After the Battle of Notre Dame, What’s Next?
by Mary Ann Kreitzer
Notre Dame’s commencement is over; the speeches finished. The video of 10,000 cheering graduates and guests is circulating YouTube complete with the few counter voices raised (and silenced) over a Catholic school honoring and providing cover for a man whose audacity in promoting abortion is only matched by his hypocrisy in pretending not to. The battle for the heart and soul of America was stage front in South Bend. Many sense this was a defining moment, but how? I believe the answer can be found in the Book of Revelation and in Mary’s apparitions in Mexico City under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The moment of choice is at hand: life or death, heaven or hell. Those who refuse to choose, the lukewarm, Jesus will “spew out of His mouth.”
Revelation describes the heavenly battle between the woman, Our Lady (in French, Notre Dame), and the dragon, the devil. Mary appears as she did to Juan Diego “with the moon under her feet” and expecting a baby. The dragon advances, “flaming red… ready to devour her child when it should be born.” Good and evil face off: the humble, life-filled Mother of God (also the Church) vs. the arrogant, bloodthirsty child killer. And after this confrontation, “War broke out in heaven.” Michael the Archangel fought the minions of Satan and cast them down to earth. And “the dragon went off to make war on the rest of [the woman’s] offspring, on those who keep God’s commandments and give witness to Jesus.”
We are in a war. Notre Dame (ND) was, and is, a major battlefield representing all so-called Catholic colleges and universities that have traded the Catholic faith for human respect and federal money. The major issue in this war is the murder of the innocent, not only through abortion, but contraception, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. As one columnist observed, the watershed moment at ND’s commencement occurred when a demonstrator yelled, “Stop killing our children!” and the crowd responded with Obama’s campaign chant, “Yes, we can.” Can anything show more clearly the nature of the fight: the culture of life vs. the culture of death?
That we’re in a war is undeniable. How bad it will be, the number of casualties (in terms of lost souls), depends on the success of the enemy’s strategies and our response. The only significant opposition to Obama’s juggernaut of death is the Church, but her voice has been muffled significantly by at least three factors: distortion of language (verbal engineering), the impact of betrayal from those who claim to be faithful Catholics, and the dithering of the “generals,” the bishops who should be leading the charge to take back the culture.
Barack Obama is a master of verbal engineering which he demonstrated throughout his ND speech. While he paid lip service to the profound differences in the abortion debate, he defended cannibalizing embryonic infants for their stem cells (to great applause) and postured as one who stands on the side of reasoned discourse against the arrogant “self-righteous” who defend the babies. “The ultimate irony of faith,” he said, “is that it necessarily admits doubt….It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness.” This was the mind-numbing hogwash of the moral relativist. We can’t know anything because truth doesn’t exist. All is doubtful.
To the contrary, however, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” There is absolutely no ambiguity in “Thou shalt not kill” or “Whatever you do to the least of these little ones, you do to Me.” But Obama said faith “should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate.” In other words, all things are debatable. Catholics who claim absolute truth and follow it are immoral in their self-righteousness. Earlier the president called for “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words,” but it was clear in the context of the speech that he considered his critics as having closed hearts, closed minds, and lacking fair-minded words. George Orwell would have recognized the newspeak of Barack Obama. He claimed the moral high ground while he undermined the rock of morality that prevents its shift.
Obama wasn’t the only ND speaker engaging in semantic doubletalk. Fr. Jenkins for weeks criticized those who opposed ND’s actions, particularly bestowing an honorary law degree on a man using the law to destroy life. In his introduction to Obama, Jenkins sang the same tune, “Too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others.” In other words, ND’s critics, including 80 U.S. bishops, were proud and contemptuous, unlike virtuous and reasonable men like Jenkins.John Noonan, former Laetare Medal winner substituted for Harvard Professor and former Vatican Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon after she refused the honor to protest Obama’s presence. His remarks also contributed to the confusion. “I am here to confirm that all consciences are not the same,” he said, “that we can recognize great goodness in our nation’s president without defending all his multitudinous decisions.” Burying Obama’s abortion extremism, his support for killing babies for their stem cells, and other abominations under the phrase “multitudinous decisions” was particularly dishonest rhetoric.
From start to finish the ND commencement was a masterpiece of verbal engineering. The language was the same propaganda spouted at other Catholic schools betraying the faith (Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham, Marquette, etc.) and by dissenting theologians, laity, and groups established for the very purpose of neutralizing the faith and advancing liberalism. Fr. Richard McBrien, Doug Kmiec, Catholics United, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good all use the faith to attack it. They wear Catholicism on their sleeves, not because they believe what the Church teaches, they obviously don’t, but to neuter Catholic opposition to fundamental evils like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage. Instead of the Church being a source of strength standing against evil, she’s bled half dry and turned to fighting within. Obama used his Catholic quislings effectively as the election results showed when he garnered 54% of the Catholic vote. And he was the big winner at the ND commencement building “Catholic” support for 2012. The man never stops campaigning.
While verbal engineering is a major weapon in the enemy’s arsenal, its damage is magnified when it’s used by traitors. If the enemy is within the gates, how can the city stand? During the American Revolution Benedict Arnold had a greater capacity to damage the efforts of George Washington than all the English generals combined. Betrayal by those within the Church, especially those in positions of authority, is devastating. The only way to minimize the damage is exposure. That’s why identifying the betrayals and hypocrisy is so important. Catholic academics are among the worst as the Cardinal Newman Society has often illustrated.
One typical example of Catholic treason is that of Fr. Ken Himes, chairman of Boston College’s theology department and previous head of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2000-2001). He has also advised the bishops’ conference. Fr. Himes teaches moral theology, ethics, and Catholic social teaching. Among his publications is an article titled, The Indissolubility of Marriage: Reasons to Reconsider, which he wrote with James A. Coriden. The authors argue that, despite the Church’s unchanging doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage for over 2,000 years, it is, after all, not indissoluble which is just one illustration of his dissent.
I knew Father when he was a seminarian. Even then he embraced Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan’s extreme pro-abortion views. After Mary Ann Glendon refused the Laetare Medal, Fr. Ken joined the fray with language that was, shall we say, intemperate: “There are some well-meaning people,” he said, “who think Notre Dame has given away its Catholic identity, because they have been caught up in the gamesmanship of American higher education, bringing in a star commencement speaker even if that means sacrificing their values, and that accounts for some of this …. But one also has to say that there is a political game going on here, and part of that is that you demonize the people who disagree with you, you question their integrity, you challenge their character, and you brand these people as moral poison. Some people have simply reduced Catholicism to the abortion issue, and… have simply launched a crusade to bar anything from Catholic institutions that smacks of any sort of open conversation.”
The only problem with Fr. Ken’s sanctimonious statement is its comparison with his own past actions which are almost laughably hypocritical. In 2006 when BC invited Condoleezza Rice as the commencement speaker, it was Fr. Ken who wrote the letter signed by about 200 faculty members opposing her invitation because of U.S. policies in Iraq. He wasn’t interested in “open conversation” then. It was he and the other liberal professors “demonizing” and “questioning the integrity” and “branding people as moral poison.” What was entertaining about the episode at BC, however, was that the opposition came almost exclusively from liberal professors. The students wouldn’t play, unlike the student-led opposition to Barack Obama.
Had Fr. Ken defended the unborn at Notre Dame one could admire his consistency. But apparently the war against the unborn which dwarfs the casualties of all the wars of the 20th century is acceptable. The babies are unworthy of more than a tut-tut (if that), a typical liberal attitude. Fr. Ken’s behavior is the template for dissenting Catholics. Their hypocrisy may be so deeply entrenched they don’t even see it. As a friend said, “What a liberal believes is obvious to him even when his belief conflicts with the evidence.”
While verbal engineering and betrayal by Catholics impact the culture war, the most important element for success is the generals leading the battle, our shepherds. Russell Shaw, commenting on what happened at ND, called it a “watershed moment” because of the large number of bishops who protested. He shared his view with an archbishop who “smiled sadly and shook his head, ‘Six months from now it will all be forgotten, and everything will be business as usual.’” Shaw hopes his friend is wrong and calls on the bishops to do three things. First, recognize the deep divide among Catholics between those who practice the faith and those who do not and take that division seriously in pastoral planning. Second, emphasize identity and accountability. Catholic schools must be accountable to be considered Catholic. Make them choose. Third, the bishops must choose as well: to either fight for Catholic institutions or “let them go without protest.” Shaw concludes saying “If these lessons are learned, the Notre Dame controversy may do some good. But if my friend the archbishop is right
in predicting business as usual within six months, the future of Catholic identity in higher education and other areas of the Church’s infrastructure isn’t bright.” Amen.
Eighty bishops spoke out about the travesty at Notre Dame, some more strongly than others. It was, indeed, a defining moment. The question is what will the bishops do next? The importance of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican document on higher education which mandates that Church teachings be upheld, has mostly been ignored at Catholic schools in the U.S. So has the bishops’ document on Catholics in Political Life. Only a few shepherds have taken even minimal action against the outrages at Catholic Universities. The Cardinal Newman Society documents them. Most of the bishops are silent. Documents and policies (even doctrine) are only as good as their implementation. Will Notre Dame be a wakeup call for the bishops spurring them to take action instead of just making fine speeches? Time will tell.
In the May issue of Catholic World Report, George Neumayr summarized the conflict between the bishops and the president. Calling Obama a “cool revolutionary,” Neumayr said, “He won’t even bother to topple the Church in America; he will leave it standing and co-opt it from within….he will enlist nominal Catholics for the work of neutralizing the Church’s influence in public life. He has already found a Catholic Health and Human Services secretary in Kathleen Sebelius to hasten the transformation of Catholic hospitals into secularist ones, a Catholic vice president in Joe Biden to lock anti-Catholic morality into place through the executive branch, and a Catholic Speaker of the House in Nancy Pelosi to seal the moral revolution in the legislature, all the while receiving honors from the Catholic bishops’ most prominent university and hosannas from Catholic academics.” Seen in this light, the war is looking like a rout.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, author of the column, What does the prayer really say? said this about the ND commencement: “Who needs The Tudors? This was like watching Henry suborn the English Church away from the interference of Rome…. we heard various expressions of ‘can’t we all just get along’ even as we were being told to ‘shut up’….
The progressivist side knows they will not win by arguments. They win by projecting the image of deep-caring, of brow-furrowed nuance, of struggling with those hard decisions. Remember: If you will have first ‘struggled’ you are thereafter justified in anything you chose. So, Sunday was pretty black for Catholics who are waking up to a clearer Catholic identity in continuity with our Tradition. It was a great day for adherents of Catholic-lite, especially in the many long-subverted institutions of higher learning. They are sure to be revitalized.”
Father holds out little hope that the bishops will suddenly begin to implement Ex Corde. He offers instead a grassroots approach for the priests of the Church. “We need to foster worship which stuns, which leaves the newcomer, long-time practicing Catholic, above all the fallen-away simply thunder stuck. Worship must at some point leave people speechless in awe. We need language and music and gesture which in its beauty floods the mind with light even while it swells the heart to bursting. The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the false or incomplete messages of those who have strayed….Our goal must be that which is good and beautiful because it is true, that which reflects what is of God, not man’s image merely. Give us mystery, not fabrications smacking of the world, fallen and transitory …. Lines are being drawn, sides taken, choices made. More than ever we need what Christ, the true Actor of our liturgy, desires to offer us through Holy Church’s worship.”
Right on, Father. In a recent article in the heretics’ mouthpiece, the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Richard McBrien addressed the “problem” faced by a “lay associate” concerned over her new pastor who restored devotions, eliminated contemporary music (the rock band perhaps?), and emphasizes (gasp) “auricular” confession. (What other kind of sacramental confession is there?) The woman lamented that the staff are “hurting terribly.” She also decried the “old fashioned church music” coming back and the fact that Father covered the statues with purple during Lent. What was Fr. McBrien’s advice to the poor, suffering liberal lady? “Parishioners need to go elsewhere…If there are no parishes or other worshiping communities in the vicinity where the pastoral leadership is healthy rather than driven by a narrow ideology, then one simply has to ‘take a vacation’ from the church until the skies finally clear and we are bathed in sunlight once again.” What is the “sunlight” in Fr. McBrien’s weather forecast I hardly know. But I suspect he would have basked happily in it at Notre Dame’s commencement.
It is a sad day when a Catholic priest, even a dissenter, advises the flock to “take a vacation” from their Sunday obligation, a mortal sin. It demonstrates clearly Fr. McBrien’s loss of faith, but also why people of faith will win if we remain steadfast. The army that withdraws from the field loses. So Fr. Z’s advice is even more compelling. Parish priests are like the drill sergeants and first lieutenants in the army who foster the courage and battle skills of the troops. The quality of their leadership determines the strength of the force, our Church Militant. We need good generals as well, but the strength of army is at its roots. Pray for parish priests that they are men of faith. And remember that our Commander-in-chief is Our Lord Himself flanked by Our Lady, a twelve-star general, and His adjutant, St. Michael the Archangel, whose name means “Who is like God?” That is our battle cry as we enter the fray with rosaries in our hand, the Eucharist on our tongues, and St. Paul’s admonition in our ears: “Fight the good fight and hold fast to faith and a good conscience.” Faithfulness wins in the end.