Monday, May 18, 2009

Notre Dame's "Useful Idiots" (Updated)

Notre Dame - A Catholic University?

Vladimir Lenin is attributed the authorship of the term "Useful Idiots" to describe reporters and individuals who would be deferential to Communists and endorse or 'normalize' Communist policies in the West, facilitating it's acceptance and expansion.

Notre Dame's administration and a majority of it's Class of 2009 graduates gleefully played the "Useful Idiot" role to the hilt yesterday for Barack Obama and the Democrat's social agenda of unfettered and unlimited abortion.  The University provided him a privileged and unique stage and backdrop that allowed him to effectively cast himself and his views on abortion as "reasonable", as opposed to the Catholic Church's "un-reasonable" positions on abortion, and co-laterally, birth control and embryonic stem cell research .

"Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved." (Applause.)
"So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let's reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.) Let's make adoption more available. (Applause.) Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. (Applause.) Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women." Those are things we can do." (Applause.)
If, as he states, abortion should be reduced, why not agree to eliminate? He also gratuitously positioned those who disagree with abortion on conscience, as not in the mainstream of thought, but as the minor participants whose idiosyncratic view should be graciously accommodated by the many.

Despite some of the usual commencement speaker comments regarding the graduates in the audience, the real purpose of Obama's polemic at Notre Dame was not about the graduates and their life opportunities going forward, but clearly focused on the issue of abortion.  And he wasn't there to give ground on his position.  In fact, he was there to defiantly celebrate his position and diminish the anti-abortion and anti-birth control position of the Catholic Church.  And, he succeeded.  Obama has usually proved intellectually dishonest in rhetoric regarding dialog, just as he is about the concept of bi-partisanship, and he held true to form here.  He expects the other side to join him - he will not give ground.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called "The Audacity of Hope." A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an e-mail from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life -- but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.
What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website -- an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person, he supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words." Fair-minded words.
After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn't change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website.

The perversity of watching a man who voted three times in the Illinois Senate to require allowing children born alive during botched abortions to be left to die, receive not only honor, but cheering applause from the most prominent Catholic University teachers and students in the United States, while abortion protesters were being arrested on campus, was deeply disheartening.

The University Class of 2009 may one day look back in regret at their own complicity in supporting the killing of children of God.  Catholic parents considering sending their children to Notre Dame as a means of deepening their understanding and appreciation of their faith, may want to seriously reconsider that consideration.

(N.B: I have two nephews who graduated from Notre Dame, subsequently abandoned Catholicism, and who are not raising their children as Catholics.)

Video (Part 1 of Obama's speech)

Video (Part 2 of Obama's speech)

Here's an example of the negative impact that providing Notre Dame as a backdrop for President Obama has had on the Catholic Church's position on abortion.

CNN's Whitfield on Notre Dame Scandal: Have Catholics 'Evolved' on the Moral Issues

Minutes after she praised President Obama for his “courageous” decision to accept the invitation to speak at Notre Dame, CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield played the role of liberal advocate for the president’s commencement address, grilling one Catholic guest who questioned the university’s decision, while going easy on her other guest who was happy to see Obama speak there. Just as MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell had done on May 14, Whitfield equivocated between the issues of abortion and the death penalty, along with war, in her question to Raymond Arroyo of the Catholic television network EWTN: “So does the death penalty fall into that and also wars...does that fall into that as well?”

Later, when Arroyo brought up how the Catholic teaching on abortion wouldn’t change, even if most of the Notre Dame graduates agreed with the decision to bring the president to campus, the CNN anchor replied, “Well, might it suggest something else, that perhaps the Catholic majority has evolved in its opinion of certain things....Perhaps, it means that there’s a greater understanding in some of the areas that you say...once upon a time there wasn’t.” [Due to the large amount of transcript, the entire text of both segments of the two segments can be read here. Audio clips from both segments are available here.]

Twenty-one minutes into the 2 pm Eastern hour, as President Obama was getting ready to receive the honorary law degree at Notre Dame, Whitfield brought on Arroyo and the Reverend James Martin, a Jesuit priest with the generally-liberal Catholic publication American magazine, during two points in the lead up to Obama’s address for a discussion of the whole controversy. After playing up the “rousing applause as the president walked in,” the anchor asked Arroyo what his impression was so far. When the EWTN news director answered that the controversy was largely over the awarding of the honorary law degree, Whitfield shot back, “But the university -- in fact, the president -- Reverend Jenkins said every president that’s been invited to -- to deliver the commencement speech always gets an honorary degree. This would be quite the slap or an aside if they were to invite the president....and not granted an honorary degree.”

Arroyo invoked the 2004 decision of the Catholic bishops in the U.S. which advised Catholic institutions to “not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles, and you shouldn’t give them honors and medals because that would be seen as supporting their policies.” When the CNN anchor replied with her death penalty/war question, Arroyo continued that “abortion...has been identified by both the Vatican and the bishops of the United States as a foundational issue. One can’t get to poverty or climate change or immigration if that person hasn’t been allowed to live.”

Whitfield then turned to Rev. Martin and asked if he agreed with Arroyo’s outline. The priest, who is with a religious order in the Catholic Church that is notoriously full of leftists and dissenters from Church teaching, did not stray from his liberal talking points the entire time: “I think first of all, if anyone deserves a degree in law, it’s this constitutional law scholar....But also, I think the pro-life world is a lot broader than simply abortion. I don’t think you can just sweep the death penalty, torture -- things like that under the carpet....I think, unfortunately, for a lot of people in the pro-life movement, life begins at conception, but seems to end there.”

Near the end of the first segment of their discussion, Whitfield brought up how 54% of Catholic supported President Obama during the last election: “Fifty-four perecent of Catholics who were polled in America on Election Day actually voted for this president....Hasn’t it already been made clear that many Catholics who may have been struggling with the issue, whether abortion or stem cell research -- they’ve already gotten past that part?” Arroyo countered with the recent Gallup poll that found that “more Americans are pro-life -- 51 percent -- than opposed to life or supportive of abortion rights. So what we’re seeing, I think, is a sea change. I almost look at this as the Obama effect. As these policies get wheeled out -- as people, particularly Catholics, become more cognizant of the policy choices being made, you see a shift.”

Both Whitfield and Reverend Martin seemed to ignored the poll results presented by Arroyo:
WHITFIELD: Well, Mr. Arroyo, I’m wondering, are you concerned that the view that you are conveying now really is in -- is a minority view if you look at, according to the polling that the Observer newspaper on campus did -- 70% of this mostly Catholic student body actually said we do embrace -- we do welcome this president.

ARROYO: No doubt.

WHITFIELD: And that the heated protest that’s taking place involving outside groups, that is not representative of the university campus --

ARROYO: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: So is there not a mixed message being sent here?

ARROYO: Well, no one’s saying that -- that there’s a groundswell of opposition on campus. The groundswell has come from outside of campus, from the Catholic bishops, from faithful people looking in. It is -- Notre Dame is symbolic of Catholic identity in many ways, and by conferring this honor at this moment in history, when these issues, particularly issues of life, are moving to the consciousness again of Catholics, this is becoming sort of a rallying point. I think it’s a moment --

WHITFIELD: Well, Reverend Martin, I wonder, is this groundswell representative of most practicing Catholics, in your view?

MARTIN: Well, I don’t see it as a groundswell. I mean, you heard the deafening applause when we he walked in. You saw the polls of who voted for Obama in the last election. I think Catholics also realize that there are many different ways of tackling the problem of abortion. I mean, I’m pro-life, but I also think that -- sort of fundamental economic policies, trying to help the poor -- those kinds of things work against abortion as well, which is something that President Obama has talked about. So, you know, we can differ on tactics basically, but I -- I don’t think anyone is really pro-abortion. So I think what you are seeing, in terms of Notre Dame, if you do see it as an emblem of Catholic identity, is the support that he has among Catholics, who see this as more than simply a one-issue Church.
Ten minutes later, during the second segment of their discussion before the president’s commencement address, the CNN anchor again asked Rev. Martin for his take. The Jesuit couldn’t wait to sing the chief executive’s praises: “Well, I think it’s terrific that he’s coming to Notre Dame, and I think it’s terrific that, you know, he’s going to mix it up with the graduates, as well as the faculty and the larger world on this question of abortion....I think, you know, one of the things that is getting lost is I think the Catholic Church also needs to treat people with dignity and grace themselves. And I think to welcome the president -- this guy with, you know, a tremendous record -- I think it’s entirely appropriate, and I think if anyone has a problem with honoring him, I think they just need to look at his record.”

Whitfield then brought up with Arroyo how former ambassador to the Vatican and Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon had turned down Notre Dame’s highest honor due to the invitation to the president. After some confusion on the part of the CNN anchor, the EWTN director finally explained that Glendon declined the award because she thought “this event should be about the graduates themselves, not about some fake dialogue -- not about some, you know, pro-life as opposed to pro-choice going at war with each other, you know, in some sort of dialogue. That’s not what’s happening here.” She followed up by asking, “Do you like or agree with what Reverend Jenkins says, that, in part, the reason why they’re honoring the president is because he was willing to engage with those who disagree with him?”

Arroyo answered, in part, “I mean, in all of these recent decisions, whether it’s the conscience clause, the funding of abortion, I didn’t see anybody consulting religious voices....So I don’t quite know what they’re talking about. But again, what we’re seeing is the power of the president’s personality -- his rock star status being brought to bear. But if 98% of Notre Dame graduates loved and embraced this choice, it still would avoid the real question, which isn’t President Obama. The question is, should this university be honoring someone who violates the very fundamental moral values of the Catholic Church?”

This answer brought out the CNN anchor’s use of the “evolved” term:
WHITFIELD: Well, might it suggest something else, that perhaps the Catholic majority has evolved in its opinion of certain things. Some of these things that you’ve outlined --

ARROYO: No, no, no, because this -- no, no, this --  there’s no --

WHITFIELD: Perhaps, it means that there’s a greater understanding in some of the areas that you say --

ARROYO: There’s no --

WHITFIELD: Once upon a time there wasn’t.

ARROYO: Yeah, there couldn’t be because there’s been no indication from the hierarchy or any official teaching that there’s been ‘evolution.’ I don’t know what ‘evolution’ from life means. I mean, if one throws life away, then torture, death penalty, war, everything is open game....It is one -- all of these issues hang together. It is one consistent ethic of life. But one can’t then say abortion can be put aside. No, no, no. It is primordial. It is -- it is fundamental, and the bishops and the popes have taught this for centuries. This is nothing new.”

WHITFIELD: So then as senator, he said I am not voting for war. Why would that not supercede, or at least have some equal footing with his position on a woman’s right to choose?

ARROYO: A great question -- because war, under some circumstances, can be just. War -- obviously, in World War II, when we were liberating people in death camps -- that was a just war, okay? But abortion, in all instances, is always intrinsically evil in the minds -- in the mind of the Church. So one can’t play this shell game. You know, as I said earlier, this isn’t a game of ‘go fish’ and find one teaching you agree with -- oh, I agree with immigration, but I’m not going to let people exercise their conscience in hospitals -- 

And now here's another commentary, from George Weigel, with greater historical perspective on the issue.....

Obama and the ‘Real’ Catholics
The president inserts himself into a religious debate.

By George Weigel

Passionate debates over doctrine, identity, and the boundaries of “communion” have been a staple of the American religious landscape for centuries: Trinitarians vs. Unitarians in 19th-century New England; Modernists vs. Fundamentalists in early-20th-century Presbyterianism; Missouri Synod Lutherans vs. Wisconsin Synod Lutherans vs. Other Sorts of Lutherans down to today. Yet never in our history has a president of the United States, in the exercise of his public office, intervened in such disputes in order to secure a political advantage.

Until yesterday, at the University of Notre Dame.

The principal themes of President Obama’s Notre Dame commencement address were entirely predictable; indeed, in some offices I know, betting pools were forming last week on how many of the Catholic Left hot buttons Obama would hit. In the event, he hit for the cycle several times over, mentioning “common ground”; tolerance and reconciliation amid diversity; Father Hesburgh; respect for those with whose moral judgments we disagree; problem-solving over ideology; Father Hesburgh; saving God’s creation from climate change; pulling together; Father Hesburgh; open hearts; open minds; fair-minded words; Father Hesburgh. None of this was surprising, and most of it was said with the president’s usual smooth eloquence.

What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are. The real Catholics, you see, are those like the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who are “congenial and gentle” in persuasion, men and women who are “always trying to bring people together,” Catholics who are “always trying to find the common ground.” The fact that Cardinal Bernardin’s undoubted geniality and gentility in bringing people together to find the common ground invariably ended with a “consensus” that matched the liberal or progressive position of the moment went unremarked — because, for a good postmodern liberal like President Obama, that progressive “consensus” is so self-evidently true that one can afford to be generous in acknowledging that others, less enlightened but arguably sincere, have different views.

Cardinal Bernardin gave a moving and powerful testimony to Christian faith in his gallant response to the cancer that finally killed him. Prior to that last, great witness, however, the late archbishop of Chicago was best known publicly for his advocacy of a “consistent ethic of life,” in which the abortion issue was linked to the abolition of capital punishment and nuclear arms control. And whatever Bernardin’s intentions in formulating what came to be known popularly as the “seamless garment” approach to public policy, the net effect of the consistent ethic of life was to validate politically the intellectual mischief of Mario Cuomo’s notorious 1984 Notre Dame speech and to give two generations of Catholic politicians a virtual pass on the abortion question by allowing them to argue that, hey, I’m batting .667 on the consistent ethic of life.

The U.S. bishops abandoned the “seamless garment” metaphor in 1998, substituting the image of the “foundations of the house of freedom” to explain the priority to be given the life issues in the Church’s address to public policy — and in the consciences of Catholic politicians. The foundations of the house of freedom, the bishops argued, are the moral truths about the human person that we can know by reason. Those truths are embodied in law in what we call civil rights. Thus, the life issues are the great civil-rights issues of the moment. This powerful argument did not, however, sit well with Catholics comfortable with the Cuomo Compromise (“I’m personally opposed, but I can’t impose my views on a pluralistic society”), for these good liberals and progressives had long prided themselves on being — like Father Hesburgh — champions of civil rights.

So the “seamless garment” went underground for a decade, only to be dusted off by Douglas Kmiec and others in the 2008 campaign; there, a variant form of the consistent ethic was used to argue that Barack Obama was the real pro-life candidate on offer. As casuistry, this was risible. But it worked well enough that Catholic Obama-supporters on the Notre Dame board saw their chances and took ’em, arranging for the president to come to Notre Dame to complete the seamless garment’s dust-off and give it a new lease on life by presenting the late Cardinal Bernardin — “a kind and good man . . . a saintly man” — as the very model of a real Catholic in America. Not the kind of Catholic who would ever criticize Notre Dame for bestowing an honorary doctorate of laws on a man determined to enshrine in law what the Catholic Church regards as a fundamental injustice. Not the kind of man who would suggest that, with the life issues, we’re living through the moral equivalent of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, with Barack Obama unhappily choosing to play the role of Stephen A. Douglas. Not a man, in other words, like Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin’s successor, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and one of the most articulate critics of Notre Dame’s decision to honor a president who manifestly does not share what Notre Dame claims is its institutional commitment to the Church’s defense of life.

Whether or not President Obama knew precisely what he was doing — and I’m inclined to think that this politically savvy White House and its allies among Catholic progressive intellectuals knew exactly what they were doing — is irrelevant. In order to secure the political advantage Obama had gained among Catholic voters last November, the president of the United States decided that he would define what it means to be a real Catholic in 21st-century America — not the bishop of Fort Wayne–South Bend, who in sorrow declined to attend Notre Dame’s commencement; not the 80-some bishops who publicly criticized Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president to receive an honorary degree; not the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which explicitly and unambiguously instructed Catholic institutions not to do what Notre Dame did. He, President Obama, would settle the decades-long intra-Catholic culture war in favor of one faction — the faction that had supported his candidacy and that had spent the first months of his administration defending his policies.

At the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1849, the U.S. bishops petitioned the Holy See to grant the archbishop of Baltimore the title of Primate of the Catholic Church in the United States (as, for example, the archbishops of Qu├ębec City and Mexico City are the “Primates” of their respective countries). The Holy See declined and, ever since, the archbishops of Baltimore have had to settle for being the ordinaries of the “premier” see in American Catholicism. Barack Obama at Notre Dame was not so modest. Rather like Napoleon taking the diadem out of the hands of Pope Pius VII and crowning himself emperor, President Obama has, wittingly or not, declared himself the Primate of American Catholicism.

What the bishops of the United States have to say about this usurpation of their authority will be very interesting to see. Whether Obama’s Catholic acolytes will recognize a genuine threat to religious freedom in what they are already celebrating as their Notre Dame victory over the pro-life yahoos and reactionaries will also be instructive.


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