Thursday, May 21, 2009

Final Thoughts: Notre Dame vs. Bishop D'Arcy and the USCCB

Over the past couple of months, I have frequently flipped and flopped over the Obama-Notre Dame issue. At first glance, I saw no problem with him speaking at the commencement exercises of a Catholic institution, but as a man, a politician, whose policies on abortion fly directly in the face of Catholic teaching, he should not be honored by a Catholic institution.

Ultimately the difficulty in discerning my position on the issue boiled down to a tension: on the one hand I do not think Catholic institutions should honor in this way those who persist in promoting views and policies which are contrary to the Gospel. I believe bestowing an award on someone is a very different kind of honor than visiting their house (as Jesus visited tax collectors and the like). On the other hand, most of the "pro-life" response by Catholics has been well...unCatholic, and even when it has been reasoned, measured, and authentic - in the case of many of the bishops, it has been inconsistent. This inconsistency did not sit well with me.

It was not until I read an article by Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy that I was able to lucidly think through the problem. McCarthy's style of writing is always is bit more biting than I am comfortable with. In this article I believe his primary point is spot on, however at times I think he states it more harshly than is necessary, and several of his example are stretched outside of their proper context in order to make his point.

Nevertheless his point is correct. McCarthy is not concerned overly with Obama; he is concerned with the intra-Church squabble over the issue. McCarthy argues that Bishop D'Arcy and the other bishops are absolutely correct. A Catholic institution should not give this kind of honor to Mr. Obama. However, the reason their voice lacks authority for many Catholics, the reason that many Catholics are dismayed by the protests, rests in their inconsistency.

The beef with John D’Arcy is not with him as a person—he is a most decent human being— but with his permitting himself to become a symbol, a mouthpiece, and a puppet for the USCCB’s illogical, immoral, long-running, and blatant rigorism-laxism dance on behalf of the powerful and wealthy. Note the historical fantasy, and the spiritual, moral, theological, and factual absurdity, which Bishop D’Arcy employs to validate his present decision and to exculpate himself and his U.S. episcopal colleagues, past and present, for their support of 2 legalized mega-murder extra-utero: “[President Obama] has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”
The bishops are absolutely correct in stating that an institution which is supposed to be guided by and reflecting Christ should not give honor of this sort to a man who supports the killing of innocent life in-utero. However, their voice lacks the authority it should carry because the bishops have given their support to other men whose policies support and put into action the killing of innocent life, that is murder, extra-utero.
That is the beef. If the Bishop and his episcopal peers had consistently stood up for what Jesus taught by word and deed about violence, and for what he and they were explicitly commissioned by Jesus to teach as successors to the Apostles ( Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. Mt 28:20) about violence, and had acted publicly and consistently from day one of their episcopacies in accordance with this stand, no one could have the slightest criticism of Bishop D’Arcy’s course of action in response to President Obama being honored at Notre Dame...Instead, they have chosen to stand by something called “Natural Law Catholic Just Violence Theory"... This is why what is happening now is happening. Bishop John D’Arcy, the NCCB, and Notre Dame have all refused to stand with Jesus and His teaching of Nonviolent Love of friends and all enemies, in utero and extra-utero. Therefore each will “stand for” what Jesus would self-evidently never stand for from His Apostles and disciples. Simultaneously, the Bishop, the USCCB, and Notre Dame have each played the ostrich in relation to reality and rationality in their respective applications of this so-designated Catholic Just War Theory and Catholic Moral Theory. The present spiritually dis-graceful, anti-witness, antievangelical situation they all inhabit is the direct consequence of not following Jesus as He said to follow Him.

For McCarthy, the problem can be traced back to Constantine. Once the Church had worldly power, it was all too easy for members of the Church to reject portions of Jesus’ teaching and put their trust in violent power rather than in nonviolent love. Some members of the Church have recognized the evil of certain actions, like abortion, but have been unable to separate themselves from other evils like capital punishment and unjust killing, that is murder, in wars.

As Fr. McCarthy explains:

In Catholic theology there is no moral doubt that intentional abortion is murder…However, in Catholic theology there is equally no moral doubt that the unjust killing of the child in utero is no more, nor less, murder than is the unjust killing of a child or any human being extra-utero. All are the intrinsically grave evil of murder. The intentional, unjust killing of a human being in the womb in Baltimore, MD, is no more, nor less, murder than the intentional unjust killing of a human being, outside or inside the womb, in Iraq, or El Salvador, or Honduras, or Guatemala, or Nicaragua, or Panama, or Afghanistan, or Grenada, or Vietnam, or Nagasaki.[1]

In this regard, McCarthy quotes Pope John Paul II:

Better still, perhaps, a direct quotation from John Paul II is most appropriate here: Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act , either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action…We now need more than ever to have the courage to look truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophets is extremely straightforward: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.”

America, indeed the entire world, desperately needs Jesus right now. We desperately need prophetic voices, without compromising or denigrating, to speak the Truth in Love with authority and consistency. We need Christian witness with integrity.

I am glad the bishops have found a voice. I am glad they are speaking out against the evil of abortion, but if they wish to be taken seriously, if their words are to be efficacious, they must embrace a consistent ethic of life and denounce as unCatholic and unChristian all forms of violence. If Obama cannot be honored in this way, then neither should Bush or Cheney. The center must be Christ, which means remaining absolutely and unequivocally in the Truth, but doing so lovingly and patiently. While we ought not honor men and women whose policies and actions directly oppose truth and goodness, we must recognize that they remain sons and daughters of God. We must love them. Dialogue with them. Pray for them. Work with them where we agree and challenge them when they err. Only when the voice of the Church, episcopal, priestly and lay, speaks Truth in Love with consistency and integrity to the Gospel will that voice speak eloquently, prophetically, and convincingly.

[1] I do not wish here to dispute whether there is a difference in the gravity of voting for someone who supports abortion versus someone who supports unjust war. Both are murder. Both are evil. Neither should be supported or given honors by the Church.


Henry Karlson said...

One problem I have is when people trace everything back to St Constantine -- he's a kind of all-out excuse which, historically, did not do what people want to suggest he did. It's a continuation of the influence of the Donation of Constantine.

If one studies the history closely, he followed his advisors, not the other way around. While Theodosius caused some problems, the Church still reacted to him and was not smitten by him. Call me Byzantine, but I think the real problems start with Charlemagne.

Of course, I don't think the ND issue is the issue people make of it. But that's neither here nor there. I always feel the need to defend St Constantine -- he is a hero of mine. Indeed, I think if people understood him they would see VII documents like Nostra Aetate really are Constantinian.

JB said...


As always thanks for reading and responding. I had hoped to get back to you sooner, but life happens.

One of the glaring weaknesses of my MA program was its lack of courses in Historical Theology. As a result of that and my own failure to research on my own, I am fairly ignorant on the details of the Church's history.

Nevertheless, I think the point McCarthy was trying to make holds. The church at some point in history(post-Constantine/Charlemagne, etc.) seems to have on some level abandoned Jesus' teachings of non-violence and embraced the temporal power of the nation-state, allowing Ghandi to accurately note that only Christians do not recognice Jesus' nonviolence.

Only recently, with the fall of the papal states has that trend beung to be reversed.

Henry Karlson said...


I know how life gets in the way of things. I also felt I might have sounded a bit argumentative, which I didn't want to be. I just am quite sensitive to things associated with St Constantine (as I tell people, I like his full title, St Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles, Friend of the Logos).

Oh, I would agree with the fact that after Constantine, that happened, in in an indirect way, because the state backed the church, one can say the conversion of Constantine helped make this happen, but I just wanted to say that I think too much blame is put on Constantine (even today) without looking at what he really stood for. The Donation of Constantine is still used as the hermeneutic even if it is as a document, rejected, culturally its ideals have been accepted.

V said...

This I agree with. Its the inconsisency which makes me feel apathetic about the whole issue. Honestly, Obama could have spoken at any non-Catholic college that weekend instead of ND.
Sorry that I didn't read it until now. I miss you.