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, April 24, 2012

A student's defense of Bishop Jenky's homily

As I've mentioned before, I invited students in my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" seminar to do a blog-post for MOJ.  Theresa Smart, a political-theory student at Notre Dame, who is also in the seminar, shares these thoughts about the current controversy surrounding Bishop Jenky's recent homily:

Rarely does a Catholic homily reverberate through cyberspace to quite the same extent as that of the homily which Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, gave before a crowd of over 500 men from the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, on April 14.  Read the full text here: http://www.thecatholicpost.com/post/PostArticle.aspx?ID=2440.  Jenky gave the homily at a Mass culminating the annual diocesan men’s march, “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.” 

Jenky issued a bold call for “heroic Catholicism.” He also sparked a firestorm of controversy—including a formal complaint filed against him with the IRS by Chicago’s Anti-Defamation League—by drawing explicit parallels between the path upon which Obama’s administration seems to have embarked and those followed by Bismarck, Clemenceau, Hitler, and Stalin: 

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. 

“In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path. 

“Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgment seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.” 

I cannot judge on the legal matter of whether Bishop Jenky’s words technically violate the IRS Revenue Ruling 2007-41 touching the political activity of 501(c)(3) organizations.  But I do venture to suggest that perhaps Jenky’s words are true.  How different is his message from that of Pope John Paul II in Centesimus annus

“The root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate—no individual, group, class, nation, or State… 

“The culture and praxis of totalitarianism also involve a rejection of the Church.  The State or the party which claims to be able to lead history towards perfect goodness, and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion, in given circumstances, could be used to judge their actions.  This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus” (¶44-45). 

Serious Catholics ought to take Jenky’s suggestions seriously.  Does our culture and political order affirm the transcendent dignity of the human person?  Or is Jenky right to discern in recent governmental trends indications of a nascent “culture and praxis of totalitarianism”?  The bishop by no means intends insensitivity towards victims of Stalin or Hitler’s abominable practices.  If anything, by drawing such parallels he intends to generate a greater sensitivity towards the millions of innocent victims of abortion in America—that which has come to be known in some circles as the “American Holocaust.”

I do not think Jenky should either renounce his “incendiary statement” or be asked to resign from the Notre Dame Board of Fellows, as called for by 95 members of the Notre Dame faculty in a recent letter to the administration: http://www.pjstar.com/news/x787564497/Letter-from-Notre-Dame-faculty-demands-Jenky-apology?zc_p=1.  And in fact, I think that Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, should follow his example in standing up for religious freedom and against the insidious soft despotism of relativism that pervades mainstream culture.  Perhaps if more members of the clergy and scholarly communities had issued “incendiary statements” like this one, some of the gravest atrocities of the past century might have been preempted by a bolder and more conscientious citizenry. 

As a final note, this editorial published by the Editor-in-Chief of Peoria’s Catholic newspaper contains some interesting ideas and helps put Bishop Jenky’s remarks in perspective: http://www.cdop.org/post/PostArticle.aspx?ID=2437.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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