Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cardinal Newman Society Strikes Again: Notre Dame in Sights of Catholic Political Activist Group

Early in March, I published a number of postings examining the right-wing political ties and agenda of the Cardinal Newman Society, a watchdog group that claims to be concerned about safeguarding the orthodoxy of American Catholic colleges and universities (here and here and here).

My postings on the Cardinal Newman Society documented its ties to right-wing political activists such as L. Brent Bozell III. I also noted the concern that a number of American Catholic bishops and leaders of American Catholic education have expressed in recent years regarding the political activities of this group. These critics have noted the Society's penchant for misrepresenting the positions of universities it targets. In the view of some bishops and many Catholic educational leaders, the Cardinal Newman Society is divisive, destructive to the unity of the American Catholic church, and more concerned about promoting a right-wing political agenda (and gaining money for its political causes in the process) than defending the faith.

I’m delighted to note that others—including journalists with far more clout than I have—are also tracking the activities of this right-wing political group masquerading as watchdogs for Catholic orthodoxy. Yesterday, Joe Feuerherd, publisher and editor in chief of the National Catholic Reporter, published an article entitled “Catholic Academic Ayatollah Shows True Colors” (here).

Feuerherd is responding to a jihad recently proclaimed by Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. When it was announced recently that Notre Dame University has invited President Obama to be its commencement speaker in May, Reilly went ballistic. He is now spearheading a campaign to flood Notre Dame with letters and email messages calling for the university to rescind its invitation.*

For those interested in pursuing the analysis of Cardinal Newman Society I began earlier in March with the postings cited above, I highly recommend Joe Feuerherd’s article. He notes that the Cardinal Newman Society “promote[s] the idea of university as Catholic madrassa.” It runs roughshod over academic freedom to assure an exceptionally narrow “orthodoxy” that is ultimately political rather than religious in its nature.

Feuerherd also notes Cardinal Newman Society's well-documented strategy of focusing on hot-button issues in Catholic universities as a way of energizing the Society’s donor base:

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses -- anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.

It is good work if you can get it: for his efforts Reilly (according to a 2007 financial disclosure report) drew a nearly six-figure salary.

Feuerherd also notes the strange selectivity of the Cardinal Newman Society regarding which commencement speakers it chooses to target. In May 2005, the Society made a huge stink when Belmont University, a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in California, invited Sister Helen Prejean to give its commencement address.

Prejean’s damning fault? She supports abolition of the death penalty. She opposes abortion but makes solidarity with poor women in crisis pregnancies and questions whether we actually give those women a choice between abortion and another viable option that would make it possible for them to carry a child to term and raise it.

On the other hand, when the Benedictine St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania invited President Bush to give its commencement address two years later, not a peep from the Cardinal Newman Society.

It appears that Sister Helen Prejean, with her prophetic witness against capital punishment, betrays Catholic values regarding life, while George W. Bush exemplifies those values. And that speaks volumes about the Cardinal Newman Society and the political—as opposed to Catholic—agenda it promotes.

*For an outstanding analysis of the campaign against Notre Dame being spearheaded by Cardinal Newman Society, see Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s posting about this topic at Enlightened Catholicism yesterday (here).