Holy Cross head writes to Obama re Notre Dame

When I first saw the text of the 13-page letter from U.S. Father Hugh W. Cleary, Holy Cross superior general in Rome, to President Obama, regarding Obama’s scheduled commencement address at Notre Dame, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It seemed to circle around on itself so much I thought it was a hoax. But it’s real.

It strikes such odd chords, welcoming Obama and complimenting him with one hand–often the left one–then painting him with the broad brush of “intrinsic evil” and saying Catholics can’t get a hearing from the government. Even though, of course, Catholics make up nearly a third of Congress, just as an example, and five-ninths of the Supreme Court, and the Vice-Presidency, etc.


And he accuses Obama of using the same tactic of “shunning” that is being used against him, and laments it, but indicates it is the only recourse for Catholics? He says he can’t in good conscience vote for any major party candidate–but did he protest Bush’s 2001 speech at Notre Dame? And the comparison to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami? Wassup with that? All the stuff about pope-bashing, a persecuted church…

In any case, I don’t know Father Cleary, but this whole thing seems odd. Saying he has no control over the invitation, as well, though he also indicates he could make Father John Jenkins, the Holy Cross priest who is Notre Dame’s president, do something. 


Whether Clearly’s letter is convincing or effective, I guess we’ll see. He seems not to oppose Obama’s appearance, though it’s hard to tell. He wants dialogue–of a fashion. Other, more perceptive reactions/analyses welcome. John Thavis has the write-up from Rome here.  

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posted March 31, 2009 at 8:11 pm

The letter from Fr. Cleary is the kind of letter, and the kind of discussion, that I believe should be taking place within the Catholic Church – healing our divisions and making space for people to articulate their thoughts and feelings, while sharing a common belief in the Church’s teaching authority.
I think the thing that rang most hollow for me was his plea for President Obama to embrace Catholic teaching. Why should he? How could he? We do not ask RCIA candidates to read a letter and then pray and then embrace the Church. We invite them to a lengthy, in-depth study of the history, Tradition, Doctrine and teachings. We invite discussion, reading, reflection, prayer, spiritual direction and participation in Mass.
To suggest that the President should or could simply reflect on the furor surrounding Notre Dame and come to the Catholic table is absurd. While he was able to bring a serious issue of race to the forefront during the campaign, that was based on a lifetime of experience, study, reflection and thought. Unlike this idea that a simple prayer and change of heart/mind should suffice.
I also was unhappy to see references to Hitler and to Iranian politics. Really unnecessary. It seems he didn’t really run this by anyone else, but was composing out of a heartfelt space, and a deep conviction in the rightness of his position. I can’t argue with that. It is a powerful place to stand.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Also, to be clear … I believe Fr. Cleary’s objective is sane and the absolute best course for Catholics.
We should indeed pray for a change of heart and mind — that President Obama would and could revision his idea about when life begins and how it must be protected. It really does fit within his ideal for a just society.
I just don’t think he has to embrace “the Catholic” view … just the right view.
(I think I’m clarifying but I may just be muddying the waters more … sorry if that’s true)

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