Bishops: Notre Dame Likely to be Discussed
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
The messy controversy over the University of Notre Dame's honoring President Obama is not on the agenda of the mid-year meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which started Wednesday in San Antonio, but you can bet it will come up.
National Catholic Reporter's John Allen interviews two high-profile leaders of the USCCB, and both expect it to be discussed--although not necessarily publicly.
The flap among Catholics over Obama's appearance at Notre Dame's commencement embarrassed the USCCB and further revealed the war in the American Catholic church over abortion. The division is between "social justice" Catholics who believe that the church is about more than just opposition to abortion when it comes to societal issues, and those who believe that abortion should take primacy.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson is vice-president of the USCCB, which puts him line to become president in 2010. He tells Allen that there appears to be no push among the bishops to punish Notre Dame for its invitation and honorary degree for the president.
He said the controversy, where more than 60 bishops criticized Notre Dame, "says to me that there is a need for presidents and bishops to talk through this more extensively, and to come to a better understanding of what's being asked."
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. Bishops' committee on education, said in an interview that he sees no consensus on the issue but that "some of the views are very strong and passionate."
That's probably an understatement.
Curry said that a 2004 statement from the USCCB that declared it inappropriate for Catholic institutions to honor someone who holds positions contrary to the teaching of the church will be discussed. There's been confusion among Catholics over whether that applies to non-Catholics who are honored by Catholic institutions.
UPDATE: John Allen strikes again with a solid analysis of the meeting and results of his not-for-the-record conversations with bishops. To summarize (and it's hard to summarize Allen), some bishops were dismayed by other bishops' criticism of Notre Dame. "'I'm sure the enemies of the church were delighted to see the bishops attacking the country's premier Catholic university, but I wasn't delighted,' one bishop told me. Another said he is concerned that his colleagues' attitude toward Obama risks becoming 'too negative, too narrow, and too partisan.'"
Why not speak out? First, Allen said he suspects that honoring Obama with an honorary degree went beyond the pale for the bishops who weren't upset about Obama simply attending the commencement. Also, bishops might have felt uncomfortable taking a position contrary to the local prelate, John D'Arcy.
Jacqueline L. Salmon
June 18, 2009; 12:36 PM ET
God in Government
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