Friday, April 03, 2009
In this op-ed, "An uneasy mix of religion and politics," Bill Daley attacks Chicago's Catholic archbishop, Cardinal George, for criticizing the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama with the commencement address and a ceremonial degree. (I realize that the controversy surrounding this decision might seem exotic, or even bizarre, to those not immersed in the "what does it mean to be a Catholic university?" conversation, but bear with me.) Daley's op-ed reflects, I think, a deep, and actually dangerous, confusion about church-state separation.
According to Daley, the Archbishop's critique is an unsettling example of "mixing" religion and politics. He writes:
[N]o matter how strongly we cherish our faith and values, we have to remember that we are not alone in this world.
That idea is what distinguished the fledgling United States from the many countries with state religions. It still distinguishes us from much of the world. No matter how certain we are that our church is the one true path to salvation, we can never cross the line and believe that it is our God-given right and duty to force our beliefs on others. Otherwise, we are no different than the forces of religious fanaticism and terror that we are fighting today.
The suggestion that, by urging a Catholic university to think more clearly about the implications of that character for that university's own decisions and practices, a Catholic bishop is pushing us toward a "state religion," or "forc[ing] . . . beliefs on others" is seriously misguided. In fact -- and this seems true whether or not one supports President Obama's policies, agrees with him, or thinks Notre Dame should honor him -- the more serious threat to church-state separation, properly understood, is the suggestion, from one with Mr. Daley's connections to political power, that Catholic bishops act wrongly -- act un-American -- when they tell Catholic universities how better to be Catholic.
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That isn't a fair reading of Daley's op-ed.
Daley's op-ed may be a little overheated and unfocused, but his general point isn't "dangerous." He doesn't say, let alone suggest, that it's wrong for a Catholic bishop to comment on the actions of a Catholic university. But he identifies Cardinal George's comments as part of a trend among the Church hierarchy to label people as fundamentally immoral and beyond the pale because they do not adhere to Church doctrine.
Having read some of the perfervid criticism directed at Notre Dame for inviting Obama, much of which is combined with sometimes vicious condemnations of the president, I find it hard to disagree with Daley's essential point. You would think that Notre Dame had invited Charles Manson to give the commencement address. But perhaps Cardinal George and co. actually believe that a pro-choice politician is no different than Charles Manson.
Posted by: don anon | Apr 3, 2009 10:23:01 PM
You make a good point, Rick, that in this heated moment, Bill Daley's op-ed got off-track on church and state principles, which are not implicated in this instance. But the title usually is the paper's to choose, and his main thesis is: "I believe Cardinal's George's stand is an embarrassment to Chicago Catholics and furthers the divide among the church, its members and the rest of America." That's my perspective, too, on the Cardinal's insulting President Obama, ironically because I was taught while at Notre Dame that, as Daley also states, "As a Catholic, I believe there is a common morality embraced by people of good will across all the world's religions." I would have felt the same had the hierarchy joined the protestors against Ronald Reagan speaking there at the height of concerns about his Central American policies, and am deeply saddened that Pres. Obama is the first of many presidents to speak at Notre Dame to get this ungracious treatment. Finally, I think that Daley's church-state references can be read more broadly, as relating to churches' efforts to dictate voting recently, rather than soley to this particular Notre Dame internal decision. It's certainly a hot topic, and it was interesting to read your perspective, so thanks.
Posted by: Mary Jean Dolan | Apr 4, 2009 2:06:41 AM
The Church is condemned for allegedly speaking out too little during the holocaust of World War II, and then again condemned for speaking out too much against the holocaust of abortion. (And, most curiously, the same individuals are oftentimes at the forefront of each condemnation!)
To fully appreciate the controversy at Notre Dame, you have to fully appreciate the position of the Church on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The Church believes and teaches that human beings are sacred, and deserving of dignity and respect, from the moment of their conception, and regardless of their geography (i.e., in-utero versus ex-utero). Barak Obama not only denies that human beings are deserving of this dignity and respect, but has further (1) pledged U.S. tax-dollars to fund abortion and (2) pledged to support measures that would strip Catholics (and others) of conscientious objection rights concerning abortion / abortiofacients.
For Obama, therefore, to address a Catholic university is not that far apart from inviting Josef Mengele. Regardless of their roles in their respective societies, and their popularity in their respective times, each man supports the most heinous of policies (at least in the eyes of the Church).
The fact that Obama has his supporters (as Mengele had his) makes no difference. If I believe that a certain act constitutes murder, I cannot acquiesce to it regardless of how many other people may disagree. I simply could not violate my conscience that way. In similar fashion, the Church cannot maintain that abortion is a grave evil (in fact, one of the very gravest evils of our modern times) while at the same time honoring an individual who supports and subsidizes abortion.
Posted by: Douay | Apr 4, 2009 10:41:02 PM
For Obama, therefore, to address a Catholic university is not that far apart from inviting Josef Mengele.
Well, there you go proving Daley's point.
Posted by: don anon | Apr 6, 2009 7:55:50 AM
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