Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Reader Writes: Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities? More on Supporting Notre Dame

A good reader responded to my posting yesterday about Cardinal Newman Society’s attempt to bully Notre Dame University for inviting President Obama as its commencement speaker. She asked what those who support academic freedom in Catholic universities can do to make their voices heard.

I replied with a set of top-of-the-head suggestions. I said that those concerned about the Notre Dame situation, in particular, might send letters to any publications discussing the issue (in fact, on Google’s news page this morning, the Notre Dame story was one of the top stories of the day).

I also suggested letters to the local bishop and the university president, both of whom are being bombarded by letters and emails from the Cardinal Newman Society and other right-wing Catholic pressure groups who are using this situation to try to mount Catholic opposition to President Obama. That is what this is all about, after all: the attempt of some Catholics to subvert the new president, for reasons that are political, though these are decked out in moral rhetoric.

Since I offered that suggestion to my reader, I see that Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has announced he will boycott the Notre Dame commencement exercises in protest of the president’s appearance. I am not surprised. Nor am I even disappointed. I have come to expect far too little from the bishops, by way of courageous pastoral leadership. Nothing most bishops can do these days really surprises me. When I think I've seen the lowest possible point to which a bishop might go, I remind myself that sometime down the road, another bishop will show me that there was a lower point than I had imagined.

(Note: bishops may well have an obligation to speak out about the ethic of respect for life. But they also have an obligation to speak out about all the ways in which political leaders contravene that ethic. It is a double standard, and a particularly reprehensible one, when bishops speak out about the lapses in respect for life on the part of only one set of politicians, those of only one party. Many of us have lost confidence in the pastoral leadership of our bishops in large part because they have been totally partisan in their approach to the political involvement of the church—and totally blind to the serious betrayal of an ethic of life by members of the party they defend.

And that is not to mention my dismay when any bishop allows himself to be bullied by a Catholic fascist group like the Cardinal Newman Society . . . .)

Meanwhile, the pressure on Notre Dame’s President Rev. John John I. Jenkins is intense. For that reason, I continue to encourage readers interested in doing something in support of Notre Dame to speak out.

Today, I noticed on a thread at one of the Catholic news site blogs a link to an online petition at the Petition Spot website supporting Notre Dame for its decision to invite President Obama to its commencement. I am not being coy in failing to mention the thread in which I found the link—I did not record the source, and have been unable to locate it again.*

In any case, the link is as follows: here. If you are interested in offering support to Notre Dame as it receives intense pressure from right-wing Catholic political activist groups to rescind its invitation to President Obama, please sign this petition and circulate this information to your friends.

For years now, the Catholic right in the U.S. has succeeded in making its voice heard, by well-organized (and well-funded) letter-writing campaigns. The Catholic right has made itself appear as the only voice in American Catholicism by adroit letter-writing campaigns to the Vatican and to bishops.

Catholics who endorse the views of groups like the Cardinal Newman Society are a minority—a small minority. Yet they succeed in influencing the direction of the American Catholic church out of all proportion to their numbers, because they are organized, have wealthy backers, and know how to threaten—and to bully and threaten very effectively.

It is possible for Catholics of more moderate political views, and for Catholics who support Vatican II and its call for positive engagement of the church with the world, to make our voices heard, too. If that is going to happen, we need to organize, to out-maneuver the well-funded and powerful right, and to let our voices be heard.

I offer the preceding petition as one way in which those concerned to counter the influence of groups like the Cardinal Newman Society can speak out.

* Found it: H/T to blogger Historyman at the following Commonweal thread: