Notre Dame gets a pass from Bishops

Kicanas.jpgBishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, a Chicago native and in line to be the next president of the U.S. bishops conference, foresees some informal discussions about the Notre Dame-Barack Obama invite flap, but nothing substantive or punitive. I suspect some side discussions will be intense, but here’s what he is telling NCR’s John Allen, who has this Q&A:

Allen: Many bishops were publicly critical of the decision to invite Obama. Do you think that represents a consensus, or was it that bishops with a different view chose not to speak out?


Kicanas: My sense is that many bishops wanted to do what has already been done, which is that the bishop of the area, who is Bishop [John] D’Arcy, would have the responsibility to teach. He has done that. On occasion, the president of the conference speaks. I think that many bishops who didn’t say anything believe that’s the best way for the church to respond, for the local bishop to handle the situation. I think Bishop D’Arcy certainly made his position clear. He expressed his disappointment that he wasn’t consulted about it, and he chose not to go.

Allen: But do you have the impression that there are bishops who were at least sympathetic to the argument that Notre Dame made in favor of the invitation?


Kicanas: I think the tension is that the bishops agreed on a statement about honoring politicians who hold positions contrary to the teaching of the church.

Allen: You’re referring to the 2004 statement?

Kicanas: Yes. The honoring question, I think, was the most complex, and certainly one that many bishops spoke up about … that it was not fitting in light of that statement to be honoring President Obama.

Allen: Do you think it would have been a different case if it weren’t for the honorary degree … that is, if it were simply him coming to speak without getting an honorary doctorate?

Kicanas: Bishops probably differ there. Some would feel that he ought not to be given a platform at all, because his positions have been so supportive of abortion legislation. Other bishops would not have been so concerned had he simply been invited to speak. Certainly, what concerned many bishops is that he was honored.


I think it’s something that’s going to take further discussion, further interaction between bishops and presidents of universities to talk through this, because the pressures on presidents are different than the pressures on bishops. Therefore, it’s important that he continue this dialogue. I don’t think there’s any lack of clarity from the bishops on what we teach, but I think we have to continue to explore, understand, and appreciate what’s the best approach to these very complex issues.

Allen: Will there also be discussion about what the bishops should do when a university doesn’t follow your policies?

It may be that there was some lack of clarity about the statement itself. It did refer to ‘Catholic politicians’ in the title. Certainly, most bishops probably understood it in a broader context, but there could have been some misunderstanding of that. Again, there’s a need for more conversation with presidents of universities to help clarify what the bishops’ concerns are and if some accord could be reached.


John has wall-to-wall coverage of the bishops’ meeting in San Antonio, including an interview with LA auxiliary bishop Thomas Curry, who has been known to speak his mind, and name names of those he disagrees with. Curry would be more critical than Kicanas r Notre Dame, but he also sees “strong views and no consensus.”

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posted June 17, 2009 at 8:08 pm

My daughter graduated this May from the University of Notre Dame. Through no fault of their own, the Class of 2009 was made ground zero for one of the major debates of the culture war. This needn’t have been had Notre Dame’s president, Fr. Jenkins, followed the advice of many Bishops (including his own) who made it clear he had made a mistake, told him to fix it, and gave him an easy out. Instead he chose to defy the advice and direction.
Notre Dame is THE MOST Catholic university, home of the Fighting Irish, tradition, wholesomeness, and very, very importantly, a place with lots and lots of name recognition. That is why the commencement ceremony had such meaning as a stage prop for Obama. It will be used to counter future Catholic reluctance toward his policies and as a basis for discounting any resistance by the Bishops as merely the opinion of some “mere other” churchman. ( “See, Notre Dame was able to give me an honorary degree.”)
Knowing this, Fr. Jenkins has forced the Bishops into a very accountable position. To leave Fr. Jenkins actions unchallenged by a unified Church leadership is to acquiesce authority to anyone that can commandeer a microphone and morph into modern day drones ready to parrot politically correct mantras on cue.
One must wonder what the outcome might be for the Church who’s Bishops permit open defiance to the rightful leadership.
Unfortunately, Fr. Jenkins and the USCCB has placed the class of 2009 in the position of being remembered as the year Notre Dame “changed”. It will be the class that transitioned Notre Dame from a genuinely unique Catholic place into something farcical like other “catholic” schools such as Georgetown. Is it any wonder 70% of Catholics no longer attend weekly Mass (perhaps instead they give a few dollars to a soup kitchen which is also the mission of all good Christians). The cruelest hoax on the Bishop’s is that any complacency now automatically conveys (in this hyper charged media circus) that they, like Fr. Jenkins, are modern day Peters, safely choosing to deny Christ and His Church for favor from Caesar.

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posted June 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Rob, you may be justly proud of your daughters degree… but to assume Obama is going to ‘use’his honorary degree to influence catholic opinion is delusional.. people in the pews think fly paper is more useful than an honorary degree and for some bishops to place such emphasis on that aspect is also delusional. get over it it, as your daughter might say.

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