Monday, September 21, 2009

What Happened To Notre Dame? [Part Two]

Is Abortion Just Another “Issue”?

By Christopher Manion [from the Wanderer]

The more one pages through Charles Rice’s new book, “What Happened to Notre Dame,” the more Obama’s triumphal visit there last May emerges as a turning point, not only for the university, but for Catholic education and the American Catholic Church. No longer could the university pretend that the “Fighting Irish” would fight for the lives of the unborn. Instead, the event sent the message that Notre Dame had demoted abortion from the status of an intrinsic evil to just one of many increasingly obscure threads in the “seamless garment” that Obama’s favorite archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, conjured up long ago to diminish the relative importance – indeed, the horror -- of abortion in America, reducing it to a political issue that must be considered alongside many others.

Rice confronts that dialectic head-on, using the lens of Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Dictatorship of Relativism.” I wonder, do Notre Dame students read Orwell any more? Because the truth is right there in Animal Farm: in the seamless garment, “all issues are relative, but some issues are more relative than others.” Professor Rice drives the point home: “Could you possibly imagine Fr. Jenkins … honoring a public official who persistently expresses his approval of the Holocaust or legally enforced racial segregation, because of that official’s stand on the economy or health care?”

Come on, class, let’s not always see the same hands.

Relativism nonetheless has its supporters in the Church. While some eighty-three American bishops criticized Notre Dame’s decision to honor the most pro-abortion president in history, a couple of hundred were silent. Last month, one of their number, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, criticized his colleagues who were critical of Father Jenkins. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “Sheehan said the Catholic community risks isolating itself from the rest of the country and that refusing to talk to a politician or refusing communion because of a difference on a single issue was counterproductive.” Archbishop Sheehan, who said he had once worked under Cardinal Bernardin, called the bishops’ criticism of Notre Dame “hysterical.”

I am grateful to Archbishop Sheehan for candidly revealing that he thinks not theologically, but politically – taking politically in its post-modernist, relativist, and reductionist sense. Abortion is reduced to a pesky “single issue” -- oppose it forthrightly and you “risk isolating yourself”! The good archbishop pretends that those 83 bishops “refuse to talk” to pro-abortion politicians, a canard that sounds pretty “hysterical” in itself (He does not complain that pro-abort politicians might not have ears to hear). But if that’s what Abp. Sheehan is against, what is he for? The Reporter again: “He said his approach – whether dealing with civic officials or church members, relied heavily on collaboration, a technique he said he learned from the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.”

Collaboration or Cooperation?

Rice recognizes that collaboration is a dangerous road. Regarding Obama’s support of cloning, and then killing, human embryos for stem-cell research, he writes, “the experiments performed by Nazi doctors on concentration camp prisoners were unimaginative and primitive by comparison. By conferring Notre Dame’s highest honors on the national leader who is setting the stage for such an atrocity, Notre Dame’s officers acted like ‘good Germans’ who were submissive to their Führer.”

In German, they called those folks “Kollaborateur” -- collaborators. How does Archbishop Sheehan counsel us to prevent his (apparently innocuous) collaboration from becoming cooperation? He does not say.

His positivism persists: Abp. Sheehan next claims that “the majority” of bishops agree with him. Perhaps that is true. He complains: “We’d be like the Amish, you know, kind of isolated from society, if we kept pulling back because of a single issue.”

Why the Amish, Your Excellency? Why not the English martyrs?

Darn those silly little “single issues”! But not all of them: near the end of his life, Cardinal Bernardin was very concerned about the precipitous decline of voluntary financial support for the Church from the laity. Could that explain why the USCCB has turned to the government, which has given their educational, charitable, and medical institutions tens of billions in taxpayer dollars? Didn’t Cardinal Bernardin ever warn Archbishop Sheehan that the issue of money might tempt the bishops not only to collaborate, but to cooperate, with abortionists? Was government money a “single issue” that the Church just couldn’t refuse?

Bravo Bishop D’Arcy

One prelate who takes his job more seriously than money or politics is my hometown bishop, John M. D’Arcy. After Rice’s book went to press, D’Arcy penned “A pastoral reflection on the controversy at Notre Dame” for America magazine – perhaps placing it in that liberal journal to make sure that folks at Notre Dame would see it. Bishop D’Arcy gets right to the point: “Does a Catholic university have the responsibility to give witness to the Catholic faith and to the consequences of that faith by its actions and decisions—especially by a decision to confer its highest honor? If not, what is the meaning of a life of faith?”

Bishop D’Arcy finds much to applaud in the students of Notre Dame: “I attended the Baccalaureate Mass the day before graduation, for the 25th time, speaking after Holy Communion, as I always do. Then I led an evening Rosary at the Grotto with students, adults and a number of professors. We then went to a chapel [the largest, in Dillon Hall] on campus. It was packed for a whole night of prayer and Eucharistic adoration.” (By the way, Fr. Richard McBrien, Notre Dame’s notorious critic of popes past and present, recently wrote that because today’s Catholics “are so literate or even well-educated … there is little or no need for [such] extraneous Eucharistic devotions.”) About Fr. McBrien’s colleagues in the Theology Department, Bishop D’Arcy makes a stunning, possibly promising observation: “It is notable that a vast majority has been willing to seek and accept the mandatum from the local bishop [D’Arcy],” he writes.

For Bishop D’Arcy, l’affaire Notre Dame is not yet over. “I firmly believe that the board of trustees must take up its responsibility afresh, with appropriate study and prayer. They also must understand the seriousness of the present moment,” he writes. It is up to board to address “the situation that so sundered the church last spring.” Well, since Land O’Lakes, that board has been pretty proud of its independence from the hierarchy. No matter -- Bp. D’Arcy makes his role clear: “The bishop must be concerned that Catholic institutions do not succumb to the secular culture, making decisions that appear to many, including ordinary Catholics, as a surrender to a culture opposed to the truth about life and love.”

Bishop D’Arcy then puts three questions to the board of Notre Dame: “(1) Do you consider it a responsibility in your public statements, in your life as a university and in your actions, including your public awards, to give witness to the Catholic faith in all its fullness? (2) What is your relationship to the church and, specifically, to the local bishop and his pastoral authority as defined by the Second Vatican Council? (3) Finally, a more fundamental question: Where will the great Catholic universities search for a guiding light in the years ahead? Will it be the Land O’Lakes Statement or Ex Corde Ecclesiae?”

In his introduction to Rice’s book, Professor Alfred Freddoso observes that Notre Dame invited Obama thinking it “could reap the great public relations benefits of a presidential visit, once it survived what it undoubtedly expected to be a short-lived protest by the local bishop.” Clearly Notre Dame got it wrong. Those questions are not going away: Bishop D’Arcy is waiting for answers.

[Charles Rice's book is pubished by Saint Augustine's Press

What Happened To Notre Dame? [Part One]

What Happened To Notre Dame?

[a review of Charles E. Rice's new book from St. Augustine's Press]

By Christopher Manion for the Wanderer

A few weeks into Notre Dame’s Fall semester of 1949, a sleeping freshman was jostled awake by a couple of upperclassmen.

“Hey, fella,” they shouted, “hey, we just wanna know -- how did you get into Notre Dame if you’re not Catholic?”

That awakened the sleeper in a heartbeat. “Whaddya mean, ‘not Catholic,’” he retorted. “Of course I’m Catholic!”

“Then why don’t you go to Mass!” they sternly replied.

That freshman became one of our family’s best friends – and one of Notre Dame’s most passionate alumni. All his life, he attributed his profound faith and his ardent love of Holy Mother Church and our Blessed Mother to Notre Dame. For him, and for generations of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame was the exemplar of the Catholic Faith.

But times have changed.

“What happened to Notre Dame?” I have heard that question countless times since I graduated forty years ago. A ready answer does not come easily to mind. After all, Knute Rockne, Notre Dame’s legendary football coach, used to tell my father (who started teaching there in 1919), “You should never spit on a man’s head if you’re standing on his shoulders.” And countless thousands of Notre Dame alumni undoubtedly owe their academic, their professional, and even their spiritual formation to Notre Dame. How can they criticize Notre Dame if they are “standing on its shoulders”?

Everything good about Notre Dame comes from God. For a century and more, the Holy Catholic Church and the salvation of souls was Notre Dame’s sole reason for being. By the 1960s, however, Notre Dame had grown weary of “standing on the shoulders” of the Church. Like a wayward spouse, it longed for independence, to be of the world as well as in it. Finally, with Land O’Lakes in 1967, Notre Dame filed for divorce. “For the sake of the children” (its students and alumni) and money (their financial support), it continued to project a public façade of harmony between the Church and its own secular relativism. But Notre Dame was simply trying to serve two masters, keeping up its Catholic appearances while sinking ever deeper into the mire of worldly infidelity. Last May, the flimsy façade finally came crashing down.

Hey, Wake Up!

The timing of even the most inevitable earthquake is hard to predict. But for years, Notre Dame has been poised athwart a widening chasm that makes the San Andreas Fault look like the Rock of Gibraltar. Charles E. Rice, Professor of Constitutional Law at Notre Dame since 1968, has long been a defensor fide there. His column in the campus newspaper regularly pierces the fog of faculty doubters like the siren of a Catholic Rescue Squad, racing to resuscitate victims who have been run over by hit-and-run heterodoxy. His numerous books, his Wanderer columns, and his speeches and legislative testimony have made key contributions to the intellectual and legal defense of the Culture of Life in the United States. When “Old Notre Dame” collapsed for good with Barack Obama’s commencement appearance last spring, Dr. Rice went to work. With his new book, What Happened To Notre Dame, he once more rides to the rescue.

In the introduction, Notre Dame philosophy professor Fred Feddoso succinctly explains Obama’s visit: “Both sides had much to gain. President Obama could cloak himself in the mantle of Our Lady’s university as part of an ongoing campaign to solidify his standing among those many Catholic voters for whom life issues are not very important, or at least not overriding. The university, on the other hand, could reap the great public relations benefits of a presidential visit, once it survived what it undoubtedly expected to be a short-lived protest by the local bishop, John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and a few hardcore pro-life activists.”

Ever since, both Obama and Notre Dame have struggled to stay on message: “No big deal -- just a natural meeting of a great university and a great leader. Turn the page.”

Well, not just yet. Professor Freddoso limns Notre Dame’s transition from Catholic orthodoxy to national prominence, a course that Rice examines in detail. Freddoso’s ruminations conclude that “Notre Dame is a wonderful place in many ways. [But] What it is not is a Catholic university, i.e., an institution of higher learning where the Catholic faith pervades and enriches, and is itself enriched by, the intellectual life on campus.” Freddoso concludes with the arresting description of Notre Dame as “a public school in a Catholic neighborhood.” The kids are Catholic, but the education -- what is taught in the classroom -- “has little or nothing to do with Catholicism.”

In celebrating Obama last May, University President Father John Jenkins was giddy with exultation. All that was missing was a tattoo across his forehead, proclaiming, “Fighting Irish Welcome O’Bama.” Rice zeroes in on the telling moment, early in Obama’s address, when a voice from the cheap seats shouted, “abortion is murder!” Immediately the students answered with a roar, shouting Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes we can!”) and their favorite football cheer (“We are N. D. !!”).

How could it be that the kids from the “Catholic Neighborhood” were cheering the premier advocate of abortion in the western world? Perhaps the students were not just cheering Obama. They were cheering Father Jenkins, who had defeated their arch-rivals. And who were the bad guys? Not Michigan State or Southern Cal, but the Church, the orthodox faithful, the old alumni, and, ultimately, the Magisterium.

Notre Dame As A Lesson For Everyone

Always the master teacher, Rice examines the Obama appearance with precision. He then moves to a deeper consideration of the principles that inform Catholic education, and compares them with the conflicting assumptions and key events that have made Notre Dame “a small Purdue with a Golden Dome” that eventually collapsed into the arms of modernity with a longing for money, prestige, and worldly “success.” Over the years, Notre Dame has built a very expensive house of cards designed to serve two masters – the modern secular world of the intellectual, political, and cultural elite, on the one hand, and traditional Catholic faithful and alumni, on the other. With Obama’s appearance, those cards came tumbling down. One by one, Rice lays them face up on the table.

In one example, Rice addresses Notre Dame’s desire to be a “research university,” which brings in millions in grants, but gives the back of the hand to undergraduate education. Almost anticipating this criticism, Notre Dame broadcast an infomercial during its season opener in September touting its role “as a premier research university [that] works to pursue a cure for .. rare diseases often overlooked by mainstream science.” The irony? Right under its nose, there is a very widespread disease, all the more dangerous because it is so rarely detected – a loss of faith, a dalliance with the culture of death, a celebration of modernity, and an abandonment of the university’s responsibility to provide a Catholic education.

Rice’s book is not a polemic but a roadmap. “In its historical acceptance of its full Catholic character, including the teaching authority of the Church, Notre Dame had it all. And then walked away from it,” he concludes. The remedy? Return – not to the past, but to the timeless truths that the “Fighting Irish” used to cheer and fight and die for – the truths of the Faith, our firm defense against the dictatorship of relativism.

Christopher Manion won the Father Hesburgh Prize in 1968.