Notre Dame “reparation” Mass: Bishop Wenski explains

The Mass of Reparation for sins against the culture of life, and specifically for the Notre Dame invite to Barack Obama, took place Sunday evening at the Cathedral of St. James in Orlando. [NB: I had the date wrong in earlier version here–thanks to CWNews for reminder, and commenter Jerry below.]

When the news broke, the theology behind the Mass (whose sins are we atoning for exactly?) drew quizzical stares across the Catholic spectrum, except of course from the hardliners against Obama and UND prez Father Jenkins.

So what was up? At the Mass, Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski minced no words:


“We Catholics have become too complacent about the legal killing of unborn children in America and elsewhere,” Wenski said in his Reparation Mass remarks at St. James Cathedral in Orlando. “This complacency contributed to the climate that led Notre Dame’s president to think it would be no big deal to defy the bishops in granting this honorary degree to President Obama.”

Before the Mass, Wenski called the Notre Dame administrators “clueless,” according to the Orlando Sentinel report, and added in reference to them: “It might be too late to change their minds,” Wenski said, “but it might not be too late to change their hearts.”

I’m not sure the bishops will change either with this approach. 


Late last week, speaking to the AP’s national religion writer, Eric Gorski, Wenski who Gorski accurately describes as usually a lightning-rod type–said the idea for the Mass was in response to the organized campaign by conservative Catholics:

As for Wenski, he issued a statement and then came up with the Mass idea after angry Notre Dame graduates from central Florida asked for guidance about how to respond, he said in an interview.

“I figured, ‘I’m a bishop–I’m not going to tell them to attack Notre Dame with a pitchfork,'” said Wenski. “I’m going to tell them to go pray.”


Wenski said he will not “preach a tirade against Notre Dame” during the Monday night Mass at Orlando’s Cathedral of St. James. What must be atoned for, Wenski said, is complacency among U.S. Catholics about the legal killing of unborn children, which contributed to the climate that allowed Notre Dame to think it was all right to honor Obama.

Gorski includes the voices of several supporters and some critics, more like analysts–like Father Mark Mass, SJ, who was as perceptive as ever:

“I think the bishops who believe abortion is the ultimate litmus test look at the polls and realize Catholics are not listening to them,” said the Rev. Mark Massa, co-director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University. “They’re playing a very dangerous game because they do not have the moral authority they had before the sex abuse crisis, and they’re trying to find a toehold and get heard.”

Anyone here in Orlando? Or attended?


Comments read comments(14)
post a comment
Clifton Carl

posted May 4, 2009 at 6:15 pm

In 1998 when President Clinton apologized to the Rwandan people he said “we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.
But in fact, as Samantha Powers has pointed out, “[t]his implied that the United States had done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements.”
We all know why. It was to prevent, at any cost, another embarrassment like Somalia.
Mr. Gibson, would you hazard a guess as to what exactly is the character of the “complacency among U.S. Catholics about the legal killing of unborn children” which is being apologized for at this mass? Is it a complacency of ignorance, laziness or indifference, a failure to act against evil?
Or is it a complacency driven by fear of embarrassment; an active complacency which seeks to maintain the status quo?
Embarrassment, perhaps, from doing something confrontational or, perhaps, from being associated in action with “fringe” groups?

report abuse

James M. Convey

posted May 4, 2009 at 6:16 pm

It would appear to me that while reasons for dispute are always amongst us, it is still necessary to realize that O’Bama as the man, represents a great deal more than a disagreement with a single theological position held by our Catholic church? Right or wrong his issues are much bigger and more grave, than we can possibly ever perceive or appreciate?
To many worldwide he represents the hopes and aspirations of free societies everywhere, and after so many years of “American” infamy, I believe we must set aside this one issue for now, and focus on his message of change and hope, for a new world of peace and harmony amongst mankind of all religious persuasions.
It is quite obvious already that he is a man of deep and abiding faith in the goodness of God. Must we attack him, when he needs our strength and support most, to help carry his message as well as the message of a loving Christ, to the world’s populace?

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Single issue voters masquerading their political ineptitude in the guise of religiosity make me giggle.

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Mr. Convey,
I agree with you 100%—and it is also amazing that the Vatican does not view President Obama the same way that some of our “One Issue” American Bishops do. The Vatican views him in a much more favorable light—because it knows that there is so much more riding on his Presidency and skill in the larger world, than the American Bishops are willing to admit.
And yes, abortion is a grave and serious issue—but the rest of the world has other fears such as euthanasia, that concern them as a social problem. And the economy is getting the extreme attention of most nations.
Our American Bishops (a number of them), need to get their blinders off.

report abuse

Your Name

posted May 4, 2009 at 6:57 pm

James, Yawn, LittleBear
I think you missed the point. It is complacency on OUR part which allows politicians to do bad things. Because it’s just “one issue” WE should give him a pass on it? I am trying to emphasize us and we here because for President Obama, Catholics are a constituency. We can influence his actions. And his proposed actions. And still support his other programs. It is not a question of love or hate. Sometimes I get the sense that people really don’t care about snuffing downs syndrome babies or using abortion for sex selection. That they really don’t understand where this is all going.
Politicians with great ideals have led us in some very tragic directions in the past.

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 8:49 pm

The Mass was on Sunday.

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

All this fuss over ONE issue? How many Catholics help put Obama in office? I know the church said to NOT vote for him, but fortunately many RCC voters realized that there was no chance for this country with another Republican in office and that there was certainly more than one issue involved in this election. (as in all elections).
If Wenski feels better having done this mass…great for him. I (not being Catholic) really don’t think it made any difference. This country is fortunately NOT run by the RCC. A woman has a right to do as she feels is necessary…and no religion should try and change the law allowing her to do so. Alternatives are much better, but ultimately it is still a woman’s right to choose.

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Bishop Wenski is indeed playing a dangerous game. He and other bishops are encouraging extremism. I think this issue needs to be given greater attention. Domestic terrorism could be the unfortunate outcome from this campaign from the hierarchy. They have egged others on to do terrible things in the past, more blood will be on their hands if they keep this up. Why doesn’t it seem to bother them?

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm

“It is quite obvious already that he is a man of deep and abiding faith in the goodness of God.”
Are you kidding me!? Based on what do you come to this conclusion? Because he says he is? I hear this line all the time and I can’t believe people actually believe this. Obama- a man of deep faith… faith in what? Not in Christ Jesus. Lets just put this ONE little issue of the dignity of all human life aside and pretend Obama is a man of great faith. Absurd. Is anyone aware of reality these days? Wake up America.

report abuse


posted May 4, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Why is this so hard?
Not Monday, not Saturday.

report abuse


posted May 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

Wenski must be upset that Chaput is getting all the attention as “most show-boating Catholic (arch)bishop” now that Burke is off in Rome.

report abuse

David Gibson

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:42 am

Jerry, thanks for the date correx. My brain is overloaded. Will change now.

report abuse


posted May 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

I am so glad that Jesus didn’t take a look at the polls before deciding whether or not to die on the cross. For Rev. Marc Massa the bishops authority comes from the Lord not from the polls. We all know form John 6 that some found Jesus’ word to be hard teaching and so walked away. It’s time the faithful ask, why be Catholic? The faith is either the truth or it is not. Some, if not many will walk. Thank God for Bishop Wenski! Notre Dame Alum ’93

report abuse

Little Bear

posted May 5, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Dear “Your Name”,
You wrote that Catholics are a “Catholics are a constituency.” No, we are not! We have stopped voting as a block a long time ago. We do not live in the ghettos any more—and we vote just as other Americans do.
And Catholics in America voted past the “single issue” agenda that the Bishops were trying to shove in our faces whenever they could. I have said it many times—and I will say it again. The American Bishops DO NOT have the worries that the rest of America has with the economy. All the Bishops have job security. They have a place to live. All of their utilities, computers,etc. are paid for them. They have health insurance and hospitalization. They will always have food to eat (and some of them, way too much—when you look at their excess weight). They have no spouses or children (grandchildren) to worry about. So it is easy for them to harp on “Abortion”.
They have become the “spiritual component” of the Republican party.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.