Friday, April 24, 2009

An LD Gloss

The American Papist has received a copy of a letter from author/blogger Dawn Eden, which is purported to be by the hand of Fr. Hugh Cleary, CSC, Superior General of that priestly congregation.

I cannot vouch for the letter's authenticity, though Mr. Peters believes it is authentic.

While I have reason to doubt neither the sincerity nor the good will of Mr. Peters, I am here at pains to say that I have no direct assurance the letter is in fact of Fr. Cleary's authorship.

UPDATE: I see David Gibson had the letter and was posting it as authentic back on March 31st. I have called the CSC Curia in Rome, but they are not answering.

Nevertheless, having given this caveat, I will gloss the letter with a view to criticism of its merits.

I follow a modified version of the Zuhlsdorf protocol. Emphases in Gold, comments in LD Blue.

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Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on being awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Notre Dame!

The University of Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross and in 1844 it was established as a civil moral person by a legislative act of the state of Indiana. On March 6, 1967, with the consent of the Holy Father Pope Paul VI, in the spirit of Vatican Council II with its clarion call for all Catholics to take greater responsibility for living and strengthening the life of the Church, the Congregation of Holy Cross ceded its ownership of the University of Notre Dame to a Board of Fellows. The University remains, however, under the continuous sponsorship of the Congregation of Holy Cross of which I am the Superior General.

The dramatic alienation of ownership of the University of Notre Dame from the Congregation of Holy Cross took place in light of the Second Vatican Council's recommendation [does the COuncil really recommend this? I do not mean to lead the commentary/eventual discussion down a rabbit hole. I only point out that the author is working from a particular understanding of the Council - though exactly what that understanding is, is not at this point clear] that competent laity play a more significant role in the administration of religious and ecclesiastical property. Through this unprecedented gesture the Congregation of Holy Cross sought to offer competent lay Catholics broader responsibility for Catholic higher education without jeopardizing the authentic Catholic character of the institution [Many commentators have already noted that one of the central elements in the historical backdrop to the present crisis is the Land o'Lakes Statement, which as a matter of fact has led to the often disastrous dilution of the character of Catholic institutions of higher learning. Many of those who have been scandalized by this adulteration of identity have sometimes suggested that Land o'Lakes is the deliberate expression of wilful disregard and even contempt for the traditional Catholic educational ethos. I rather believe that it was the result of a sort of inebriation - a spiritual drunkenness that temporarily impeded the signatories' ability to engage in prudential reasoning. While it is true that the truth of Catholic faith will always emerge victorious in open debate conducted by competent and fair-minded interlocutors dedicated to expounding and defending basically reasonable, though apparently conflicting positions, it is also true that no such conditions obtained in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The spirit of courage and forthrightness to which the Council encouraged Catholics in their engagement with Modernity was the spirit of warriors, and the Council Fathers were preparing their soldiers for a massive sortie, by which they hoped to regain enough ground to form ranks and force a pitched battle, after long years and decades of seige. The university fathers in the US rather understood the Council Fathers to be calling for a cessation of hostilities with a view to a negotiated settlement. On this reading, the problems associated with the statement are in one sense much more serious than those, which might attend a simple exercise in bad faith: prudence must be exercised if it is to be kept, and the longer a person or an institution or a group of institutions persist in folly, the harder it will become for them to recognize it as such. We are now well into the third generation of this great folly - and most of the few intellectual swords that were not beaten prematurely into ploughshares, are by now blunt and oxidized, while those who might yield them are grown soft, and know little but disdain for the necessary martial spirit. On the other hand, the situation has become manifestly untenable, and necessity is a severe, though often the only effective teacher. We are yet in time to put off the folly and return to the fight, if sufficient numbers may be found. The problem is compounded, however, by the fact that those who have been preserved from the worst effects of the folly, are nevertheless unused to the exercise of prudence, and untrained in the needful disciplines - they would form ranks and fight, but do not know how to gain the field].

President Obama, the University of Notre Dame is honored to have you, as President of the United States of America, deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of 2009. Personally, in so many ways, I admire you as a great American, a person endowed with extraordinarily well developed intellectual gifts, and, in my opinion [of course it is the author's opinion - this is poor writing], a man whose enormous compassion characterizes the goodness of his heart. Mr. President, you have the potential for greatness; I pray it be realized.

As you know the University of Notre Dame's decision to award you the honorary degree and to invite you to deliver the commencement address is fraught with controversy. As Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross I have been deluged with angry e-mails regarding Notre Dame's decision to invite you to campus for the honors you are to receive.

Because of the University's legal civil alienation from the Congregation, I have no authority over its decision making - those responsibilities are now directed by a Board of Fellows and a Board of Trustees. Nevertheless I do hold personal authority over all of the Holy Cross priests and brothers of the Congregation who serve at the University of Notre Dame including its president who is always a Holy Cross priest.

President Obama, you are superbly versed in the issues of our day. I have no doubt that your policy convictions are grounded in rigorous study and that all your important decisions are supported by your conscience. Therefore, through this open letter, I would like to take advantage of the occasion of your receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame, to ask you to rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital "life issues" of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic forms of stem cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act before Congress.

Perhaps such an impertinent request rings with insolence [Does the author think he is writing to a monarch?]. I mean you neither rudeness nor disrespect. I ask you this directly because as a Catholic [alarm bells: it is not only, nor even primarily as a Catholic, but as a rational being with proper formation and the ability rightly to conduct his reason, that the author should write. The dignity of the human person and the inherent rights of every human being, the duty to protect all such life from conception, are matters knowable by reason. The Church teaches these things because they are true, though we do not know them simply because the Church teaches them (as, for example, we know by faith that God is one being in a Trinity of persons).] , in this critical area of life and death issues, I hold and promote contrary views to your own as to what is right and just for the common good of our nation.

In a very real sense your presence at Notre Dame offers us a kind of seminar, a stimulus of mind and heart, to quicken and incite conscience formation. None of us want to be stubborn and yet we have clear convictions. We want to be open to a variety of perspectives yet it is our principled beliefs that define us. We Catholics are always battling the vagrancies of "relativism." It is clear, however, that your positions on some of the fundamental "life issues" of our nation can neither be supported by the mission and ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame nor the faithful Catholic community.

Mr. President, in thinking of your coming visit to Notre Dame, I am reminded of the way you seized the opportunity, in the heat of your campaign for president, to address the issue of racial bigotry in our American culture. Your courage in addressing a history of the racism and violent discrimination in a nation grounded in human rights and freedom for all, confronted us with the inconsistency and hypocrisy of our words and actions. In addressing the issue of racism head on with passionate convictions and sterling logic you not only benefited politically during a critical point of the campaign but you also used this precarious opportunity as a teachable moment for the nation, calling us to our best selves, to live truly who we say we are.

In a similar way your presence at Notre Dame affords all of us a teachable moment. We Catholics will not modify or compromise our essential faith convictions but we do need help in developing our skills of communication and organization to express our faith convictions in American society so as to be heard and taken seriously [This is certainly true. I do not see why it needs to come up at this point. Does the author suppose that the President is going to give a lesson in communications? Also, and per the comments super, we have far greater problems with articulating the reasons for our faith, with giving the reason for the hope that is in us, than we do with simply expressing our faith convictions - though we do have difficulty doing that]. How are we Catholics to participate in all levels of government without betraying our consciences or without being coerced by potential laws that would violate our consciences? This is a colossal concern for us with far reaching consequences that go to the core of who we are as a nation, as human beings and people of faith.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame, reminded students recently that that the University of Notre Dame aspires to help them grow in faith and moral character. He gave them points to ponder. In a list of six smidgens of wisdom, Father Jenkins first urged them to wrestle with the largest questions of life such as:"What is a truly good, worthy human life and how do I live it?" Perhaps the largest question of all is: "What, if anything, am I willing to die for?" Will we die for our essential beliefs?

Most Catholics, who disagree with the decision of the University to offer you this award, are rooted deeply in their faith, however imperfect we may be. We often fail, we are sinners, no doubt about it. Trusting in God's love we try to pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness and try to do better. Our faith means everything to us; we have a faith we will die for.

Sadly today, many faithful Catholics now feel out of the mainstream of our nation's direction and decision-making. Sometimes it seems many legislators, judges and executives, and even yourself, Mr. President, dismiss our views too off-handedly, without giving them the serious attention and reflection they deserve. How are we Catholics to go about getting ourselves to be taken seriously by our government leaders?

President Obama, your presence at Notre Dame, a premier Catholic institution, is regarded by many good Catholics as scandalous because of your support of abortion rights, regarded by us as an intrinsic evil. In awarding you this degree, they experience Notre Dame as undermining essential, intrinsic Catholic dogma which upholds the dignity of human life. They believe that in honoring you or in giving you a platform to speak, the University of Notre Dame is selling her soul for who knows what: perhaps, at best, for the prestige and glory of having the President of the United States on campus during his first year in office or perhaps at worst, giving an endorsement to your "anti-life policies." [This is an excellent summary of the case against the invitation. It is presented as a matter of fact, and this is something politicians understand. The president does need to understand the depth of feeling among faithful Catholics, as well as the motivation for those feelings. I do not think he does at this point.]

I do not believe this outrage is simply a demonstration of partisan politics. I sincerely want to rejoice in your presence at Notre Dame as President of the United States. But really, can I? [This is something I have asked, as well. The USCCB has expressed a similar reticence.] In all sincerity, President Obama, how are we Catholics to deal with you, or any other government leader, who upholds what we believe to be the intrinsic evil of abortion and who is willing to sign the FOCA legislation? How are we to confront Catholic leaders in your own Administration by whom we feel so abandoned? Are we to use tactics of shunning you and dismissing you as we feel shunned and dismissed? This is a far from frivolous question. Shunning seems to be the growing trend among many Catholic leaders and institutions today. It seems to be the only recourse left open. [This is too much. It does not now seem to be the only course open - if it were, then why does the author - if the author really is Fr. Cleary - order Fr. Jenkins to disinvite the POTUS? I continue to hope things will not fall to such a case, though it appears more and more to be moving in that direction, and with increasing rapidity, and with fault for the increase in momentum on both sides.] It is, of course, a tactic many politicians have used on occasion, including yourself.

During the campaign for example, you went to great and painful lengths to distance yourself from your pastor over extremely controversial issues. [This is confusing. The issues to which the author alludes were qualitatively different from that of abortion. It is also frivolous, unless the author is trying to justify shunning the President by saying, "You've done it, too," at which point he would be committing a petitio principii - question-begging - since the evil of abortion is self-evident, while the evil of hating the United States is not.] Our Catholic concern for the right to life motivates us to go to great and painful lengths to distance ourselves from you because of your position on many of the "life issues."

There are also politicians on both sides of the aisle who say we as a nation can never meet or negotiate with our enemies until they first change their ways. Your predecessor, for example, shunned political leaders of nations who sponsored state terrorism. Your administration has taken a different tact. You have indicated your willingness to engage our nation's foes in dialogue, yet Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, states that he will continue to shun you until the United States changes behavior toward Iran. "Change only in words is not enough. Change must be real," he said.

Likewise, there is no way you could possibly invite the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the United States to address a joint session of the Congress. It is unthinkable. Many Catholics find a parallel situation in your being invited to speak at a Catholic institution like Notre Dame. They are scandalized beyond measure that Notre Dame would do such a thing. [This entire section is unnecessary, and rather weakens the case: "life issues" are different in kind from legitimate differences regarding the right conduct of foreign policy]

Mr. President, as you know the "life issues" before us are quite matter of fact, yet exceedingly complex. Our most essential faith conviction is straight-forward. [Again, it is not (merely, not necessarily) a faith conviction. If it were, the pro-aborts might even have a point.] You yourself expressed it so well in your remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast this past February 5th, when you said: "No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life an innocent human being. This much we know."

This much we know, Mr. President, your statement on the taking of an innocent life is our belief. It is the kind of clear, straightforward talk of your conscience convictions that we find so appealing. But sadly for us Catholics, your words do not express our meaning when you speak of "taking the life of an innocent human being."

President Obama, I found the entirety of your remarks at the prayer breakfast truly inspiring and motivating. In your words I found, in summary form, the reason of my admiration and esteem for you and the root of my patriotism. With your words, however, I also found, in summary form, the reason I could vote neither for you nor the Democratic ticket nor the Republican ticket. In fact, as a Catholic I believe myself disenfranchised from my government and disillusioned with what I perceive as a great gap between the rhetoric of our founding national ideals and the hubris of our so-called national convictions which more and more seem simply to enshrine our self-interest for prosperity over democracy. As an American Catholic, will I ever be able to vote again for a nominee of a major political party when each party, in my view, fails the consistency test in promoting the rights and dignity of all human beings from conception to natural death? [This is frankly sophomoric, as is most of what follows. It is poorly considered, amateurish rhetoric; it is also peevish and petulant.]

I am embarrassed to confess that I sat out the last election cycle. I am finding it more and more difficult to vote for the candidates of our major political parties. My friends tell me to vote by all means, vote for the lesser of the evils. Unfortunately today's evils seem so much larger than my conscience can bear, whether they be on abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, immigration, the economy, housing for the poor, health care for the uninsured, the environment, war or weapons of mass destruction. I do love my country and I do want to vote. I just don't know how to vote while remaining true to my conscience formed by my faith convictions.

But to return to your simple truth: "There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being."

Catholic dogma insists that life begins at conception [V.s. I now consider this point sufficiently hackneyed, and will not continue to make it. Consider this ample indication of one of the basic weaknesses of this document]. Innocent human life is conceived through sexual intercourse meant to be the most intimate, expression of love possible between two human beings, save giving up one's life for the other. In his first encyclical, "God Is Love," Pope Benedict XVI taught that "one meaning in love, amid a multiplicity of meanings, stands out in particular: the love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love." [No reason to quote the Pope. There is nothing wrong with what the Pope says in the above quotation, but it just adds nothing to the case the author is supposedly building. The President of the United States is a busy man. He does not need to be bothered by this sort of topless, bottomless beginningless, endless, pointless prating. If the author wanted to quote the HF to effect, he might have chosen something like this:

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.

- Speech on the South Lawn of the White House, April 16th, 2008
Also, it needed to be placed somewhere else, but that is more than we need to discuss at this point.]


It is true that sometimes, tragically, life is formed in the brutality of rape or in the shame of incest. Likewise life is often unintentionally conceived within the process of people solely seeking sexual pleasures.

But in Catholic dogma, human life is human life. Abortion is considered an unspeakable crime, the taking of an innocent human life. As you so well stated "no God condones taking the life of an innocent human being." As Catholics, that much we know. You prayed "let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate." Just as love begets love, hate begets hate.

There are some people who hate the life of a child in the womb due to the unwanted consequences of sheltering, nurturing and forming that new "intruder," that new guest, who is now forever altering the agenda of one's personal life as well as the life of our larger society.

There are some religious people who now hate Notre Dame for inviting you to speak at the 2009 graduation and receive an honorary degree. I fear their hate will beget further hate. Will their hatred ultimately destroy their souls in the guise of self-righteousness, just as powerfully as abortion destroys the physical life of a newly conceived child?

Embedded in the civil laws framing our United States cultural values [I deny that this is the case. The problem is that the laws are at loggerheads with the cultural commitments that made the Founders' experiment in liberty plausible, and our own participation in that project possible. I do not deny that laws have a powerful affect on social mores: Brown v. Board were happy proof of that. I deny that, rightly considered, laws should be a frame of "cultural values". Laws are an authoritative expression of an idea of order, of a shared experience of the good of being in society.], and even among some Christian believers, an embryo growing in a woman's womb is not considered to be a human life; "it" is regarded simply as new tissue, a kind of cancerous, biological growth infecting a woman's body and threatening a woman's independent way of life. Legalized abortion clearly implies that a person's choice for personal freedom supersedes the natural human obligation to protect and nurture human life. Biological destiny has its challenges for both women and men in making our choices. The Hebrew Scripture emphatically expresses the right decision in the choice between life and death: "choose life!"

Faithful Catholics believe that the fetus, the embryo, growing in the womb is a distinct human being. We believe that the new child's mother is the guardian of her baby's life within her womb. She is offering this new creation precious hospitality, just as a Christian might give a journeying pilgrim the respite of hospitality within one's own home.

This much we know, Mr. President, in our culture, dictated by the law of the land, a newly conceived embryo is not offered the dignity and rights of an independent, innocent human being. "There is no God who condones taking the life an innocent human being." As Catholics, this much we know, abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being. Nothing will ever change that.

President Obama, would you really sign into law a bill like FOCA which would force faith-based hospitals and healthcare facilities to perform abortions? Would you deny doctors and health care professionals their most precious human freedom in choosing life?

The issue of choice in American law looms large before us: in your logic it will be lawful to choose abortion but it will be a crime to choose life. In Catholic logic [?] one cannot choose to murder in any circumstance, even in punishment for crime [This is technically true. It is also utterly uninformative. Murder is a crime, and so cannot be a punishment for a crime. This is going to come up again.]. One can choose life but not death. I am not so naïve as to believe that passing such ill-advised, contemptible legislation such as FOCA will "end the culture wars" as you have stated [has the President really said that passing FOCA would end the culture wars? Readers, please jump in here.]. On the contrary it will be considered by many of us as a persecution of the Catholic Church [It would be, first and foremost, an act contrary to the essential end of political power, i.e. the protection of innocent life. THe author is way off base, here. Of course, Catholic medical professionals and pastors in charge of health care institutions would see it as a gross violation of their basic liberties - for that is what it would be. It is not, however, the locus, but only an immediate effect of FOCA's evil, should FOCA pass. These sorts of distinctions are absolutely necessary, and the ability to articulate them essential to the success of our efforts to stop this monstrosity.].

Tragically, we have a tradition in our United States culture which gives us permission to define the parameters of human life when it suits our self-interest. Did we not justify our tradition of slavery by denying that a black human being of African decent was fully human? To call a slave a human being would have interrupted the economic progress and well being of our country's self-interest [Not really measurable, and not precisely the justification offered by ante bellum advocates of slavery.]. Many leaders of the nation believed we could not afford to do that. As I understand it, President Lincoln had a contrary view and took us to civil war for the sake of unifying our country's conscience in terms of the rights and dignity of all human life. [Imprecise. In fact, this whole section is, as written, counter-productive.] Or was it simply a war fought over the nation's economy?

And so now today we are engaged in a great civil war [This is irresponsible. I have argued that the present divide could very well lead us into civil war, if a suitable remedy is not found. We are not there yet. I am not against martial metaphors, mind you: the author does not appear to be writing metaphorically.] over conscience formation. The defense of human life is an obligation for all humanity, not just for Catholics [I agree. This statement is not supported by the argument the author has presented thus far.]. Or is this war simply a war over the right to defend our self-interest without regard for promoting the responsibility we have for others?

An "unwanted" child comes in many forms: an untimely presence; a disabled or deformed creature; an embryo of the wrong sex; a child conceived out of wedlock; a child conceived through a hideous crime. We today have an unparalleled capacity through our scientific know-how, unlike the limited knowledge at the disposal of Adolf Hitler, to create a super race, free of any spot or wrinkle. The new laws of our society seem to aspire toward creating genetic purity within the human species, hoping to assure a problem-free future for the sake of human happiness, pleasure, prosperity and peace.

There is no doubt in my mind, Mr. President, that in the not too distant future we will have godlike powers to form the perfect human species. The Tower of Babel will have had nothing on us when it comes to asserting our god-like greatness.

Surely future laws will require us to remove any genetic tendency toward weakness and imperfection; we will soon have a nation (and world?) of perfect "Stepford Wives" and perhaps "Stepford Husbands" and "Stepford Children." We will soon become quite adept in the art of putting people out of their misery; particularly if they are causing us misery! [The author needed dispassionately and analytically to explain the deep connection between abortion and euthanasia. This section is entirely inadequate.]

On a very personal level, Mr. President, as a young man I was scandalized by the Republican agenda after theRoe vs. Wade decision. As I recall, perhaps mistakenly but I sincerely believe accurately, that some powerful Republican governors introduced the country's most liberal abortion laws in their populous states. I seem to recall hearing one Republican Senator say in a television interview that he favored abortion because it was cheaper than welfare. I also recall hearing an influential Democrat calling abortion "black genocide." Somewhere along the line, I suppose in the defense of women's rights and in the rise of Christian fundamentalism as a political power, the agendas flip-flopped, one side to the other. How did that ever happen? But when it did, given my faith convictions and my conscience, I had no choice but to surrender my political affiliation as a Democrat and become an Independent. [What is the plural of "anecdote" again?]

In all sincerity, Mr. President, how am I to conduct myself as an American Catholic? [This is a question we ought to be asking ourselves, and each other. The author ought not to be asking the President for advice in this regard - and the legitimacy, the urgency of the question renders the rhetorical device basically useless.] If the "Freedom of Choice Act" were to be passed, would it mean that I flee to Canada in protest, the way so many of my peers did during the Vietnam War? Should I flee to the desert as did Christians of old to escape the fabric of a sinful society seemingly beyond conversion?

In my humble opinion, Mr. President, it doesn't do us any good to withdraw from society; and it surely doesn't do us any good to throw things at one another, be they shoes or missiles or ugly words. [Hysterical.] Does it do us any good as Catholics to honor with honorary degrees those who disagree with us over essential matters of life and death? [good question] In my opinion it doesn't do the conscience of Catholic politicians any good to state that while they are personally opposed to abortion, they will nevertheless uphold the law of the land. [Agreed.]

When the Honorable Mario Cuomo was Governor of New York, a Catholic civil servant, for example, he said that although he was opposed to abortion he would support abortion rights as the law of the land. Yet in promoting opposition to the death penalty, and in this I fully agreed with him, he was willing to fight with all his political might to change the law of the land. Where was his consistency? Where is any Catholic's consistency in living faith as a public servant or in honoring a public servant who chooses death over life, whether it be through abortion or through punishment for crime? [This is a good point, as far as it goes, though shortly the author will take it too far. Advocating the abolition of the death penalty as a matter of supporting a consistent life ethic is legitimate: arguing that we, as a Christian people, ought to show mercy to evildoers, may be laudable. It has nothing to do with the legitimacy of capital punishment, as such.]

President Obama, what good will it do for Catholic politicians to bring his or her faith convictions into the culture wars of legislating for the common good? Surely they will lose their next election; the secular industrial news media complex will see to that. [This sounds like a whiny teenager.] From what platform, then, ought Catholics to speak? Can we only shun the political world and thereby risk losing our souls to a possible spiritual death through indifference or self-righteousness? It seems shunning has become our only choice. Surely we can do better than that. Our sins as a Catholic Church are well known, we cannot dare be self-righteous. But we dare not remain silent either, even in the face of our own sins. Repentance and conversion, mercy and forgiveness are the only healing remedies for all of us. [This is incoherent.]

And how are Catholics to relate with Catholics who seem so indifferent to these fundamental life issues? [Why is this a question for the POTUS?] I agree with Archbishop Charles Chaput, who complained: "Too many Catholics just don't really care. That's the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn't need to waste each other's time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow 'balanced out' or excused by three other good social policies." [Two things: (1) where is the cite? (2) I agree with the archbishop, as well. The pastors bear the chief responsibility for the flock's indifference. There, I said it.]

Mr. President, may I digress for a moment and risk trying your patience? [It's a little late] May I share with you a great personal gripe with our American free press? The big business of our industrial news media complex seems hardly free to me. The industrial news media complex seems no more than a huge business monopoly whose owners have become the new teaching hierarchy of the culture wars. The Catholic Church's magisterium, teaching authority, cannot hold a candle to the magisterium of the powerful lords of the industrial news media complex.

When it comes to reporting news of the Catholic Church our infamous free press seems more than eager to employ yellow journalism sound bytes to make news and money while promulgating their self-centered values in the formation of our American culture. Let me give you a current example: the Pope's recent visit to Africa. On March 17th, while on the plane to Cameroon, Pope Benedict was asked about the effectiveness of condoms in the fight against AIDS and the Church's position on the use of condoms. The Pope responded with what I perceived to be a thoughtful and gracious answer. What the church teaches in regard to healing is the"humanization of sexuality" through the promotion of sexual responsibility and dignity on the one hand, and on the other hand, "a willingness to be present with those who are suffering." He spoke of the many church programs and dedicated care givers currently helping people with AIDS.

As you well know, Mr. President, the news media make the news. Their story reduced the Pope's visit to Africa as a condemnation of condoms, ignoring completely his eloquent message for justice, peace and mercy at every level of life on the African continent.

How can the media play up condoms and downplay encouraging words such as these of Pope Benedict XVI which offer so much challenge and inspiration that can enrich us all? [More whining and inane Pope-citing. I have the distinct impression that the author of this letter did not have a clear idea of who his addressee is.]

"Angola knows that the time has come for Africa to be the Continent of Hope! All upright human conduct is hope in action. Our actions are never indifferent before God. Nor are they indifferent for the unfolding of history. Friends, armed with integrity, magnanimity and compassion, you can transform this continent, freeing your people from the scourges of greed, violence and unrest and leading them along the path marked with the principles indispensable to every modern civic democracy: respect and promotion of human rights, transparent governance, an independent judiciary, a free press, a civil service of integrity, a properly functioning network of schools and hospitals, and - most pressing - a determination born from the conversion of hearts to excise corruption once and for all."

Mr. President, I am quite sure you will find in the Pope a kindred spirit when you meet him. Both of you have keen intellects and compassionate hearts.

Unfortunately, the current newsmakers clearly find Catholic bashing in vogue. They ridicule the Church's rich social and spiritual teaching with inane sound bytes meant to undermine the teaching authority of the Church in fostering a good and just civilization of love.

Mr. President, what advice would you give someone like me who wants to respect a wide diversity of opinion yet who seeks to live faith convictions that relate to the essential common good of our American Society?

Like so many Americans, and people of good will around the world, I find such great hope in you. [The author has denied this repeatedly - he seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth] I pray my hope will be realized; however, I fear disillusionment, I fear being let down, with a thud. I mentioned that I believe you have the potential for greatness. I sincerely pray for the realization of your potential because, selfishly, in the process, you will help me and many others to fulfill our potential as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

When sharing smidgens of wisdom with Notre Dame Students, one point Father Jenkins made, which I like very much, concerned the risk of their making mistakes while striving for excellence in all they do. He said that our mistakes can often be great teachers, for they offer us great sources of insight and motivation. He quoted Chief Justice John Roberts who once said, "Failure is a more effective stimulus than success - because you don't get to do it over, but you do get the chance to do it better next time."

Mr. President, may I be so audacious as to suggest that you have made a mistake in your position supporting abortion rights as the law of the land. May I suggest, with all humility for I am far from perfect, that you give your conscience a fresh opportunity to be formed anew in a holy awe and reverence before human life in every form at every stage - from conception to natural death. For we are all the Children of God.

I believe, President Obama, as I am sure you do, that love makes the world go round. I gained the greatest appreciation for the meaning of salvation through God's love lived out in human beings in the holy words of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. [Really? The greatest? I admit I cannot read, let alone hear or watch the "I Have a Dream" speech without welling up, but, "the greatest appreciation, etc.?" That is not believable.] They reinforced for me the nature of Christ's death on the cross for the sake of our salvation; they taught me what it is to be Christ-like. Permit me to share them with you. You are more than likely familiar with them already. He said:

"To our most bitter opponents we say: We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and our churches and we will still love you. Threaten our children and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities in the night hours. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, not only for ourselves but for you as well. Appealing to your consciences and your heart, we shall win you over in love in the process of gaining our freedom. Our victory will be a double victory." [There is no need for all this. It is a beautiful passage, to be sure. Like the author said, the President is probably familiar with it already. There is such a thing as too much. If the author's point is to intimate Catholics' willingness to do all these things in defense of life, then he needs to go back and reconsider his association with +Chaput's complaint. Either Catholics are motivated and committed, or they are indifferent. Several paragraphs ago, they were all too indifferent to make such an implied warning credible.] [further consideration: this ought to go without saying, but US Catholics have not been subjected to this kind of violence since he Civil War, nor have they ever been the object of systematic brutality.]

Mr. President, I pray that Catholics, through the grace of God's love in their passionate determination to love all people, will help win over our American society and our world culture to reverence the inherent dignity of all human life, without exception. [I unite myself to this intention, and invite all LD readers to do the same.]

I don't want sound bytes to determine the kind of relationship of respect I have for you or the quality of fidelity the University of Notre Dame has with the larger Church. I want simply to be respectful of you as my brother and my President to dialogue with you and my country without betraying my fundamental faith convictions. We live in a pluralistic society, yes. Concerned and committed Catholics are an essential part of that plurality. We have something vital and indispensable to say to everyone about these "life issues." We want to be taken seriously. We insist on taking ourselves seriously, that is why there has been so much protest and turmoil in regard to your presence at Notre Dame.

I want, in words of Rev. King, to embrace what I believe to be the great truth which stands before the door of the United States today: "to stand up for that which is right and that which is just...We die when we refuse to stand up for that which is right. We die when we refuse to take a stand for that which is true. So we are going to stand up right here."

The defense of all human life is the great truth standing before the door of our lives in American society today. [The defense of all human life is a great truth? Does that even make sense? Did the author actually read what he wrote before sending it?] I pray that the nation will open that door of truth and walk through it. We need you, Mr. President: your goodness, your courage, your faith convictions about the sacredness of all human life, from conception to natural death, to lead us through that door.

Perhaps, Mr. President, at the University of Notre Dame, you can stand up and shed some light on how Catholics can be taken seriously for our faith convictions without being dismissed off-handedly and shunned; it is so offensive to be ignored, it is unacceptable. We need to rally; we need to stand up for this great truth of life. [The author wants the President to teach us what?]

Please, Mr. President, stand up for the truth of life [how about, "...for the profound truth upon which our nation is founded, that all human life is sacred and worthy of protection.], walk through that door and take us, as a nation, with you. If you do, I have no doubt whatsoever, that your greatness will be realized. [Real hope for real change.]

Be assured of my prayers, Mr. President, for you and your good and delightful family. What a blessing your family is to the nation. May God's grace expand the love in your hearts day in and day out. And, too, congratulations on receiving your honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame!

5 comments:

Clayton said...

Wow. I had not seen this letter before. I haven't read it all yet, but from what I see, it's really an embarrassing piece of work.

I think of Fr. Cantalamessa's appeal that we learn to share in the shame of the Church. Reading this letter is such an opportunity.

Clayton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clayton said...

Did you see Mary Ann Glendon's letter declining the award at ND? Wow.

Lazy Disciple said...

Dear Clayton,

I cannot seem to open the link to Ambassador Glendon's letter.

LD

Clayton said...

Here's the full text (copied from First Things):

April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President
University of Notre Dame
Dear Father Jenkins,
When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.
Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.
First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.
Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:
• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”
• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.
It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.
In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.
Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon