Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Barack Obama and Notre Dame

As a practicing Catholic, Poet and Obama supporter I am vexed by the recent 'outrage' by some right wing Catholics about the invitation of President Obama to speak at Notre Dame.
As a matter of public policy I disagree with Catholic theology being imposed on a nation that is less than 25% Catholic. I think however that the Social Teaching of the Church has real value but it seems that this is not the agenda of right wing Catholics who are outraged by Obama appearing at Notre Dame.
The argument that has been made right wing by right wing Catholics like Michael Novak, Pat Buchanan and George Weigel is that allowing President Obama to speak at the University and giving the sitting president of the United States a honorary degree is akin to approval of his position on Abortion.
It has in fact become such a cause celebre that the Bishop of Fort Wayne in which Notre Dame resides will not be attending the speech.

It has bothered me for a long time how Right Wing Catholics have chosen to augment the outrage about some issues and ignore others. It appears that Abortion is the only social issue that needs to be highlighted but other issues that Catholics also hold important or even central are ignored. I

t appears that in fact only Sexual issues are important while other issues can be easily ignored by these Right Wing Catholics. There are however strongly held positions on many issues for Catholics except that these are ignored because they are politically uncomfortable for these right wingers.

Economics and Justice

On a recent episode of "The World Over" a Right Wing Catholic news program on EWTN TV Raymond Arroyo the host, chose to interview Grover Nordquist- the anti-tax zealot about President Obama's economic plan. Nordquist's positions are in direct opposition to Church teaching on economics and no one who agrees with the Church's social teachings on the economy were interviewed.


Because Catholic social teaching on the economy does not concur with Republican orthodoxy . In fact Catholic Social Teaching starting with Rerum Novarum in the late 19th century is the origin for European Social Democracy including a large welfare state and rights for Labor Unions. Economic justice is central to Catholic Social thought but this is ignored by these Catholic thinkers. But this is ignored by the right wing amid their outrage about Abortion.

George Bush and Richard Nixon were not prohibited from speaking at Notre Dame. Yet the Church condemned their views on many issues. The Church was not endorsing their views for inviting them.

Pope John Paul II has in fact condemned neo-liberal (conservative) economics in the strongest terms but this is glossed over in a rush to the pelvic. These Right Wing Catholics do not care about the Church's social teaching they care about Right Wing Republican power and making points.

Just War and the Death Penalty


For the entire period of the 'war on terror' the Roman Catholic Church has condemned the war in Iraq as unjust and sinful. In fact Michael Novak, who was US Ambassador to the Holy See was dressed down by the Pope himself about this issue.

The Pope condemned as unjust and evil war in Iraq and yet GW Bush was allowed to speak at any number of Catholic Universities.

Why was there no outrage as Bush speaking?

Because they do not care about the Church's social teaching they care about making right wing points.

Also, the Catechism of the Catholic church says that the Death Penalty is almost never just- yet George W Bush acted on the executions of over 200 people and yet he was able to speak at Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.

The Church condemns the Death Penalty and George W Bush's direct actions resulted in, according to the Church, unjust deaths, but he was still allowed to speak.

The fact is that what Right Wing Catholics want is for the Roman Catholic Church to have the same 'moral 'positions as American Evangelicals. This means supporting American 'conservatism' and its formulation on what is moral but that is not what the Church believes or teaches. Catholic social teaching is contrary to BOTH the right and the left in the United States and that is not something that right wing Catholics want to admit. This shows an intellectual inconsistency among Catholics on the right. Many right wing Catholics (EWTN, Michael Novak, Michael Gerson & now Newt Gingrich-he is converting) want the teachings of the Church to be the same as the teachings of Rush Limbaugh but they are not.

So why does Obama's position on Abortion merit more outrage than GW Bush's position on war or economic justice?

With my Church, sexual issues have of late, become very important. It seems that we have forgotten the entirety of the Church's social teachings and it seems that Right wingers want us to forget the entirety of our Church's positions.

I am not arguing here for a change in the Church's position on morality. What I am arguing for is consistency on the part of Catholic pundits and outrage mongers.

This is lacking in Catholic media and in Catholic publications. If one reads left leaning Catholic publications like The National Catholic Reporter there are a host of thinkers like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Al Smith, Robert Kennedy, Dom Helder Camara, Arch. Oscar Romero, Cesar Chavez and others whose faith and witness are highlighted. There is an integrated struggle with moral issues and what it means to be a Catholic. Catholic social teaching is more than the labels of current American political discourse. In the NCR for example the Church's social teaching in total are taken seriously this is not true in Right Wing Publications.


The Catholic thinkers and issues mentioned above are completely avoided in Right wing publications like the Wanderer, EWTN, Crisis and First Things. The reason for this is because they want to be part of the vast right wing world of evangelical preachers and right wing think tanks.

The true Catholic world-view that was 'conservative' but also Pro Labor, Pro Worker, and Just War Supporting is ignored because it is not convenient and it does not fit into established political labels.

By inviting President Obama to Notre Dame the University is saying that it is a Catholic institution.

Catholic Social Teaching is more than one issue, admittedly an important one. Hypocrisy has it seems become a leading Catholic value among the right wing.

Where was the outrage when Cardinals were protecting pedophiles?

Where was the outrage when unjust war was being waged in Iraq?

This is Fox News Politics not Catholic Social Teaching


Johannes said...

Good post, Ray. It's particularly striking how the opponents here come largely outside of the school. The students are overwhelmingly psyched about it.


Chris said...

You can't legitimately analogize disagreements over the death penalty or the Iraq war, as far as Catholic doctrine is concerned, with disagreement over abortion. The Church does not teach that the death penalty is wrong per se but only per quod.

Likewise, the Church teaches that unjust wars are wrong, but not that any individual war is unjust (because whether it meets the definition of a just war will ordinarily depend on contingent facts that the Church cannot know with certainty). That's why Pope Benedict XVI (when he was still Pope John Paul II's right-hand man) pointed out that JP II "did not impose this position [i.e. that the Iraq War was unjust] as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith." In other words, it was his personal assessment based on his application of the rule to the facts as he understood those facts. A persuasive opinion worthy of deference, but just an opinion, not a doctrine.

Abortion is in a different category altogether because Catholic doctrine holds it to be wrong per se.

To quote the current pope again, "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

Raymond Bianchi said...

It is true what Chris says about abortion and euthanasia and I am not arguing that point.

But on the the issue of killing the Church is quite clear. If killing the innocent unborn is immoral- than killing the innocent born in Iraq is also immoral is it not? Or do the unborn have more worth than civilians in Iraq?

Regarding Economic justice there is no 'legitimate diversity of opinion' allowed within the Church according the Pope John Paul II. The Pope criticized Neo-liberal economics as sinful in the harshest terms.

Regarding President Obama speaking at a Catholic university many people who did not agree with the Church and committed 'grave error' have spoken at Catholic universities.
This is a canard for American conservatives and has nothing to do with Catholicism or faith

by the way Happy Holy Week

Joanne said...

It's the Bishop of South Bend, not Ft. Wayne, fyi. It doesn't surprise me that the students are so 'psyched' about the President speaking at their college, as I don't think anyone who knows anything has seen Notre Dame as really being Catholic for many years now.

To say that this has nothing to do with Catholicism or Faith is just ridiculous, in my opinion. The Catholic church is, as a rule, anti abortion and anti embryonic stem cell research. Obama is not anti abortion, and pro-embryonic stem cell research. Notre Dame is (supposedly) a Catholic school and for them to have someone whose opinions fly in the face of their teachings is insulting, at the very least.

Chris said...

Joanne, it's the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, actually - they are a single diocese.

I've continued to be involved with the University since I graduated (a while ago), and while I acknowledge that ND's Catholic identity has deteriorated in some respects, in my view it remains far more Catholic in character than many of its Catholic critics seem to think.

I agree with the rest of your comments.

Don said...

Ray, please review Chris' comment.
You write "It is true what Chris says about abortion and euthanasia and I am not arguing that point." and then go on to show that you still don't get his very important point. Yes there is a difference between "innocent unborn" and the "innocent born". The former is absolutely defenseless, the latter, not. Imagine this: simultaneously you see a soldier about to shoot a civilian and a doctor about to plunge a knife into the heart of a baby who has just survived a botched abortion. To whose aid will you first rush: the civilian or the baby? I submit that not just you but everyone would instinctively move, not just the majority of the time but every time, to defend the baby. Please consider that the next time you are tempted to equate abortion with the killing of innocents in war. Obama has repeatedly demonstrated on record that if he had his way, the woman above should not be hindered. That is why Obama's position on Abortion merits more outrage than GW Bush's position on war or economic justice. To the degree you support Obama you share in shedding that most innocent blood.

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