The following is my letter to the editor, which has so far not been printed.
The editorial titled “Sectarian Catholicism” in the May 11, 2009 edition of America was most intriguing. The basic premise of the piece is that “self appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy” have defined orthodoxy not as “adherence to the Church’s doctrine” but as “adherence to a particular political program” and that, in so doing, these “sectarians” “threaten the unity of the Catholic Church” by ignoring the “broad-tent,” “big-church” Catholic tradition.
In fact, the Church’s tent embraces people of different intellectual and political persuasions but is also precisely defined to exclude the possibility of denying fundamental truths of faith, including the sanctity of human life.
The particular event cited to exemplify the editorial’s argument is the opposition by Catholic laity and clergy to the invitation of President Obama by the University of Notre Dame to be the 2009 commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Nearly 60 U. S. bishops, tens of thousands of concerned ND alumni and other Catholic laity, and prominent Catholic American figures have all united in opposition to ND president Father John Jenkins’ invitation of President Obama. Such a unified voice can hardly be called sectarian. This action by ND’s president and board clearly violates the agreement between Catholic university presidents and the USCCB, which states that no Catholic university may give a platform to or honor a person who holds positions contrary to the teaching of the Church.
The opposition of the bishops and laity to President Obama addressing ND’s graduates is not political or sectarian at all; rather, it is grounded in the truth of the sanctity of human life and the duty of Catholic institutions to be authentic and uphold the truth revealed by God. Defending orthodox faith is not political or sectarian. It is the mark of fidelity to Christ.
The editorial calls abortion “evil” while at the same time defending ND’s decision to honor a man whose policies are definitively pro-abortion, an intellectual gymnastic feat similar to ND’s original plan to invite both President Obama and the pro-life devout Catholic Mary Ann Glendon in the hopes of appearing broad-minded. Such positions are not broad but duplicitous and disrespectful toward persons of authentic faith. One cannot help but wonder if ND and America Magazine have pitched a tent that is not big enough to include respect for human life.
Catholic institutions are not political organizations and ought not participate in political maneuvering or agendas. Instead, as Pope Benedict said at Catholic University in April 2008, “…every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.” Catholic universities are called to preach the truth, whole and entire, in season and out of season, in all aspects of their mission. That means giving voice to and honoring only those who support the truth, especially the dignity of life.
The congratulatory message of the Holy Father to a head of state should not be construed as support for President Obama’s policies. The Church clearly opposes the consistent anti-life agenda of this presidency, revealed in its policies allowing research on human persons in the embryonic stage and promoting abortion abroad with taxpayer dollars. While the president may in some limited way be able to improve life for Americans, he is a failure on the most fundamental life issues.
What is at stake today is not the loss of a so-called broad vision of the faith but the lives of thousands of unborn children. What the Church in the United States desperately needs is strong episcopal leadership and unity among the laity around the fundamental truth of the sanctity of human life. This requires a resounding “yes” to the fullness of the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.