Re: “The Church and the University” (8/31): As Catholics we need to look to the future. We have a unique opportunity to learn from and leverage an event that took place in May on the campus of Notre Dame. In the university’s tradition, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was invited to speak at the commencement and accepted. There the debate began among many as to whether this was appropriate, given the new administration’s stance on abortion.
There is no debate as to Notre Dame’s position on the sanctity of human life. As Notre Dame’s president, John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has stated many times, including at the commencement, we are unwavering in our support of the Catholic Church’s teachings. We oppose President Obama’s policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
So what should we learn from this event, and what is the opportunity that it created? The president of the United States came to our campus knowing our position on the sanctity of human life. He was willing to listen to us and was open to dialogue. We also listened to him with respect. The level of national attention to this issue has never been higher. This is the opportunity. In addition to honoring the office of the presidency, we hoped that this invitation would provide an opening for dialogue on those issues on which the Catholic Church and our president are not in agreement. That first step will need to be nurtured.
We must not let this opportunity slip from our grasp. We must work hard at the relationship between our faith and our culture. We cannot take a position that lets the ground lie fallow because we are unwilling to be teachers. It will be a long road. The possibility of meaningful dialogue on vital subjects was increased because of Notre Dame’s role as a place where a renewed effort built on courtesy and respect could begin.
During this period some have questioned whether the Notre Dame board of trustees gave any consideration to this matter. A thorough and candid discussion of the invitation to the president to speak and receive an honorary degree occurred. There was no need for a statement or a press release from that meeting because we stayed the course that we were on. It should also be said that the president of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins, had then and has now our total support. From Father Hesburgh to Father Malloy and now Father Jenkins, Notre Dame has been blessed with great leadership.
I would also like to thank Bishop John M. D’Arcy for his leadership and counsel. For 24 years he has served the diocese and supported Notre Dame. We are saddened by his disappointment in Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges throughout the world that subscribed to the landmark Land O’Lakes Statement on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. As the bishop has stated, “Notre Dame is a splendid place.”
Richard C. Notebaert
Chairman, Board of Trustees
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Ind.More Dialogue
No one doubts the authority of bishops to pronounce on moral issues. Bishop John D’Arcy’s complaint is that Notre Dame has “honored” the president of the United States, although he does not accept the church’s teachings regarding abortion.
I myself “honor” many opponents of the church’s teaching on abortion by inviting them to my home. In doing so, I do not express any dissent from the church’s teaching. On occasion, while they are there, we discourse on the subject of abortion, and this provides me with an opportunity to articulate the church’s position. Maybe, seeing my resolve, they may soften their hearts.
Susan M. Smith
Wallingford, Pa.A Remarkable Bishop
I applaud Bishop D’Arcy for his article. During his time as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend he has demonstrated remarkable leadership and strength, especially on issues of morality. I firmly agree that it is due to the work of the passionate student body of Notre Dame that the Catholicity of the university has remained intact. Notre Dame’s first priority, as with all Catholic institutions of higher education, is to be a witness to the truth of the Gospel.
Fort Wayne, Ind.Condemnation or Dialogue
There is an unfortunate tendency among many to prefer to be “right rather than effective.” The two articles in America by Bishop John M. D’Arcy and Archbishop John R. Quinn deal with this very conundrum—when is “witnessing” counter to Christ’s directive to love above all else.
My beloved Benedictine college, Saint Vincent, invited President Bush to give the commencement address. Many at the college felt this was inappropriate; they claimed he did not emulate Benedictine virtues. President Bush was invited on the Benedictine principle of “hospitality,” which welcomes anyone who comes to the monastery.
And so I tend to agree with Archbishop Quinn, Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council’s Christus Dominus (No. 13). We had an opportunity for dialogue with someone we disagree with on this issue but agree with on many issues of social justice.
Let’s hope Obama’s visit to Notre Dame will be the start of a determined effort to gain mutual understanding of how to promote reverence for all life.
Charles F. Keller
Los Alamos, N.M.Humbly Human
Bishop D’Arcy’s take on the Obama-University of Notre Dame fiasco offers at least this practitioner of the faith such a balanced and intelligent, at the same time humbly human, range of insights as to all but restore trust in our hierarchy’s grasp of what its “world’s most important assignment” needs to consist of.
James C. G. Conniff
Upper Montclair, N.J.Truly Ecumenical
Thanks to Archbishop Quinn. Civic respect and tolerance are essential values in the Christian witness. We have learned to be ecumenical with those of other religions. We must be ecumenical also with those who do not share our moral values.
Michael McGuckian, S.J.
Galway, EireTeaching Mission
What a pity that Archbishop Quinn’s remarks were not presented and discussed at the bishops’ meeting! I hope that this can be remedied at the next one, because his recommendation is critical to the teaching mission of the church.
While it is important to speak the truth, how it is spoken and with what respect for the audience dramatically affects how the message is received.
When the bishops are perceived as closed-minded, partisan and arrogant, their teaching on other justice issues will be ignored as well.
San Carlos, Calif.Support and Oppose
Is there anyone in the United States, Catholic or not, who believes that the University of Notre Dame, its administration, faculty or student body support abortion? Would the bishop deny an honorary degree to someone who supports the death penalty? Would he deny such to George Weigel, who opposes the church’s position on the definition of a just war? These matters are also part of the “Catholic faith in all of its fullness” and are also “life” issues.
Let the church and its related universities continue to support the president on those life and social justice issues on which we agree and continue to oppose him on the others.
Robert M. Rowden
San Rafael, Calif.Dignity, Logic, Charity
Bishop D’Arcy’s letter is a classic, comparable in dignity and stature with Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. Without a scintilla of meanness and with a heart full of affection for Notre Dame, he makes his case with dignity, logic and charity. Three cheers for the good bishop!
Weston, Mass.The Real Question
Bishop D’Arcy has gotten right to the point. The question is, What is the relationship between the Catholic University and the local bishop? Does the role of the bishop apply inside the gates of the university?
The actions of the president and board of Notre Dame have not been consistent with a Catholic identity. Notre Dame is free to honor whomever it wants, but it cannot be Catholic and not-Catholic at the same time.