Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame, redux

The cover of the new issue of America magazine says "Notre Dame revisited."  The issue includes essays by my own bishop -- and the bishop in whose diocese the University of Notre Dame is located -- John D'arcy, and also the archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, John R. Quinn

It would be unfortunate if readers of America took these pieces as "pro" and "con", or "point" and "counter-point."  It seems to me that they are, in fact, addressing different questions.  Archbishop Quinn seemed to treat as closely related what, in my view, are two very different sets of questions:  (1) Questions about the nature of a Catholic university and the relationship of such a university to the Church, specifically, the teaching office of the local bishop; and (2) questions about the actions that a bishop should take, in order to bear faithful witness to the Church's teachings, especially on the sanctity of life, with respect to political leaders and candidates who advance unjust policies.  He wrote:

The dilemma that confronts us today is whether the church’s vision is best realized on the issue of abortion by focusing our witness on the clear moral teaching about abortion and public law, or whether it is preferable or obligatory to add to that teaching role the additional role of directly sanctioning public officials through sustained, personally focused criticism, the denial of honors or even excommunication.

This dilemma has troubled us for many years now, but it has been crystallized in the controversy over the decision of the University of Notre Dame to award an honorary degree in May of this year to the president of the United States. This is the first time in the history of this conference that a large number of bishops of the United States have publicly condemned honoring a sitting president, and this condemnation has further ramifications due to the fact that this president is the first African-American to hold that high office.

I worry, again, that Archbishop Quinn is slipping too easily from the "should bishops condemn political leaders directly, deny communion to Catholic politicians, etc.?" debate to the "what does it mean to be a Catholic university?" debate.  Bishop D'arcy's essay is not about the importance of condemning pro-abortion-rights politicians (I am confident that he would agree with much of what Archbishop Quinn writes about, e.g., the need for bishops to avoid the appearance of partisanship, etc.).  Instead, he asks:

What is the relationship of the Catholic university to the local bishop? No relationship? Someone who occasionally offers Mass on campus? Someone who sits on the platform at graduation? Or is the bishop the teacher in the diocese, responsible for souls, including the souls of students—in this case, the students at Notre Dame? Does the responsibility of the bishop to teach, to govern and to sanctify end at the gate of the university? In the spirit of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which places the primary responsibility on the institution, I am proposing these questions for the university. . . .

As bishops, we must be teachers and pastors. In that spirit, I would respectfully put these questions to the Catholic universities in the diocese I serve and to other Catholic universities.

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?

What is your relationship to the church and, specifically, to the local bishop and his pastoral authority as defined by the Second Vatican Council?

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? The first comes from a frantic time, with finances as the driving force. Its understanding of freedom is defensive, absolutist and narrow. It never mentions Christ and barely mentions the truth. The second text, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, speaks constantly of truth and the pursuit of truth. It speaks of freedom in the broader, Catholic philosophical and theological tradition, as linked to the common good, to the rights of others and always subject to truth. Unlike Land O’Lakes, it is communal, reflective of the developments since Vatican II, and it speaks with a language enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

On these three questions, I respectfully submit, rests the future of Catholic higher education in this country and so much else.

Like I said, I am confident that Bishop D'arcy agrees with Archbishop Quinn regarding the importance of "cordiality."  (It would be very unfortunate if the juxtaposition of the two essays led any America readers to imagine that Bishop D'arcy has been anything but cordial.)  I wonder, though, what Archbishop Quinn thinks are the answers to Bishop D'arcy's questions?


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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