As the anti-Obama noises get louder around the President's invitation to address Notre Dame's commencement ceremony on May 17, the university recently confirmed that it is not going to back down on the invitation. Nor will it step back from giving Obama an honorary law degree. The other day, Notre Dame stiffened its position by declaring a "no trespassing" policy, and having Operation Rescue organizer Randall Terry arrested when he came on campus to protest.
Ever since World War II, sitting Presidents have traditionally attended the Notre Dame ceremony, regardless of whether those Presidents' personal religious beliefs conformed to those of the Catholic Church or not. But this time, ultra-conservative student groups, as well as the Cardinal Newman Society and figureheads like Newt Gingrich (a recent Catholic convert) are pretending that Obama is the first American President whose beliefs don't coincide with the complete Catholic catechism. They are screaming themselves hoarse over Obama's pro-abortion stance, and claiming that around 300,000 people signed a petition that Obama's speech be canceled.
From an office in South Bend, the anti-Obamists say they are organizing a massive pro-life demonstration to happen on campus during graduation day. On top of this, they've been mailing empty red envelopes to the university president's office, with each envelope intended to represent an embryo killed by abortion. They promise "nonstop activism geared to derail this invitation, and to make life miserable for those at Notre Dame who betrayed the faith and the innocent."
The Cardinal Newman Society is dedicated to celebrating and fomenting "Catholic identity." Translation: pushing ultraconservative doctrine and policy. How odd to think that Cardinal Newman himself was rumored to have been a closet homosexual.
What the Real Battle Is About
Behind the Notre Dame drama is a single stark fact. There is a widening nationwide split down the middle of American Catholics, one that is especially visible on Catholic campuses -- notably over three issues: women in the priesthood, reproductive freedom, and LGBT rights and marriage.
The Cardinal Newman Society website maintains a black list where it posts alerts about campuses that have "sinned against the Church" by allowing open discussion of controversial doctrines, or by inviting speakers who aren't card-carrying Catholic conservatives. For instance, they're outraged at the University of San Francisco for inviting an African bishop who supports condom use.
Indeed, Notre Dame isn't the only university that is under fire for being too open-minded about abortion. Xavier University in New Orleans is also declared anathema for inviting pro-abortionist Donna Brasile to speak. So is Georgetown University, which invited pro-abortion Vice President Biden. Several years ago, I'm sure that the black list must have included Marymount College in Los Angeles, when that Jesuit-administered campus allowed their gay-straight alliance group to organize the school's first LGBT conference. I was one of the speakers, and was impressed by Marymount's determination to allow open dialogue about LGBT issues within the Church.
The fact is -- educated and questioning American Catholics are having more and more difficulty swallowing the rigid Vatican positionings on controversial doctrines. Though some Catholic commentators insist that the Church is getting droves of new converts from among evangelical Protestant groups, a Pew Report issued on April 27 indicates that four times as many Catholics are leaving the Church as are joining it. Where do the refugees go? Some of them defect to the North American Old Catholic Church, which now has parishes in a dozen states. Though the NAOCC's liturgies hew to popular old traditional forms (like Mass in Latin), its doctrines cut to the core of contemporary social justice, including full acceptance of LGBT people and marriage.
Such huge losses in membership means that, sometime in the next century, the American Catholic Church as we've known it might sink like the Titanic. The Church evidently knows this, and is fighting for its life with all the blind desperation that former "authorities" exhibit when they know that their day is over, that their absolute control over millions of people's lives and minds is finally coming to an end.
At Notre Dame, the violent tone of anti-Obama protest has some commentators concerned about the President's safety. The Wayne Madsen Report points out the curiousness of the South Bend police department saying it can't afford to take responsibility for security during the commencement, owing to city cutbacks. Madsen writes: "What is worrying to some federal law enforcement and emergency preparedness officials is the violent groups that will be present both within South Bend and on the campus of Notre Dame during the President's address.... And these groups are being egged on by well-financed conservative groups, including the Cardinal Newman Society and Brent Bozell's Media Research Center. However, the real fear of federal security agencies is the rhetoric being voiced by professional troublemaker Randall Terry and perennial political candidate Alan Keyes. .... Keyes has called Obama a 'radical communist' and has vowed that he an his allies are 'going to stop him.' "
The hints of possible violence against Obama have their irony. These ultraconservative Catholics who say they speak for the lives of the unborn are the same kind of people who had no respect for the lives of millions of heretics -- who cheered when heretics were publicly tortured and executed for a number of long centuries -- all in the name of "defending the faith."
Higher education is supposed to teach young people how to think, and to think for themselves. In my opinion, the duty to teach that principle falls to church colleges as well as non-religious schools. As a former Catholic, who made tracks out of the Church at age 19, during my senior year at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, because I couldn't stomach the teaching that "all non-Catholics will go to hell," I can only say -- it's high time that the uproar about these issues has finally gone national. It is with respect and affection that I remember the Mothers of the Sacred Heart who taught at Manhattanville when I was there in 1955-57, who valued a student's liberty of conscience as highly as they did adherence to church doctrine, and who allowed me to graduate in spite of my "apostasy."
So my hat's off to Notre Dame for its courage, as it battles bullying by a religious institution that fancies it still "rules the world" the way it did a thousand years ago.
Feminist theologian Mary Hunt offers a seasoned analysis of the uproar.