Full text of Holy Cross head’s letter to Obama

Here is the full text of the 13-page letter (click at the end of this page for the rest) to President Obama from the Rev. Hugh W. Cleary, C.S.C. Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which oversees Notre Dame:  



General Administration

Via Framura, 85

00168 Rome, Italy

March 22, 2009

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

Washington, D.C.  20500

The United States of America


Dear Mr. President,


Congratulations on being awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Notre Dame!


The University of Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross and in 1844 it was established as a civil moral person by a legislative act of the state of Indiana.  On March 6, 1967, with the consent of the Holy Father Pope Paul VI, in the spirit of Vatican Council II with its clarion call for all Catholics to take greater responsibility for living and strengthening the life of the Church, the Congregation of Holy Cross ceded its ownership of the University of Notre Dame to a Board of Fellows.  The University remains, however, under the continuous sponsorship of the Congregation of Holy Cross of which I am the Superior General.    


The dramatic alienation of ownership of the University of Notre Dame from the Congregation of Holy Cross took place in light of the Second Vatican Council’s recommendation that competent laity play a more significant role in the administration of religious and ecclesiastical property.  Through this unprecedented gesture the Congregation of Holy Cross sought to offer competent lay Catholics broader responsibility for Catholic higher education without jeopardizing the authentic Catholic character of the institution.


President Obama, the University of Notre Dame is honored to have you, as President of the United States of America, deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of 2009.  Personally, in so many ways, I admire you as a great American, a person endowed with extraordinarily well developed intellectual gifts, and, in my opinion, a man whose enormous compassion characterizes the goodness of his heart. Mr. President, you have the potential for greatness; I pray it be realized.


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As you know the University of Notre Dame’s decision to award you the honorary degree and to invite you to deliver the commencement address is fraught with controversy. As Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross I have been deluged with angry e-mails regarding Notre Dame’s decision to invite you to campus for the honors you are to receive.


Because of the University’s legal civil alienation from the Congregation, I have no authority over its decision making – those responsibilities are now directed by a Board of Fellows and a Board of Trustees.  Nevertheless I do hold personal authority over all of the Holy Cross priests and brothers of the Congregation who serve at the University of Notre Dame including its president who is always a Holy Cross priest. 


President Obama, you are superbly versed in the issues of our day.  I have no doubt that your policy convictions are grounded in rigorous study and that all your important decisions are supported by your conscience. Therefore, through this open letter, I would like to take advantage of the occasion of your receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame, to ask you to rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital “life issues” of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic forms of stem cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act before Congress.


Perhaps such an impertinent request rings with insolence.  I mean you neither rudeness nor disrespect.  I ask you this directly because as a Catholic, in this critical area of life and death issues, I hold and promote contrary views to your own as to what is right and just for the common good of our nation. 


In a very real sense your presence at Notre Dame offers us a kind of seminar, a stimulus of mind and heart, to quicken and incite conscience formation.  None of us want to be stubborn and yet we have clear convictions. We want to be open to a variety of perspectives yet it is our principled beliefs that define us. We Catholics are always battling the vagrancies of “relativism.”  It is clear, however, that your positions on some of the fundamental “life issues” of our nation can neither be supported by the mission and ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame nor the faithful Catholic community.


Mr. President, in thinking of your coming visit to Notre Dame, I am reminded of the way you seized the opportunity, in the heat of your campaign for president, to address the issue of racial bigotry in our American culture.  Your courage in addressing a history of the racism and violent discrimination in a nation grounded in human rights and freedom for all, confronted us with the inconsistency and hypocrisy of our words and actions. In addressing the issue of racism head on with passionate convictions and sterling logic you not only benefited politically during a critical point of the campaign but you also used this precarious opportunity as a teachable moment for the nation, calling us to our best selves, to live truly who we say we are.


In a similar way your presence at Notre Dame affords all of us a teachable moment.  We Catholics will not modify or compromise our essential faith convictions but we do need help in developing our skills of communication and organization to express our faith convictions in American society so as to be heard and taken seriously.  How are we Catholics to participate in all levels of government without betraying our consciences or without being coerced by potential laws that would violate our consciences?  This is a colossal concern for us with far reaching consequences that go to the core of who we are as a nation, as human beings and people of faith.


Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame, reminded students recently that that the University of Notre Dame aspires to help them grow in faith and moral character.  He gave them points to ponder.  In a list of six smidgens of wisdom, Father Jenkins first urged them to wrestle with the largest questions of life such as:“What is a truly good, worthy human life and how do I live it?”   Perhaps the largest question of all is: “What, if anything, am I willing to die for?”   

Will we die for our essential beliefs?


Most Catholics, who disagree with the decision of the University to offer you this award, are rooted deeply in their faith, however imperfect we may be. We often fail, we are sinners, no doubt about it. Trusting in God’s love we try to pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness and try to do better.  Our faith means everything to us; we have a faith we will die for.

Sadly today, many faithful Catholics now feel out of the mainstream of our nation’s direction and decision-making.  Sometimes it seems many legislators, judges and executives, and even yourself, Mr. President, dismiss our views too off-handedly, without giving them the serious attention and reflection they deserve. How are we Catholics to go about getting ourselves to be taken seriously by our government leaders?


President Obama, your presence at Notre Dame, a premier Catholic institution, is regarded by many good Catholics as scandalous because of your support of abortion rights, regarded by us as an intrinsic evil. In awarding you this degree, they experience Notre Dame as undermining essential, intrinsic Catholic dogma which upholds the dignity of human life. They believe that in honoring you or in giving you a platform to speak, the University of Notre Dame is selling her soul for who knows what: perhaps, at best, for the prestige and glory of having the President of the United States on campus during his first year in office or perhaps at worst, giving an endorsement to your “anti-life policies.”


I do not believe this outrage is simply a demonstration of partisan politics. I sincerely want to rejoice in your presence at Notre Dame as President of the United States. But really, can I?  In all sincerity, President Obama, how are we Catholics to deal with you, or any other government leader, who upholds what we believe to be the intrinsic evil of abortion and who is willing to sign the FOCA legislation? How are we to confront Catholic leaders in your own Administration by whom we feel so abandoned? Are we to use tactics of shunning you and dismissing you as we feel shunned and dismissed? This is a far from frivolous question. Shunning seems to be the growing trend among many Catholic leaders and institutions today. It seems to be the only recourse left open. It is, of course, a tactic many politicians have used on occasion, including yourself.

During the campaign for example, you went to great and painful lengths to distance yourself from your pastor over extremely controversial issues.  Our Catholic concern for the right to life motivates us to go to great and painful lengths to distance ourselves from you because of your position on many of the “life issues.”

There are also politicians on both sides of the aisle who say we as a nation can never meet or negotiate with our enemies until they first change their ways. Your predecessor, for example, shunned political leaders of nations who sponsored state terrorism.  Your administration has taken a different tact. You have indicated your willingness to engage our nation’s foes in dialogue, yet Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, states that he will continue to shun you until the United States changes behavior toward Iran. “Change only in words is not enough. Change must be real,” he said.


Likewise, there is no way you could possibly invite the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the United States to address a joint session of the Congress.  It is unthinkable.  Many Catholics find a parallel situation in your being invited to speak at a Catholic institution like Notre Dame.  They are scandalized beyond measure that Notre Dame would do such a thing. 


Mr. President, as you know the “life issues” before us are quite matter of fact, yet exceedingly complex. Our most essential faith conviction is straight-forward.  You yourself expressed it so well in your remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast this past February 5th, when you said: “No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate.  There is no God who condones taking the life an innocent human being.  This much we know.”

This much we know, Mr. President, your statement on the taking of an innocent life is our belief.  It is the kind of clear, straightforward talk of your conscience convictions that we find so appealing. But sadly for us Catholics, your words do not express our meaning when you speak of “taking the life of an innocent human being.”


President Obama, I found the entirety of your remarks at the prayer breakfast truly inspiring and motivating.  In your words I found, in summary form, the reason of my admiration and esteem for you and the root of my patriotism.  With your words, however, I also found, in summary form, the reason I could vote neither for you nor the Democratic ticket nor the Republican ticket.  In fact, as a Catholic I believe myself disenfranchised from my government and disillusioned with what I perceive as a great gap between the rhetoric of our founding national ideals and the hubris of our so-called national convictions which more and more seem simply to enshrine our self-interest for prosperity over democracy. As an American Catholic, will I ever be able to vote again for a nominee of a major political party when each party, in my view, fails the consistency test in promoting the rights and dignity of all human beings from conception to natural death?


I am embarrassed to confess that I sat out the last election cycle.  I am finding it more and more difficult to vote for the candidates of our major political parties. My friends tell me to vote by all means, vote for the lesser of the evils. Unfortunately today’s evils seem so much larger than my conscience can bear, whether they be on abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, immigration, the economy, housing for the poor, health care for the uninsured, the environment, war or weapons of mass destruction. I do love my country and I do want to vote.  I just don’t know how to vote while remaining true to my conscience formed by my faith convictions.


But to return to your simple truth: “There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being.”


Catholic dogma insists that life begins at conception. Innocent human life is conceived through sexual intercourse meant to be the most intimate, expression of love possible between two human beings, save giving up one’s life for the other. In his first encyclical, “God Is Love,” Pope Benedict XVI taught that “one meaning in love, amid a multiplicity of meanings, stands out in particular: the love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love.”  


It is true that sometimes, tragically, life is formed in the brutality of rape or in the shame of incest. Likewise life is often unintentionally conceived within the process of people solely seeking sexual pleasures. 


But in Catholic dogma, human life is human life.  Abortion is considered an unspeakable crime, the taking of an innocent human life. As you so well stated “no God condones taking the life of an innocent human being.”  As Catholics, that much we know.  You prayed “let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate.”  Just as love begets love, hate begets hate.


There are some people who hate the life of a child in the womb due to the unwanted consequences of sheltering, nurturing and forming that new “intruder,” that new guest, who is now forever altering the agenda of one’s personal life as well as the life of our larger society. 


There are some religious people who now hate Notre Dame for inviting you to speak at the 2009 graduation and receive an honorary degree. I fear their hate will beget further hate. Will their hatred ultimately destroy their souls in the guise of self-righteousness, just as powerfully as abortion destroys the physical life of a newly conceived child?


Embedded in the civil laws framing our United States cultural values, and even among some Christian believers, an embryo growing in a woman’s womb is not considered to be a human life; “it” is regarded simply as new tissue, a kind of cancerous, biological growth infecting a woman’s body and threatening a woman’s independent way of life. Legalized abortion clearly implies that a person’s choice for personal freedom supersedes the natural human obligation to protect and nurture human life. Biological destiny has its challenges for both women and men in making our choices.  The Hebrew Scripture emphatically expresses the right decision in the choice between life and death: “choose life!”


Faithful Catholics believe that the fetus, the embryo, growing in the womb is a distinct human being.  We believe that the new child’s mother is the guardian of her baby’s life within her womb.  She is offering this new creation precious hospitality, just as a Christian might give a journeying pilgrim the respite of hospitality within one’s own home.


This much we know, Mr. President, in our culture, dictated by the law of the land, a newly conceived embryo is not offered the dignity and rights of an independent, innocent human being.  “There is no God who condones taking the life an innocent human being.” As Catholics, this much we know, abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being. Nothing will ever change that.


President Obama, would you really sign into law a bill like FOCA which would force faith-based hospitals and healthcare facilities to perform abortions? Would you deny doctors and health care professionals their most precious human freedom in choosing life?


The issue of choice in American law looms large before us: in your logic it will be lawful to choose abortion but it will be a crime to choose life. In Catholic logic one cannot choose to murder in any circumstance, even in punishment for crime. One can choose life but not death. I am not so naïve as to believe that passing such ill-advised, contemptible legislation such as FOCA will “end the culture wars” as you have stated. On the contrary it will be considered by many of us as a persecution of the Catholic Church.


Tragically, we have a tradition in our United States culture which gives us permission to define the parameters of human life when it suits our self-interest.  Did we not justify our tradition of slavery by denying that a black human being of African decent was fully human?  To call a slave a human being would have interrupted the economic progress and well being of our country’s self-interest.  Many leaders of the nation believed we could not afford to do that. As I understand it, President Lincoln had a contrary view and took us to civil war for the sake of unifying our country’s conscience in terms of the rights and dignity of all human life.  Or was it simply a war fought over the nation’s economy?


And so now today we are engaged in a great civil war over conscience formation. The defense of human life is an obligation for all humanity, not just for Catholics.  Or is this war simply a war over the right to defend our self-interest without regard for promoting the responsibility we have for others?


An “unwanted” child comes in many forms: an untimely presence; a disabled or deformed creature; an embryo of the wrong sex; a child conceived out of wedlock; a child conceived through a hideous crime.  We today have an unparalleled capacity through our scientific know-how, unlike the limited knowledge at the disposal of Adolf Hitler, to create a super race, free of any spot or wrinkle.  The new laws of our society seem to aspire toward creating genetic purity within the human species, hoping to assure a problem-free future for the sake of human happiness, pleasure, prosperity and peace. 


There is no doubt in my mind, Mr. President, that in the not too distant future we will have godlike powers to form the perfect human species. The Tower of Babel will have had nothing on us when it comes to asserting our god-like greatness.


Surely future laws will require us to remove any genetic tendency toward weakness and imperfection; we will soon have a nation (and world?) of perfect “Stepford Wives” and perhaps “Stepford Husbands” and “Stepford Children.”  We will soon become quite adept in the art of putting people out of their misery; particularly if they are causing us misery!


On a very personal level, Mr. President, as a young man I was scandalized by the Republican agenda after theRoe vs. Wade decision.  As I recall, perhaps mistakenly but I sincerely believe accurately, that some powerful Republican governors introduced the country’s most liberal abortion laws in their populous states.  I seem to recall hearing one Republican Senator say in a television interview that he favored abortion because it was cheaper than welfare.  I also recall hearing an influential Democrat calling abortion “black genocide.” Somewhere along the line, I suppose in the defense of women’s rights and in the rise of Christian fundamentalism as a political power, the agendas flip-flopped, one side to the other. How did that ever happen? But when it did, given my faith convictions and my conscience, I had no choice but to surrender my political affiliation as a Democrat and become an Independent.


In all sincerity, Mr. President, how am I to conduct myself as an American Catholic?  If the “Freedom of Choice Act” were to be passed, would it mean that I flee to Canada in protest, the way so many of my peers did during the Vietnam War? Should I flee to the desert as did Christians of old to escape the fabric of a sinful society seemingly beyond conversion?


In my humble opinion, Mr. President, it doesn’t do us any good to withdraw from society; and it surely doesn’t do us any good to throw things at one another, be they shoes or missiles or ugly words.  Does it do us any good as Catholics to honor with honorary degrees those who disagree with us over essential matters of life and death? In my opinion it doesn’t do the conscience of Catholic politicians any good to state that while they are personally opposed to abortion, they will nevertheless uphold the law of the land.


When the Honorable Mario Cuomo was Governor of New York, a Catholic civil servant, for example, he said that although he was opposed to abortion he would support abortion rights as the law of the land.  Yet in promoting opposition to the death penalty, and in this I fully agreed with him, he was willing to fight with all his political might to change the law of the land.  Where was his consistency?  Where is any Catholic’s consistency in living faith as a public servant or in honoring a public servant who chooses death over life, whether it be through abortion or through punishment for crime?


President Obama, what good will it do for Catholic politicians to bring his or her faith convictions into the culture wars of legislating for the common good? Surely they will lose their next election; the secular industrial news media complex will see to that.  From what platform, then, ought Catholics to speak?  Can we only shun the political world and thereby risk losing our souls to a possible spiritual death through indifference or self-righteousness?  It seems shunning has become our only choice.  Surely we can do better than that.  Our sins as a Catholic Church are well known, we cannot dare be self-righteous.  But we dare not remain silent either, even in the face of our own sins.  Repentance and conversion, mercy and forgiveness are the only healing remedies for all of us.


And how are Catholics to relate with Catholics who seem so indifferent to these fundamental life issues?  I agree with Archbishop Charles Chaput, who complained: “Too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.”


Mr. President, may I digress for a moment and risk trying your patience?  May I share with you a great personal gripe with our American free press?  The big business of our industrial news media complex seems hardly free to me.  The industrial news media complex seems no more than a huge business monopoly whose owners have become the new teaching hierarchy of the culture wars.  The Catholic Church’s magisterium, teaching authority, cannot hold a candle to the magisterium of the powerful lords of the industrial news media complex.  


When it comes to reporting news of the Catholic Church our infamous free press seems more than eager to employ yellow journalism sound bytes to make news and money while promulgating their self-centered values in the formation of our American culture. Let me give you a current example: the Pope’s recent visit to Africa. On March 17th, while on the plane to Cameroon, Pope Benedict was asked about the effectiveness of condoms in the fight against AIDS and the Church’s position on the use of condoms. The Pope responded with what I perceived to be a thoughtful and gracious answer. What the church teaches in regard to healing is the“humanization of sexuality” through the promotion of sexual responsibility and dignity on the one hand, and on the other hand, “a willingness to be present with those who are suffering.” He spoke of the many church programs and dedicated care givers currently helping people with AIDS.


As you well know, Mr. President, the news media make the news. Their story reduced the Pope’s visit to Africa as a condemnation of condoms, ignoring completely his eloquent message for justice, peace and mercy at every level of life on the African continent.


How can the media play up condoms and downplay encouraging words such as these of Pope Benedict XVI which offer so much challenge and inspiration that can enrich us all?


“Angola knows that the time has come for Africa to be the Continent of Hope! All upright human conduct is hope in action. Our actions are never indifferent before God. Nor are they indifferent for the unfolding of history. Friends, armed with integrity, magnanimity and compassion, you can transform this continent, freeing your people from the scourges of greed, violence and unrest and leading them along the path marked with the principles indispensable to every modern civic democracy: respect and promotion of human rights, transparent governance, an independent judiciary, a free press, a civil service of integrity, a properly functioning network of schools and hospitals, and – most pressing – a determination born from the conversion of hearts to excise corruption once and for all.”


Mr. President, I am quite sure you will find in the Pope a kindred spirit when you meet him.  Both of you have keen intellects and compassionate hearts.


Unfortunately, the current newsmakers clearly find Catholic bashing in vogue. They ridicule the Church’s rich social and spiritual teaching with inane sound bytes meant to undermine the teaching authority of the Church in fostering a good and just civilization of love


Mr. President, what advice would you give someone like me who wants to respect a wide diversity of opinion yet who seeks to live faith convictions that relate to the essential common good of our American Society?


Like so many Americans, and people of good will around the world, I find such great hope in you.  I pray my hope will be realized; however, I fear disillusionment, I fear being let down, with a thud.  I mentioned that I believe you have the potential for greatness.  I sincerely pray for the realization of your potential because, selfishly, in the process, you will help me and many others to fulfill our potential as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.


When sharing smidgens of wisdom with Notre Dame Students, one point Father Jenkins made, which I like very much, concerned the risk of their making mistakes while striving for excellence in all they do. He said that our mistakes can often be great teachers, for they offer us great sources of insight and motivation.  He quoted Chief Justice John Roberts who once said, “Failure is a more effective stimulus than success – because you don’t get to do it over, but you do get the chance to do it better next time.”


Mr. President, may I be so audacious as to suggest that you have made a mistake in your position supporting abortion rights as the law of the land.  May I suggest, with all humility for I am far from perfect, that you give your conscience a fresh opportunity to be formed anew in a holy awe and reverence before human life in every form at every stage – from conception to natural death.  For we are all the Children of God.


I believe, President Obama, as I am sure you do, that love makes the world go round.  I gained the greatest appreciation for the meaning of salvation through God’s love lived out in human beings in the holy words of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  They reinforced for me the nature of Christ’s death on the cross for the sake of our salvation; they taught me what it is to be Christ-like.  Permit me to share them with you.  You are more than likely familiar with them already.  He said:


“To our most bitter opponents we say: We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and our churches and we will still love you. Threaten our children and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities in the night hours. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, not only for ourselves but for you as well. Appealing to your consciences and your heart, we shall win you over in love in the process of gaining our freedom. Our victory will be a double victory.” 

Mr. President, I pray that Catholics, through the grace of God’s love in their passionate determination to love all people, will help win over our American society and our world culture to  reverence the inherent dignity of all human life, without exception.


I don’t want sound bytes to determine the kind of relationship of respect I have for you or the quality of fidelity the University of Notre Dame has with the larger Church.  I want simply to be respectful of you as my brother and my President to dialogue with you and my country without betraying my fundamental faith convictions. We live in a pluralistic society, yes. Concerned and committed Catholics are an essential part of that plurality.  We have something vital and indispensable to say to everyone about these “life issues.”  We want to be taken seriously. We insist on taking ourselves seriously, that is why there has been so much protest and turmoil in regard to your presence at Notre Dame.


I want, in words of Rev. King, to embrace what I believe to be the great truth which stands before the door of the United States today: “to stand up for that which is right and that which is just…We die when we refuse to stand up for that which is right.  We die when we refuse to take a stand for that which is true.  So we are going to stand up right here.” 


The defense of all human life is the great truth standing before the door of our lives in American society today.  I pray that the nation will open that door of truth and walk through it.  We need you, Mr. President: your goodness, your courage, your faith convictions about the sacredness of all human life, from conception to natural death, to lead us through that door.


Perhaps, Mr. President, at the University of Notre Dame, you can stand up and shed some light on how Catholics can be taken seriously for our faith convictions without being dismissed off-handedly and shunned; it is so offensive to be ignored, it is unacceptable.  We need to rally; we need to stand up for this great truth of life.


Please, Mr. President, stand up for the truth of life, walk through that door and take us, as a nation, with you. If you do, I have no doubt whatsoever, that your greatness will be realized.


Be assured of my prayers, Mr. President, for you and your good and delightful family. What a blessing your family is to the nation. May God’s grace expand the love in your hearts day in and day out. And, too, congratulations on receiving your honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame!


Respectfully yours,


Rev. Hugh W. Cleary, C.S.C.

Superior General

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Phyllis Zagano

posted March 31, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Interesting, if true:
“Most Catholics, who disagree with the decision of the University to offer you this award, are rooted deeply in their faith, however imperfect we may be.”
The Superior General perhaps does not want to indicate that “Most Catholics disagree with the decision of the University”–but that–grammatically–is what he said.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Whew, that was a long one. The priest’s letter has an almost singular focus on abortion that really narrows the broad scope that Catholic teaching is meant to encompass. Well formed Catholics also know that so many other elements of modern progress are to be opposed. Take birth control and population control measures here and around the globe.
I don’t consider Canada to be a very bold choice to take as a political refugee, one would hardly know that they had left the US and it is hardly Catholic, I mean really Catholic, even in Quebec. I would suggest some deeply crowded third world country where the fidelity of the masses is more evident as evidenced by large size of the average family.
After all, the president is wrongly focused on our material prosperity, social justice, and the freedom to allow scientific inquiry freedom from interference from the Received Truths of the Church. We know that a well functioning society is a merely an illusion. A deeply impoverished place that at least on paper bans all abortions not matter what the circumstances is closer to God than we Americans are.

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Siger of Brabant

posted March 31, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Wow. This letter is badly constructed: meandering and full of odd asides — such as the bit instructing Obama, the father of two, on how babies are made and the disclosures of Cleary’s voting records, the (self-)congratulatory bits about the honorary degree. Cleary can’t seem to decide if he is giving advice to Obama or seeking it.
But most importantly, Cleary doesn’t seem to understand that although “Faithful Catholics believe that the fetus, the embryo, growing in the womb is a distinct human being” not everyone does (including, presumably, the President), and that the US Constitution grants personhood, and thus rights, only to living human beings who have been born. He provides no argument as to why a non-Catholic, or the non-Catholic US, should embrace the Catholic view. Clearly, it is not self-evident that the Catholic view is correct, despite what Catholic moral epistemology (“natural law” thought) would insist.
Moreover, although he veers off topic to quoting the current pope on Angola, he fails to quote Obama’s frequent statements that abortion is NOT a morally neutral act, like getting your hair cut, and that he would like to see fewer women face the choice of abortion. So the idea that Obama is pro-abortion is ridiculous.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 7:10 pm

They say Fr. Cleary was a very good pastor in Brooklyn. Perhaps he should stick to what he does well.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I was glad to see Fr. Cleary put his ideas to paper, and to do so in such a way that was neither incendiary nor threatening. He was thoughtful and articulate.
I don’t agree with the way he approaches the President, but I do agree with much of what he said. I also think that the President is a thoughtful man who will be able to respond in kind.
Probably not a quick turnaround on that, as it was a lengthy letter!
But really this is the kind of dialogue I wish we were having inside the Catholic Church. Bishop to Bishop, Catholic to Catholic. Reasoned, articulate, thoughtful, and it fairly apolitical.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Talk about long winded? The letter couldn’t have gotten it’s point across in fewer paragraphs? They’ve invited President Obama to speak, and they have given him an honory degree, but if they could …I think they’d “uninvite him”…which would be totally disrespectful.
So grin and bear it, ND. You asked for it, you’ll get it. President Obama isn’t going to change his views because of this really overly long letter….and I expect he’ll give a good speech. Just because Obama’s personal views aren’t those of the RCC…doesn’t mean that ND and it’s football team or students will collapse listening to the graduation speech. Why did they ask him to speak? They have known his views since he started his campaign. No surprises.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 11:05 pm

OK…I agree it was imperfect and too long, and is highly unlikely to be read by the president… but I like his passion. You have to admire someone who seizes a unique opportunity like this to express his deeply felt beliefs. You never know who will read it and learn something.

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posted April 1, 2009 at 6:26 pm

As a student at Notre Dame myself, I feel that Father Cleary is simply trying to express the frustration Catholics feel. I mean, if you even thought there was a possibility abortion was murder in a true sense, wouldn’t it quickly move to the top of your priority list in terms of important questions to resolve? And if you concluded that abortion either probably or definitely was murder, wouldn’t you feel strongly about it? And yet the Catholic Church is slandered for doing exactly that. And then we, not being perfect, sometimes react with anger, which is wrong of us. I think Father Cleary is simply trying to explain that. It’s hard when I’m accused of “not caring” about other important issues of our day simply because I think abortion is so important. I–and the Church, too–DO care about other issues passionately! But can you understand why this issue matters so much to us? I think that Father Cleary would ask no more of readers of his letter. Thank you very much for reading, and I welcome any thoughts on this. God Bless.

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posted April 1, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I thought the letter was rather long-winded, as mentioned already, but I think Cleary does do a good job articulating the Catholic view on life and the importance of its protection. However, he fails to address the Catholic reasoning behind the belief that an embryo is equal to a fully grown human being in its right to life, and he makes the mistake of ascribing that to “Church dogma,” an phrase unlikely to bear any weight in affecting a secular intellectual’s beliefs. I also noticed a clearly discernible shift in tone as the author went from ardently lauding Obama’s accomplishments in the first few paragraphs to writing a dissertation on Catholic political and moral feelings for the next 20 paragraphs. Overall, I really hope the President has better things to do with his time than read this in its entirety.

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posted April 3, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Finally — a considerate, civil response and articulation

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Mark Livigni

posted April 4, 2009 at 1:32 am

Beautiful letter, but President Obama lacks Wisdom. It’s like negotiating with a terrorist.

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David C. Gross

posted April 4, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Dear Father Cleary:
I am a fairly new Catholic in the US Church having been confirmed 8 years ago. I find myself very distressed by the position of the Church on the issue of Stem Cell Research. I am also a diabetic, having been one for the past 20 years. The problem for me is that for me there is not going to be a pancreas transplant, one, I can’t afford it financially and two, there is nobody in my immediate family who is a genetic match for my blood type (B+) except my 80 year-old mother, who is considered too old to donate part of her pancreas to me.
Stem Cell research holds the only hope that I have of ever having a normal life without numerous medications and the reality is that my life has been abnormally shortened by the disease. I have been told that my life is probably going to be shortened by 15-20 years. I am now 47, which means that I may not make it to even 75. I wish that the church fathers would be willing to see reason and not wish to condemn me to an even earlier grave.
I am now studying to be a lay minister and I wish to be alive to serve my Church with whatever time I have left to me, please do not take that chance away from me and millions like me.

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posted April 5, 2009 at 9:56 am

I wanted to comment on David Gross’s response regarding the Catholic Church’s position on stem cell research. The church supports stem cell research that DOES NOT RESULT IN THE DEATH OF A HUMAN EMBRYO. There have been many positive results using adult stem cells to regrow tissue, including a wind-pipe. Check out the National Catholic Bioethics Center website-they have tons of great info.
Just an end-note. A japanese microbiologist developed a technique of “washing” adult stem cells and has found that they mimic embryonic stem cells in their “blank slate” appeal. He developed this technique once he was convinced that his previous research (embryonic stem cell research) was, in fact, murder!

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Stan Kabala

posted April 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I for one cannot reconcile that “the University of Notre Dame is honored” and the other praise for President Obama with substantive (if long-winded) exposition of the Church’s position.
The University of Notre Dame and the Holy Cross fathers are diminished by this defiance of the leadership of the catholic Bishops in their 2004 statement. Notre Dame is dishonored by this travesty.

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Michael Smith

posted April 7, 2009 at 10:33 am

Is this letter a joke?
Surely this self-indulgent and fawning missive could not actually have been written by the superior of a major religious order?
(Let’s add, too, that the letter is misinformed: it’s not “Catholic dogma” but plain sense that human life begins at conception. This is a matter of the natural law, which lots of non-Catholics appreciate. In fact, some of us even became Catholics because the Church taught what we saw was true by reason.)

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Austin Kearney

posted April 7, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I don’t think Rev. Hugh W. Cleary, C.S.C. really gets it. The problem is not President Obama and his long documented beliefs the run against Catholic teachings. The problem is his boy Rev. John Jenkins who is being played by Obama to be percieved to be embraced and honored by the leading Carholic University in the world. Obama is successfully using these two clueless pawns to advance his political agenda.

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posted April 9, 2009 at 10:01 am

I just couldn’t finish reading the letter. Perhaps I got 2/3’s through it when I gave up. The impression it left with me was that Father was trying mightly to be conciliatory and contrary at the same time. For me, the issue is quite simple (not “complex”). Murder is murder.How does one define the unjust taking of a human life in any other way? I don’t condemn those who honestly disagree, but the fact is what it is, and for Father to endlessly attempt to have it both ways is disheartening. In 1972, ND awarded me Master Degree in theolgy with doctoral recommendation. I treasure that degree more than my other degrees precisely because it bears the seal and name of the University of Notre Dame du Lac, Our Lady’s university. Yet, when I leaned of the invitation, I cut a copy of the degree into pieces and sent it to Fr. Jenkins, such was my disgust.

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posted April 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Listen Cleary get down on those knees and pray and pray and pray for the Holy Spirit to help you because something somewhere is radically wrong – it would have been better to have written nothing that write a grovelling obsequious sycophanic diatribe – that did our cause (the slaughtering of millions of innocents lives) no good whatever. Precisely what did you achieve? You don’t deal with the devil ever – evil is evil, or did you think that you could convert him with your brilliance!!
I am not surprised that Obama was invited – I am just wondering if Flagler, Wright and Ayres will be accompanying him. If obedience is the greatest sin for a priest to commit, then the second is pride and you and Jenkins have done succeeded at both!
Our poor Blessed Lord and our Holy Mother they really have no-one to stand up for them – not even priests.

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posted May 3, 2009 at 3:41 am

Is this for real?
If so, then it is no surprise that ND is waving a single digit at the Church. The head honcho priest is a mealy-mouthed enabler.
I have learned more about the truth of Notre Dame in the last month than I ever did in twenty years as a student/alumni.
Notre Dame is not Catholic.
I am so very sad.

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posted May 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm

The very negative comments above toward Fr Cleary are myopic and misapprehend what he is actually doing. I think it is a brilliant invocation of professional irony in congratulating President Obama then ripping him a new transverse colon using the instrument of truth. Few here could craft such an artful note.
Crying, “Murderer” ate everyone has not turned many hearts and minds around. Cleary is taking a different approach, and I applaud it. Even if I disagreed, he hardly deserves some of the puerile responses I’ve read.

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posted May 19, 2009 at 11:03 am

This is a letter I sent to Father Pavone of Priests for Life with regards to President Obama receiving and award from ND:
Dear Father Pavone,
First and foremost I want to say that I admire your effort and persistance in doing all you can to promote life. I was glued to the TV set during the months leading up to the dehydration/starvation of Terri Schiavo (Schindler) and know that you were a big spiritual support for both Terri and her family at this time. I was extremely sad that it came to this – instead of leaving Terri’s life in God’s hands – the way it is supposed to be. Meaning, having God take her when He Willed it. I am a firm believer that even if we are hooked up to machines, and our time to leave this earth has come, it will happen. Nothing can stop this. Feeding tubes give us the needed nourishment every human being requires to live. Without food and water, we will die, that is a fact. Simply because a human being requires help in this area, much like the person who needs glasses to help him/her see, or a cane or walker or wheel chair helps people walk (move), a feeding tube helps people get the daily required nourishment. I am sorry that the Catholic Church didn’t speak up a lot louder – make their voices heard.
Secondly, Father Pavone, I am an avid EWTN watcher – in April 2008, I purchased a new Satelite Receiver for 30 Euro and much to my surprise, saw that I now received EWTN, which I didn’t get before that. (I have lived and worked in Germany since 2000.) Anyway, the station is wonderful and encourages and helps me live out the Catholic faith and its teachings. I was baptised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic Schools (even St. John’s University – Associate’s Degree) all my life and attend daily mass and pray the rosary daily as well.
With regards to the Notre Dame Commencement Exercises, Father Pavone, I think it is wonderful that you will be at the University and helping students celebrate this achievement in a separate ceremony due to the conflict President Obama’s presence has stirred up at the University. Father Pavone, you have received a copy of the letter I addressed to Father John Jenkins on Friday, April 3, 2009. I have even tried calling the University and left a message on his voice mail, hoping to have the opportunity to speak to him. I felt it was not a bad idea to have President Obama there, giving a Catholic University the opportunity to openly dialogue with President Obama on the direction America and the world is going in by continuing to encourage (through laws) same sex marriage (unions), contraception, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, Invetro Fertilization and cloning. I was saddened to hear that Father Jenkins would not allow for an open dialogue with the President, when he stated back in April of 2006 that he would not suppress speech on Notre Dame’s Campus. He is going back on his word and that is truly sad.
Father Pavone, sometimes, I am saddened when the Catholic Church “keeps quiet” about issues like Priests abusing children or adults, or the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, which I wrote about back in 2001/2003 as not being in line with Christian teaching. I felt then and still feel, America was responsible for protecting Americans in America and abroad, but that meant (means) beefing up security at home and abroad, not invading other countries and killing innocent people and destroying so much. And now we are building up what we tore down, which is correct. That was the consequence America was and is faced with. We all know that when we make mistakes (sin), there will be consequences to deal with afterwards. In the same way the Catholic Church speaks out about and against abortion, birth control, same sex marriage and embyonic stem cell research, I wish they would speak up more about the horrific death penalty in the US. How often are innocent people sentenced to death? Isn’t this as bad as killing innocent babies in the womb? Sure it is. In both situations, we are choosing who will die. In Pope John Paul II’s “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Second Edition) April 1995, under Legitimate defense, #2267, it says “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping the the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
Father Pavone, speaking of consequences, I think the Catholic Church in America has had to deal with the consequences of not addressing problems head on, but rather ignoring or brushing them aside. The issue of Priests abusing children or adults was often brought up to Pastors, Bishops, Cardinals and even the Pope, but correct measures were not taken when they should have been, and Priests continue to ignore the Pope’s teachings till today on so many moral issues. I admire and have a huge respect for Priests and pray for them because I love receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist every day and being guided by Jesus’ Shepherds and I pray that America and the world will be blessed with more Priests, but Priests who have the gift of the Spirit known as “Fear of the Lord”. For me this means following the ten Commandments and because I love Jesus so much, I don’t want to continue to hurt him through my sinfulness. Father Pavone, Father Jenkins said the following back in April 2006 (see below) and allowed a Queer Festival and “Vagina Monologues” at the University. Perhaps I am wrong, but Father Pavone, I do not think that was appropriate for a Catholic University (Institution). Should we then be surprised that he would want to present the President of the United States with an honorary award, knowing that the President is enacting legislation to further the abortion issue or same sex marriage in America? This does not surprise me. What surprises me is why the problem was not nipped in the bud early on in Father Jenkins Presidency. If a President of a Catholic School/University makes fun of or allows its members to ridicule the teachings of the Catholic Church, then we are allowing Christ’s Church to act and live as though it belongs to this World. Didn’t Jesus instruct us to do just the opposite? And here is another consequence that the Catholic Church is dealing with: allowing a politician to rule on having a symbol that represents the name of Jesus Christ (IHS – Greek for Jesus) be covered during a Commencement Speech. I am totally dismayed that Georgetown University was bullied (talked into) into this. Here it is a Catholic University and it is made to hide the symbol that represents our Church – that represents everything we believe in. Father Pavone, we should not be surprised at what is happening, because the Catholic Church is allowing it. Why are we afraid of speaking up? Don’t we see that we are going to lose what we have if we do not learn to stand upon God’s Word, allow ourselves to be guided by Him and be His light unto the world. Before we can defend LIFE, perhaps we have to first defend our faith in Jesus Christ (who is THE WAY; THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE), which we are not doing when mocking Jesus by encouraging activities related to homosexual activities at a Catholic University and hiding our Catholic symbols from the world (media) at a Catholic University. The US Catholic Bishops issued a statement in June 2004 saying, “Catholic Colleges should not allow abortion advocates to have a platform to speak to students or be honored with special awards….” Using words like, “should not” certainly sounds like the choice is left up to the University/College. And in addition, a University leader can read this to mean that this involves coming to talk to the students about abortion, not a Graduation Commencement Exercise, where this would most certainly not be addressed. President Jenkens believes that since President Obama is not Catholic, the Guidelines issued by the Bishops do not apply to President Obama. What can be learned from this? The Bishops/Catholic Church have/has to explicitly spell out every directive, leaving no room for personal interpretation.
President Obama, it is my hope and prayer, that since you yourself are very much aware of everything surrounding your presence at Notre Dame on Sunday, May 17th – that you yourself will give the students and those in attendance the chance to dialogue with you. Afterall, you are a President who wants to dialogue with the people he is leading – here is your chance – go for it!!!!
Father Jenkins (who I am copying), I am truly disappointed that you have not kept your word “not to suppress speech on your campus” denying the students’ request for dialogue on the issues surrounding the University’s invitation to President Obama, saying, “conditions for constructive dialogue simply do not exist” and that students could disregard your earlier invitations to meet with you”. You are going against your own words right now – not allowing the President of the United States to hear what Catholic students believe about the moral issues plaguing our society/world today. What are you afraid of Father Jenkins? Do you belong to a world that fears one another rather than God? Do you buy into the “politically correct” way of addressing moral issues or do you address these issues based on your deeply rooted faith in God’s Word? This is a sad day for the Catholic Church because you are confusing not only the sheep in your fold, but many sheep all over the world! Father Pavone, President Jenkins, and President Obama, I will be praying for all of you tomorrow. May Jesus Christ put the words on your tongue as you send Notre Dame’s graduates out into the world to be fruitful, to multiply and to be prosperous!
In Christ Jesus,
On January 23, 2006, Fr. Jenkins addressed the faculty concerning ([1]) “Academic Freedom and Catholic Character” in which he expressed concern about “issues arising from the Notre Dame Queer Film Festival and the Vagina Monologues”, and “the deeper issues they raise regarding academic freedom and Notre Dame’s “character as a Catholic university”.
Then, after much heated debate on campus, on April 5, 2006, Jenkins issued a closing statement, declaring the he was “very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus”, and was also “determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this University”, saying that “[a]s long as the Gospel message and the Catholic intellectual tradition are appropriately represented, we can welcome any serious debate on any thoughtful position here at Notre Dame.”
The Bishop of Fort Wayne, Rev. John Michael D’Arcy, expressed strong opposition to Notre Dame’s hosting of the events on its campus and stated he was “deeply saddened” by Jenkins’ policy.[4] Also, Notre Dame law professor Charles E. Rice called for Jenkins to resign.[5] Professor Rice had in the past also requested resignations from former university Provost Rev. Jamest T. Burtchaell, CSC (1977), and former university Presidents Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC (1983) and Rev. Edward Malloy, CSC (2001).[citation needed]

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