Saturday, May 2, 2009

Perhaps Why

The honoring of President Obama with a law degree at commencement has confounded those who love the ideals embodied by Notre Dame.

I have been pondering for several days, why would the President of the most celebrated Catholic University in America remain so resolute when so many people of the faith and leaders of the Church were counseling otherwise?

Through various websites like and the Cardinal Newman Society and the Sycamore Project, over 350,000+ signatures were placed on Fr. Jenkin’s desk, alongside countless other letters, messages, emails, phone calls and specific recommendations by fellow priests and bishops, including the Bishop of SouthBend. The outcry was clear. It was passionate. It was prayerful, anguished and spontaneous. Still, Father Jenkins and the University persisted.

On April 27th, the response was then augmented and echoed by the slated recipient of the Laetare Medal, Mary Ann Glendon, when she opted to decline the opportunity in light of the pain this scandal has thus far brought.

So I wondered. Was Father Jenkins losing his faith? Was he beholden to an increasingly secular faculty? Was he hungry for recognition for a school that had not had a shining moment on the football field in a long time? Was it a personal weakness for power or fame? Was it a combination of some or all of these things?

In the most benevolent of interpretations of the events, Fr. Jenkins thought of his beloved university and saw the prestige of having another President come to speak at a commencement. He probably anticipated there would be some people upset by the invitation, but nothing more would come of it than that he might receive a few irritated phone calls, and some angry letters and emails.After all, the President of the United States was a popular President, who received more votes than any other candidate in history, and a majority of the Catholic vote.

Surely people wouldn’t demand that he rescind the invitation to the President of the United States; this was their president too. This was a commencement, not a campaign. The moment would not be an endorsement or a plug for any particular position. It was an honor for the school and would showcase Notre Dame as being a place for both parties, in case any prospective students with liberal or democratic tendencies were put off by the misconception that only red meat Republicans attended.

Additionally, Notre Dame had a long and storied history of supporting civil rights and here was part of the fruit of the school and its students’ labors in that struggle. The first African American president of this country that had once held slaves, segregated children and denied equal opportunity to people because of the color of their skin, was coming to speak.

The President had shown he was willing to be a moral voice for good. He had declared torture to be always wrong. Saying something that obviously morally correct and yet controversial, took courage. There was much about the President and the current party sitting in power, both in the executive and legislative branch that fit with Catholic social teaching. Service to the poor, healthcare for the sick, room in the inn for the immigrant, all of these causes reflected issues that should transcend the parties’ labels of “R” and “D” in the individual lives of Americans, of Catholics and the whole body of Christ. The vast plurality of Congress reflected the general public’s desire to champion these worthy causes.

So I could almost see how Fr. Jenkins came to think that inviting this particular President to speak was an acceptable action.


But then I went and reread the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 statement concerning “Catholics in Political Life,” and Fr. Jenkin’s interpretation of that statement. Fr. Jenkins’ defense parsed cannon law to indicate that honoring someone who was not Catholic who acted in defiance Catholic teaching was not a violation.And then I thought about what this President has actually done in a few short weeks not withstanding his dulcet tones. And I remembered how the confluence of executive orders, the shift in power in the legislative branch, and current events have created an environment hostile to the unborn, and thus to the moral teachings of the Church. Fr. Jenkin’s interpretation of USCCB law could not be interpreted by the public or by the faithful as anything but spin.

So although I can sympathize a little bit with how lonely it must feel now for Fr. Jenkins to be so scourged by his own school’s people, the alumni, and no small number of the Catholic community at large, I still come back to the firm reality that the University created in honor of the most holy woman on Heaven and Earth, is giving applause and a stage and an award to a man who advocates the very opposite of Mary’s humble “yes.”

Notre Dame shall honor a man whose policies demand that the faithful “Render unto Caesar” money that will be used by organizations to promote abortions abroad and finance experimentation on frozen embryos at home.

Fr. Jenkins should have used better judgment.

These days, the unborn have only tangential representation in the form of a few outspoken legislators. They live in limbo. They are created and then frozen. Some are sentenced to await experimentation and then death. Others are simply sentenced to wait. The unborn are burned with acid. They are dismembered. They are destroyed within their mother’s womb by the thousands. They stockpile outside of any womb, waiting. The unborn remain the poorest of the poor, without refuge save the grace accepted by each individual woman who imitates Mary by saying “Yes.”

So it is now that institutions like the University of Notre Dame must be the fiercest advocates for the unborn. It is now that those in power must be reminded daily of their duty to all citizens, including the most defenseless, most voiceless, the most vulnerable. The University of Notre Dame is an institution of higher learning; but it must also be a light to the world. That is what all Catholics and therefore, all Catholic institutions are called to be.

Fr. Jenkins may be the University President, but he should also be God's man first.

Notre Dame may be a University, but it should be Mary's first.

And thus I come back to “WHY?”

It may be only a coincidence but ND1, the Notre Dame plane used to woo coaches and others, filed a flight plan to and from Washington DC on April 22nd. The University said Fr. Jenkins did not go there to meet with the President, but it also has not said why the plane went to Washington. If it had been to recruit a hot prospect in the off season, this would probably have been made public.

Just a few short days later, on April 29th, the SouthBend Tribune ran a story that the University of Notre Dame will be one of the recipients of funds from the stimulus bill for research “on elements that are the basis of nuclear energy.”The funding for the Energy Frontier Research Center is between 2 and 5 million per year for five years. There are sixteen schools that received such grants from the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Could it be that simple?

It may be that all of this scandal was simply about following the money and obeying those who control the purse strings. Ten to twenty-five million dollars might have influenced the decision to hold fast on granting the current leader of the free world an honorary degree.

In Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons,” there is a moment, when Richard Rich reveals to Sir Thomas More that he has been given the position of Attorney General of Wales as a reward for his perjured testimony that helped convict More. The saint responds, "Richard, it profits a man nothing to trade his soul for the whole world; but for Wales?"

Whatever the reason, it remains a very expensive degree to grant for all concerned. Whatever the profit for the University of Notre Dame by the grant of this award, the cost was too high.


MightyMom said...

oh my!

Anonymous said...

Sherry, there is a simpler explanation. Ask former Morgan Stanley Chairman & CEO why the invitation to Pres.Clinton was allowed to stand when he and the rest of the Morgan board knew it would mean the defection of about $1 billion in client assets. Clearly, the decision wasn't in the interest of the firm's employees or mostly conservative clientele. So why then? Because liberalism is a disease. He was a democrat and he supported his recently impeached head of the democrat party. No other explanation makes sense. You cannot argue with such democrats, they do not have the ability to see common sense or reason when it comes to their political party decisions. Even Obama, who told us time and time again that earmarks were bad and he would sign no bill with earmarks, signed Speaker Pelosi's bill with over 8,000 earmarks. He went along with his party rather than keep his promises. I'm afraid Fr. Jenkins is a committed liberal, there is no saving or reasoning with them.

Anonymous said...

Well written, good and faithful servant. Texas Mom

jacobusmaximus said...

i can't imagine that the research they accomplish on nuclear power will benefit our own country. Obama and the environmentalists will never let us build more power plants here. they will merely sell the technology that comes from the research to other countries(even enemies) and then act surprised when those countries pose a treat with their nuclear capabilities. recall clinton and north korea--how did that work out? are they only using nuclear tech. for power? ah, no.

Anonymous said...

Although we differ philosophically on a number of issues, I admire your facility with words in expressing your opinion. And I appreciate your skill in supporting your positions without resorting to hyperbole or hysteria. Well done.


Anonymous said...

Well said, except that President Obama is the first bi-racial president. His mother was white. I don't know why this is frequently overlooked.

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