“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

May 26, 2009

You Call This "Maturity"?

I respond here to a letter-to-the-editor from a Catholic priest which appeared in the Daily Pilot. The letter's headline is: "Mature Catholics Welcome Obama," referring to the recent controversy over the University of Notre Dame's decision to confer an honorary doctorate on the President of the United States, who just happens to be an implacable foe of the Catholic Church's teaching that abortion is a grave moral evil.

The obvious implication of the headline [most likely chosen by the Pilot editors] is that Catholics who did not approve of this stunt are "immature." That would include, of course, the 70+ U.S. bishops and 350,000+ other Catholics who publicly denounced the Notre Dame debacle. According to the Pilot and, presumably, the priest who wrote the following letter, they are the immature ones, and those who laud Notre Dame's actions are the ones exhibiting "maturity."

The author of the letter to the editor is a Monsignor Wilbur Davis, a priest in Southern California. His original letter is in black, my comments are in red.

I write in reference to the three viewpoints expressed in the Daily Pilot column regarding the visit of President Barack Obama to the University of Notre Dame [“In Theory: Fightin’ Obama’s grad speech,” May 8]. 

The diverse positions expressed in the Daily Pilot by local Jewish, Protestant and Catholic religious leaders regarding the visit of Obama to the University of Notre Dame as a speaker and honoree reveal the complexity of this question and the legitimacy of varied viewpoints. [Notice his invocation of the "complexity" of this issue. Prescinding from the  anterior question of whether it is morally permissible to kill an unborn child through abortion — not a complex question at all — apparently, Monsignor Davis feels it is a "complex" question as to whether it is appropriate for a Catholic university to confer an honorary doctorate on a politician who is leading the fight against the Catholic Church's foundational moral teaching that abortion is always and everywhere murder.]

This variance is found not only between diverse faith communities but also within the community of Roman Catholics [True, but this variance among Catholics on abortion is a scandal, not something worthy of approval].

As a Catholic priest, I can tell you that our clergy engage in passionate debates about this without reaching a consensus. And this is fine. [No, Monsignor, this is not fine. How is it that Catholic priests can have "passionate debates" about whether Catholic universities should sell their birthright for a mess of pottage by publicly heaping honors on pro-abortion politicians? For there to be a debate on this issue, at least one of the priests must argue that what happened at Notre Dame is a good thing. I have no doubt that in the coterie of which Monsignor Davis speaks some priests do argue that point, but that is not fine. It is a sign of bad formation, or a willful dissent from clear and unequivocal Catholic teaching, or both.

Do Roman Catholics agree with the president on everything? No. Have we ever agreed with any president on everything? No. [Here we see the fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi, commonly called "a red herring." It is entirely irrelevant whether any given Catholic agrees with any given president on everything. The relevant issues are 1) whether Catholics can agree with this president on the issue of abortion and, 2) whether Notre Dame should have conferred honors on someone who promotes abortion as vociferously as this president does. ]

But the fact is that Obama would not have been elected president without the Catholic vote. [Yes, this is a fact, but it's a sad fact,  a tragedy and a scandal — not something for a Catholic priest to take satisfaction in.]

American Catholics, in large, judged him to be one who stands with most — though not all — of the major issues of social concern that are integral to Catholic social teaching. [Not exactly. It's true that most American Catholics who voted in the last election voted for the candidate who actively fights against the Catholic teaching on life issues, but in doing so, those Catholics exhibited poor, immature judgment. They made an egregious error by voting for candidate Obama.]

Yet some critical life issues do place us in a tension with him and much of his party. [Tension? I guess you could call it "tension." And if the "critical life issue" were, say, slavery or racism or the belief that it should be legal to kill Hispanics, I wonder if Monsignor would refer to this as "tension."  

I believe it is an honor for a Catholic university to receive the president of the United States.
[Ordinarily, it would be an honor. But given the specific circumstances  of this president's visit, it is in reality a serious dishonor for Notre Dame.]

Through the years our presidents have spoken at the University of Notre Dame, even though Catholics would have disagreements with each of them over certain significant matters. This is in no way surprising. A Catholic university that is mature in its identity can well accommodate disagreements in the pursuit of deeper understanding. [Would Monsignor Davis "accommodate disagreement" with a president who believed that slavery should be legal (many presidents with that very conviction have held office before, don't forget), and would he be in favor of that president speaking at a Catholic university's commencement address and being awarded an honorary doctorate? I doubt it. Would Monsignor see a Catholic university honoring a president who believed in legalized slavery to be a "mature" decision?  

In disputed questions it is incumbent upon us Catholics to argue our positions in the public forum in language that is intelligible and appealing to those who hold other positions.
[This is exactly what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades now. And to confer honors on an politician who promotes pro-abortion extremism, as this president does, is the opposite of speaking intelligibly and appealingly. What  Notre Dame's president, Father Jenkins, did was to obfuscate the issue and distort to the point of negating, at least in the minds of many confused onlookers, the clear teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion is murder.

This is the rich complexity of America. [No, this is the fractious, foolhardy hubris of a deeply misguided university president.]

To exclude those who hold positions different from ours divides the American fabric and ultimately broadens the gulfs that sadly continue to divide our national and faith communities. [What's truly sad is how Catholics, especially Catholic priests, can be a party to such nonsense. It is they who foment division in the name of "accommodating" disagreement.   

— Wilbur Davis is a monsignor at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach.