come to a life giving decision..
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 4:15pm
"Now, are all of these just empty words to try to fool lefty Catholic priests like myself into stumping for him?" In a word, Father McDermott, yes.
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 2:40pm
Fr. McDermott, I have a simple question for you. You say that President Obama has been compromising when it comes to life issues, but every instance above refers to words he has used regarding abortion. Of course, he has used other words as well, including those that have displayed his support for FOCA (at Planned Parenthood, sine qua non the leaders of the PC movement that President has apparently been critical of) and those that have referred to babies as punishments for mistakes. Can you cite specific instances where his political actions on abortion or embryo research have shown evidence of compromise? In all fairness, please use his time as State Senator and U.S. Senator if you'd like to consider the question I'm asking. God bless you.
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 1:51pm
I would respectfully suggest that Ambassador Glendon used her considerable skills by employing a therapeutic nihilism that allowed her to both avoid being used as a prop for the UND admin to justify their inappropriate decision and focus the attention on what she perceives to be the real issue--the need for Catholic universities to adhere to Ex Corde and the need for responsible Catholics to use more than pretty words in defense of the Culture of Life. Secondly, Fr. McDermott, I think that you are falling prey to the dynamic Cdl George describes in his recently released report on his meeting with President Obama. In the Cardinal's words, "It's hard to disagree with him because he'll always tell you he agrees with you," he said. "Maybe that's political. I think he sincerely wants to agree with you. You have to say, again and again, 'No, Mr. President, we don't agree (on abortion).'" Pretty words are not enough. Ambassador Glendon has used her considerable skill to say that actions speak louder than pretty words. She has kept Fr. Jenkins in the hot seat and deftly turned the heat up on the crisis so that those responsible would see that this is an issue that demands a concrete response not more lip service. As for the us-them dynamic, that was established when Fr. Jenkins set his university in oppostition to the bishops' express wishes in Ex Corde. Let's stop blaming others for simply allowing Fr. Jenkins to swing in the noose he made for himself, shall we?
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 1:44pm
I object to ND's award to Mary Ann Glendon because in 2002 she condemned the Boston Globe's exposition of clergy abuse and Cardinal Law's coverup as' anti Catholic media hype' Trained in law she made no comments when the Cardinal had to resign.If she had accepted the award it would have diminished the award's future. The Laetare award should go to James Muller M.D , Notre Dame alumnus, receipient of Nobel Prize for Peace 1985, founder of Voice Of the Faithful, responsible for forcing the de facto US primate,Cardinal Law to flee to Rome.. Now that's accomplishment ...
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 1:15pm
My second point is that while I understand Professor Glendon's reasoning, I think she's displaying a disappointing lack of leadership. Yes, Notre Dame's treatment of her may have been cowardly and self-serving, but I'd like to think that in her position, I would have viewed the forum as a leadership challenge I had been thrust into. Certainly, it would have been a difficult balancing act to have, at once, persuasively pushed backed on the President's abortion views without appearing uncivil or disrespectful. But if anyone could have done it, Professor Glendon could have. Now, though, instead of rising to the occasion, she's retreating, hoping her silence and absence will speak volumes. I fear to most Americans, and most Catholics, who will only catch a minute or two at most of the president's address and the story around the controversy, it will come across as reticence and callousness. The images beamed across the nation will be of a pro-choice president coming to a Catholic, ostensibly pro-life school in a barely blue state to deliver a speech face-to-face with many of his most vocal and hostile cultural critics. And the person who was to engage and challenge him, a distinguished Catholic among Catholics receiving an award at one of the country's flagship Catholic universities, wouldn't even show up to give a speech to a sympathetic crowd. And that ignores the content of Obama's address, which one has to assume given the weight of the moment will be masterful. How is that outcome beneficial to the pro-life movement?
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 1:09pm
I think it was precisely the possibility that her presence on the dais would make President Obama's position on the life issues appear ''conciliar'' and ''balanced'' that dissuaded Ambassador Glendon from appearing at ND. Since the election, Catholic intellectuals who supported Obama have labored to redefine the pro-life commitment of the Catholic Church in America. Now there are, we are told endlessly, two different ways to be pro-life: (a) the old-fashioned, mean-spirited, loser way, which seeks to change the law in order to restrict abortion, while ignoring every social evil from torture to racism, as the vile Republicans do; or (b) the contemporary, compassionate way, which recognizes that abortion-on-demand is a ''done deal'' in the USA and seeks only to enact Democratic social programs in the hopes that some lower-income women will find it easier to bring their unborn children to term, even though--should they choose otherwise--tax dollars will support their freedom of choice. The honor to be bestowed on Obama next month makes it appear that even Our Lady's university agrees that approach (b) is at least as ''pro-life'' and morally acceptable to Catholics as approach (a). Glendon evidently decided her appearance would help support that ''balanced'' and ''conciliar'' approach--and it's no surprise that its proponents are raking her over the coals as a result. She made the kind of ''choice'' they hate.
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 12:45pm
I've tasted the first 100 days of the Obama pudding and I find it revolting.
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 11:50am
My question is why Glendon was chosen in the first place. According to Wikipedia, "The award is given to an American Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity." How does an ambassador to the Vatican who undermined the Pope's and Cardinal Soldano's postion about the war in Iraq - and who used every opportunity to justify the Bush Administration - fit the qualification above? Oh, I know why. Wikipedia goes on to add, "A committee generally takes names of potential recipients from faculty and staff at the University of Notre Dame. They select two or three candidates from this group, which are voted on by the Officers of the University." And who are the "Officers of the University"? That is a question to look at. My sense has generally been that Notre Dame is steered in a very conservative direction; at least from my point of view. Sure, there are the left wing nuts in the theology dept. that are put out as examples, but how many other Catholic Universities have a nuclear reactor on campus?
Anonymous | 4/29/2009 - 11:01pm
Although it is thoroughly predictable that President Obama will give a carefully nuanced speech at Notre Dame with a lot of ''pro-life'' sentiments that no sensible person on either side will take seriously, it is hardly necessary for him to resort to empty words to ''try to fool lefty priests''. I presume that Father McDermott is not an idiot; he must know that President Obama gives one kind of speech at Messiah College and a completely different one in front of Planned Parenthood. America Magazine is an ongoing testament to the simple truth that the Jesuits who run it couldn't care less what liberal politicians say, feel, or do about abortion. I suspect that they do care about what their fellow liberals think of them, which likely accounts for Fr McDermott's strained rationalization of the president's actual record. It is also hard to swallow that Fr McDermott really believes that any amount of ''dialogue'', much less a brief speech at a college commencement, could possibly persuade President Obama to compromise the interests of his most important political constituency. As Fr McDermott says, ''politically the man's no fool.'' Fortunately, neither is Professor Glendon.