Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Not About Numbers

With our wedding date fast approaching, my fiancée and I are encountering a question I’m sure is all too familiar for many couples in our situation: How many kids do you think you’ll have?

We have friends who think anything over two or three is plain crazy; but then, members of my non-Catholic family have good-naturedly voiced their assumption that, as Catholics, we’ll have at least a dozen before we’re through. In a day where contraception is standard and even natural family planning is seen strictly in the light of its child-prohibitive qualities, the question is a natural one. All that’s left for us to do is choose a number we like, and the “how” is taken care of.

But this “it’s my life” mentality isn’t the extent of the problem. It’s not, in other words, only that some would have their own way and “keep God out of the bedroom.” The backlash is just as serious. There are some well-intentioned Catholics who would (and do) say, “I’m going to procreate with reckless abandon!” In response to those who would exclude the will of God for their lives from the awesome role as co-creators of human life, these folks have conversely thrown the whole weight of the burden back on His shoulders. The message is in effect, “Thanks for the offer, Almighty, but we’ll leave the creating up to You. We’ll just do our thing, and if something comes out, great!” This is not a solution. Whereas they are verbally answering the question of “How many kids do you want?” by saying, “As many as God wants us to have,” they are responding differently with their bodies, saying, “No comment.” “Reckless abandonment” is no answer at all.
(Continue reading...)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama/Notre Dame Roundup

Carl Olson over at Ignatius Insight has provided a very thorough roundup of the issues surrounding Pres Obama's appearance at Notre Dame and the Catholic response. Check it out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Scandal?

For several weeks there has been a great deal of media chatter concerning President Barack Obama’s invitation to and address at Notre Dame’s graduate commencement. Our twenty-four hour news cycle was able to milk this for large dramatic effect, and loud voices on both sides of the debate provided plenty of content. This same news cycle, however, treats recent history as old news. Little to no airtime or ink was spent by mainstream media outlets on the aftermath of the scandal, as a scandal it was indeed.

In reality—that is, in the world outside of network competition and concerns about ratings—the issues are still very pressing. It is not only good but necessary to take a moment to consider what made this thing a scandal, and what is its effect.

Leading Up

Others have given far more thorough and valuable summaries of events of what has happened, such as Joseph Bottum of First Things and Omar O’Shaughnessey at Mercatornet. In deference to their skill and in hope you will read their words, I shall provide only a sketch.

Every year the President of the United States traditionally gives addresses at three schools: A military academy, a public university, and a private university. This year, the first of Mr Obama’s presidency, the first slot was filled by the United States Naval Academy, the second by Arizona State University, and the third by Notre Dame University. Of course, the President does not simply pick schools he likes, but must be invited to them. The scandal was not that he chose Notre Dame, but that he was ever able to choose Notre Dame.

The invitation came from Father John Jenkins, who is the university president. At this point we must pause and examine what we have. Notre Dame is French for "Our Lady." The university's full name is actually "The University of Notre Dame du Lac." The university enjoys a level of prestige in this country, and with its prestige has come a general sense of ordinariness. While persons who speak of Notre Dame likely recognize it as Catholic, they may think of it as only nominally so. It may take a moment’s reflection to remember that the university was founded and ideally remains by Catholics and for Catholics. Thus it is held to a different standard, whether you accept that as one higher or lower, than other schools. It is not then simply a matter of a man in charge of a university with its and its students’ interest in mind. It is a matter of a priest of the Church of Rome in charge of a university whose best interests are clearest seen through the lens of that Church’s teachings. Rather than doing what is best for the university according to public opinion or modern secular standards, a Catholic university ought to behave as if it is really and actually Catholic. A university has as its purpose research and learning; a Catholic university has in addition to that purpose a responsibility to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

How then should that color our understanding of Father Jenkins’ invitation to President Obama to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement? Several points may be made here, and because of their number I shall attempt to make them briefly.


I do not think I am attacking a straw man if I say that opposition to Obama’s address was not based on a lack of patriotism. America is not nor has ever she been a Catholic country, and here Catholicism has been historically regarded with suspicion. True, we’ve moved past the days of the illegalization of the Mass and the workings of the Know Nothing Party, but one can easily imagine a fear that Catholics’ allegiance to the flag might be shaky. After all, they are part not of a movement but a Church, an institution which has a hierarchy and laws which operate apart from secular powers.

But it is a firm teaching of the Church that patriotism is a fulfillment of the Lord’s command to "love thy neighbor." There ought to be in a Catholic a high level of cooperation with the state and a reverence for such high offices as that of the President, whoever holds it. It is true that there are divergences between Catholic thought and the thought of a particular nation—America included—but at that point well-grounded Catholics neither abandon Church nor state. Rather, inspired by love for their country they strive to help it achieve what is good and true. The scandal of Notre Dame was not that Fr Jenkins’ invited the President, but that he invited this President.

It is doubtful you have missed what, in this debate, sets this President apart.


If you misunderstand the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life you cannot understand the opposition to Pres Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame. To put the Catholic understanding into a very simple formulation:
  • Every innocent human individual has a fundamental and inalienable right to life;
  • There is no reason to exclude unborn human beings from the category of "innocent human beings;"
  • Ergo, it is a violation to end the life of an unborn human being.

Simpler still, abortion and embryo destruction constitute the (violent) murder of human persons.

While Mr Obama was a senator he had a 100% pro-abortion choice voting record. In fact, he voted not only in favor of abortion rights through the third trimester (including partial birth abortion), but he also voted against the Born Alive Protection Act, which protected children who were born alive after failed attempts to abort the pregnancy. In other words, he voted in favor of infanticide by any definition of the word.

On the campaign trail, at a Planned Parenthood function, Senator Obama vowed his first formal act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which would effectively end the abortion debate in the political realm (in favor of abortion). Once elected, one of his first acts was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy which provides US funding for international abortions. He also wishes to open funding for more research on human embryos.

President Obama not only rejects the human right to life which the Church teaches is "a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation," but actively opposes it.

So what does this mean for the university?

The Catholic University

Fr Jenkins, in response to the opposition to his invitation, claimed to be upholding the purpose of the university by inviting debate. But President Obama was not invited to debate, rather to give a commencement address to this year’s graduates. There was no opposing podium. True, one of the counter-opposition talking points was that former US Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon would provide the other side, but this offering is meager at best. Dr Glendon was not invited to debate either, but to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal; her acceptance speech would have been about five minutes. (The fact that the university was using her good name and reputation to soften the Obama-blow was one of the reasons she gave for eventually declining the award.) Nor did any semblance of debate appear at the actual commencement. Pres Obama enjoyed a warm welcome inside, while outside protestors were cordoned off, and several were arrested—for advocating Catholic teaching on a Catholic university campus. What’s more, Fr Jenkins did not only invite Pres Obama to speak, but invited him to receive an honorary law degree. This is not unimportant.

In 1990 Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Exhortation, Ex Corde Ecclesia, which calls on Catholic universities to be discernibly Catholic (this is of course an overly-simplistic summary, but will suffice). With even this basic guideline one could reasonably expect a Catholic university not to honor a man—and keep in mind the man would be honored, not his office—whose life work has been tainted by an opposition to revealed truth. But to make things simpler, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document in 2004 called "Catholics in Political Life." In it the bishops wrote, "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." Fr Jenkins’ excuse that he thought the bishops only forbade honoring Catholics "who act in defiance" is pathetic enough to be ignored.

And so, all of a sudden, we find ourselves at an end. The scandal was not really about the President coming to a Catholic university, but that the Catholic university—or at least its head—invited him to come in order to honor him, despite his opposition to Catholic teaching. The scandal only became graver by the support for Fr Jenkins’ decision by faculty and students within the university. It’s not, as some have characterized it, about power or politics or about someone or other just wanting his own way. It’s about taking the sanctity of life seriously, and not patting on the back those who oppose its protection.

Further Reading:
Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendon