I have to admit a fantasy. President Obama goes to Notre Dame, gives a speech largely in favor of supporting unborn life in the womb, and Randall Terry, Bishop D’Arcy, Deal Hudson, and Mary Ann Glendon sit home with egg on their faces. It would be a lovely day for an omelet. Dang, but I don’t think that will be on the menu.
Like half a million other internet Catholics, I read Professor Glendon’s statement on First Things. Unlike most of them, I come away unimpressed. Here’s why:
We’re what: less than two weeks from ND commencement? This story has been brewing a lot longer than that. What took her so long to make up her mind? It was clear from the first post on a Catholic conservative web site this was going to be ideological anti-abortion armageddon. Has Professor Glendon spent so much time in Rome she’s not aware of the magnitude of issues like this within Catholicism? Didn’t Bishop D’Arcy encourage her to attend and receive her award when he announced his own boycott last month? So one strike for just plain bad manners.
As for this statement:
U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Professor Glendon, like many other Catholics, seem to gloss over the clause “which would suggest support for their actions.” I suppose you can read it that every award, honor, and platform automatically suggests support. Those of us who do not apply Liturgiam Authenticam in daily speech might also realize that a Catholic institution might well be able to invite a pro-choice person to speak, as the witness of the Church and institution clearly give others the impression the speaker is not being honored for his beliefs on pro-choice issues, but in spite of them. But this principle and document seem open to interpretation, so ball one for the prof.
However, Professor Glendon has a valid point if her perception is that she’s being used by the ND administration as sort of a pro-life antidote. Her quotes from the university reveal something clumsy is afoot in the spin game. I would rather ND just said, “Look: we invited him, and we’re not going to take it back. Like it or lump it.” Ball two on a hard inside pitch.
I wasn’t impressed with this reasoning:
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Say what? This commencement has been touted as a battleground ever since the conservatives got whiff of it. Do you think that South Bend graduates and their families aren’t aware of who their commencement speaker is and why people are upset? Professor Glendon, if she was really concerned about keeping the day nice and sunshiney, should have also written a letter to the president’s detractors and told them to cool it.
This is some kind of courageous decision, I hear it touted, not to disrupt the joy. Sheesh. This is exactly the time for people to get a rip-roaring taste of life in the outside world, as much as the Culture Wars can be evidence of that world. We’re not talking kindergarteners, but young men and women who will very soon be dealing with real life morality in the world (if they haven’t confronted it already on campus). They don’t need spoonfeeding.
So that makes it a generous two-and-two count for the pinch hitter from Harvard.
Beyond this at-bat, I don’t see a good short-term solution for bishops, universities, or the political pro-lifers. This is like the bottom of the eighth, trailing 9-3 with two outs. Bishops, more and more, come off as pouty and ineffective. Rather than boycott these speaker events or insist on a disinvite, why wouldn’t they attend, take advantage of the platform, and really stir up the pot with some strong words? Maybe some of them wish they’d been stronger in preaching and public speaking–I don’t know.
Universities will be doing a better job vetting speakers from now on. I predict a lower quality of presentation or a lower quality of content delivered at commencement. I don’t see how university presidents are suddenly going to go hat in hand to their bishop to get their speakers approved. Worst case scenario would be some conservative getting her or his hands on prospective lists and tallying up the disinvites. Which bishop vetoed the most speakers? Give him a medal. Which speaker was vetoed by the most bishops? You have the antichrist of the year.
Political pro-lifers have a pyrrhic victory. The movement can’t break abortion numbers, can’t get laws passed, and resorts to pep rallies for the disillusioned faithful. Which bishop was it that suggested the local Birthright or other pro-life service gain extra volunteer hours in reparation for the sins of society? Oh wait, it was another pep rally–I mean Mass.
Maybe Professor Glendon can hit the summer speaking circuit now that Harvard is on summer break. I’m sure she could reap lots of medals in return for declining the Laetare.