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The Vatican and Notre Dame

April 4, 2009

John Thavis points out the obvious: that while Americans in the Vatican are talking a lot about Obama at Notre Dame, the Europeans are not. Here’s the reason:

“…non-Americans at the Vatican tend to see the issue in a different light, I think. For one thing, they seem more comfortable with the idea of accommodating dignitaries and civil authorities in a church setting, even when their political positions aren’t in line with the church’s teaching….French President Nicholas Sarkozy received the title of honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran during his visit to Rome in 2007, a tradition that goes back centuries. Sarkozy, who also met Pope Benedict, supports legal abortion. The Vatican and the Diocese of Rome seemed to have no problem with honoring the twice-divorced Sarkozy, who says he is a Catholic. In fact, the Lateran vespers service to bestow the title was “all pomp and circumstance,” as one Vatican official put it.”

This is the issue really. On many issues, the Vatican remains a deeply conservative institution, deferential to secular leaders and their role in the social order. This is not new — recall Gregory the Great’s fawning letters to Emperor Phocas after he murdered his predecessor and his predecessor’s family, and many many similar examples. What strikes me so much about the American attitude here  is how utterly un-conservative it is — yet another example that those who dub themselves “conservative” are in fact the opposite. And with Obama, this can be taken to the extreme with the apocalyptic language, something that leaves Europeans (even the most ardently pro-life Europeans) scratching their heads. Another example of the famous American dualism (with it’s Calvinist-Gnostic roots) in action, I fear.

Oh, and by the way, Europeans also know now to pronounce “Notre Dame” correctly!! (sorry, could not resist that one!)

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37 Comments
  1. mary permalink
    April 4, 2009 5:56 pm

    I scratch my head indeed.

  2. April 4, 2009 7:46 pm

    Is it “NOH-truh Dahm”?

  3. April 4, 2009 8:56 pm

    I figure Europeans pronounce it… um, the French way?

    And yes, I figure that the Vatican views things, generally, quite differently than the “american Catholics” do. american Catholicism is a strange thing.

  4. Knuckle Dragger permalink
    April 4, 2009 9:29 pm

    Michael,

    So, it’s strange for an American Catholic to criticize Notre Dame for honoring the most pro-abortion president in American history?

    So much for standing up for what’s right.

  5. April 4, 2009 10:00 pm

    Yes, if only America were more like Europe.

  6. April 4, 2009 10:32 pm

    So – the Church in Europe is more comfortable being in bed with the state?

    This is something we should aspire to?

  7. April 4, 2009 10:35 pm

    So, it’s strange for an American Catholic to criticize Notre Dame for honoring the most pro-abortion president in American history?

    Actually, it’s not strange at all. I oppose Notre Dame giving Obama an honorary degree. But I think it’s fine that he’s speaking.

    Did you oppose Boston College giving Condie Rice an honorary degree? Would you oppose Catholic institutions giving George W. Bush an honorary degree? Or is this simply an Obama-hating-because-of-abortion-only kind of thing?

    To all of you weirdos: I was not in any way comparing america with Europe. Ease up on your wacky defense mechanisms, please!

    Kisses,
    Michael

  8. Knuckle Dragger permalink
    April 4, 2009 10:36 pm

    Regular Mass attendance in Europe is 20% at best. It’s 12% in “Catholic” France. The Catholic birth rate in Europe is 1.4.

    European Catholicism is a strange thing.

  9. April 4, 2009 10:39 pm

    I would certainly oppose any Catholic institution giving honorary degrees to George W. Bush or Condoleezza Rice.

  10. April 4, 2009 10:40 pm

    I would certainly oppose any Catholic institution giving honorary degrees to George W. Bush or Condoleezza Rice.

    Would or did? Do you oppose the fact that Boston College DID give Condie Rice an honorary degree?

  11. April 4, 2009 10:42 pm

    Yeah definitely. I didn’t know. In the first place, Rice is pro-choice.

  12. April 4, 2009 10:49 pm

    In the first place, Rice is pro-choice.

    You’re an interesting guy, Zach. That’s for sure.

  13. April 4, 2009 10:54 pm

    I wish we could get a beer sometime. I think we could have a very productive conversation. But it seems weird to even say that over the internet.

  14. April 4, 2009 11:00 pm

    And if Rice was not pro-choice? What then?

    I’m all for having a beer with you sometime.

  15. April 4, 2009 11:10 pm

    If you’re ever in the Boston/New Hampshire area I’m down – and if I ever fly out to Canada I’ll give you a heads up.

    I have a hard time dealing with hypotheticals because there are so many other things I’d have to consider.

    But more generally, I don’t think her philosophy of spreading democracy by gunpoint is a good idea. In fact, I’m tempted to call it insane, but I know that it’s a result of naivete and blinding optimism, so I try to consider that in my judgment.

    So my short blog form answer is that I’d probably not support honoring her with a degree, even if she was publicly pro-life.

  16. April 4, 2009 11:19 pm

    But more generally, I don’t think her philosophy of spreading democracy by gunpoint is a good idea. In fact, I’m tempted to call it insane, but I know that it’s a result of naivete and blinding optimism, so I try to consider that in my judgment.

    Whether it’s a “good idea” or “insane” are interesting categories, but Christians should discern whether or not it is moral. Is spreading “democracy” (i.e. the american version of “democracy”) by gunpoint moral? Are you willing to make a judgment?

    I’d probably not support honoring her with a degree, even if she was publicly pro-life.

    “Publicly pro-life” as in anti-abortion, right? Like most other Republicans. Publicly “pro-life,” and publicly “pro-war.” That’s a contradiction.

  17. digbydolben permalink
    April 5, 2009 1:33 am

    I was out last night with some German Catholics and this subject of giving a degree to Obama came up. These German friends of mine stated, up-front and directly, that they consider the American Catholic resistance to giving the degree to the American President to be “insane.”

    They, like me, do not consider such a public reception of a head of state to be, in any sense, a repudiation of the Church’s long-held beliefs. It was clear that they also don’t believe it to be the Church “getting into bed” with the secular authorities.

    They don’t just consider the political extremism of American Catholics to be “weird,” but also to be very, very dangerous.

  18. April 5, 2009 8:11 am

    Yes, we should be more like Germans.

  19. April 5, 2009 9:16 am

    digbydolben,

    Have you seen the Newsweek article entitled “The End of Christian America?” Here’s the link. It appears the separation of Church & State is being reaffirmed in the U.S.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/192583/output/print

  20. April 5, 2009 9:46 am

    Yeah, I’m willing to say it’s not moral. In my judgment it is unjust.

    And yes, I mean anti-abortion. Pro-life is the term most commonly used to describe persons who oppose the legality of abortion. I guess I’m speaking within the context of the current policy debate going on in the United States and the rest of the Western world.

    I hope you are not arguing that to support a war necessarily means that one does not have a consistent ethic of life. There is such a thing as a just war. For example – it was right for the U.S. to intervene in World War II to stop Hitler. It was a pro-life cause.

  21. April 5, 2009 11:03 am

    And yes, I mean anti-abortion. Pro-life is the term most commonly used to describe persons who oppose the legality of abortion.

    For Catholics, the term “pro-life” refers to much more, as you no doubt know. Since this is a Catholic blog, I tend to use the word in a Catholic way.

    I hope you are not arguing that to support a war necessarily means that one does not have a consistent ethic of life. There is such a thing as a just war.

    I am willing to grant that there is, hypothetically, such a thing as a “just war.” But I want to talk about reality, not hypotheticals. Rice helped to engineer not just “a war” but an undeniably unjust war. And although the Church has a set of just war criteria, this is NOT the same thing as saying that it is possible to be “pro-war” and have a consistent ethic of life. In other words, that the Church allows that there may be, hypothetically, a “just war,” it is nevertheless still impossible to ever be “pro-war” as a Catholic.

  22. April 5, 2009 11:26 am

    “What strikes me so much about the American attitude here is how utterly un-conservative it is — yet another example that those who dub themselves “conservative” are in fact the opposite. And with Obama, this can be taken to the extreme with the apocalyptic language, something that leaves Europeans (even the most ardently pro-life Europeans) scratching their heads. Another example of the famous American dualism (with it’s Calvinist-Gnostic roots) in action, I fear”

    So Cardinal Dinardo is an example of Calvinist-Gnostic roots?

    On the flip side there has not been a hint of disapproval how the American Bishops and Cardinals are handling the situation here

    The only thing that would be worse in my view if this was VP Biden

    American Catholic are still rolling from the infamous Cuomo Speech at Notre Dame which I guess is a logical extension of JFK’s speech to baptist ministers

    Sicne the Cuomo speech in 84 and all this “dialouge” the situation has just got worse. In fact so bad according to news reports the Obama administration is having a hard time finding a competent and Pro-life Envoy to the Holy See

    It is so bad that one of the biggest names and families in American Catholic Poltics Mayor Daily said that beause the Bishops are speaking out there is a danger the Establishment clause is being violated for goodness sake.

    There is a symbolism to Notre Dame

    I think the situations are different including the whole French /Vatican thing that has now been going on for Centuries

  23. April 5, 2009 11:29 am

    “They, like me, do not consider such a public reception of a head of state to be, in any sense, a repudiation of the Church’s long-held beliefs. It was clear that they also don’t believe it to be the Church “getting into bed” with the secular authorities.

    They don’t just consider the political extremism of American Catholics to be “weird,” but also to be very, very dangerous.”

    YEt we are not Germany and we have a different politrical ethos

    I have a hard time seeing how this is an example of political extremism. People speaking out and signing petitions?

    Catholics would not be objecting if Obama was speaking at a public University.

  24. April 5, 2009 11:52 am

    NOte- Everytime I talk about the Dailey comments I still have the word “mayor” on my mind TO be clear that is his brother I am referencing

  25. Kurt permalink
    April 5, 2009 1:56 pm

    Catholics would not be objecting if Obama was speaking at a public University.

    Why? If to invite Obama is to condone his views on abortion policy, and since faithful Catholics object to pro-abortion state actions, why should not Catholics object to a state school endorsing the President’s views?

  26. David Nickol permalink
    April 5, 2009 4:41 pm

    Catholics would not be objecting if Obama was speaking at a public University.

    jh,

    It seems to me that many of the pro-lifers who are speaking out against Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame held the opinion before the election that he was not fit to be president — perhaps not even fit to live — and continue to hold that position today. He has no regard for human life. He is equivalent to Hitler, presiding over the Holocaust. He is in favor of infanticide and euthanasia and will usher in the killing of the sick, the elderly, and the disabled. The whole thing, for many pro-lifers, is not about disagreeing with Obama. It’s about declaring him to be some kind of monster. Check out Terry Randall’s site, which has allegations like the following:

    Our Lady of Guadalupe conquered human sacrifice.
    Notre Dame now honors a man who promotes it.

    Would Notre Dame invite Herod to speak – after he tried to
    kill Our Lady’s Son, and slaughtered the Innocents in Bethlehem?
    Who is Worse: Obama or Herod? You decide.

  27. April 5, 2009 4:49 pm

    “Why? If to invite Obama is to condone his views on abortion policy, and since faithful Catholics object to pro-abortion state actions, why should not Catholics object to a state school endorsing the President’s views?”

    Kurt I just feel it is different because LSU for instance does not have the same mission as Notre Dame nor does it symbolize Catholic Idenity though a goo dnumber of Catholics go there.

    While at every public school you have some portest whether they Republican or Democrat because of the secular nature of these colleges it is different

    The LSU Board of Supervisors does not take a positon on abortion or the Mexico City Policy in the Defense of Marriage act or gay marriage. In fact out of the 5 Catholic non negotiables they are silent on all of them.

    Notre Dame (hopefully) and other Catholic Colleges are in a different postion.

    As the Bishops said in their 2004 Document on Catholics and the Public Life

    “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honour those who act in defiance of our fundamental principles. They should not be given awards, honours or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

    If the premier Catholic University in the nation is going to ignore this then why should other Schools follow it and again the Chaos reigns and we have wild contradictory messages being sent from Diocese to Diocese

  28. April 5, 2009 4:58 pm

    “Check out Terry Randall’s site,”

    Terry Randall is a tad on the extreme. LEt us recall he is the one that despite Jeb Bush doing everything legally he could do to prevent the Schivao death”

    “It seems to me that many of the pro-lifers who are speaking out against Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame held the opinion before the election that he was not fit to be president — perhaps not even fit to live — and continue to hold that position today”

    I am pretty confident that most pro-lifer even if they did not want to see the the good Senator as President that they thought it worthy to live

    In fact I seemed to recall a pretty power commercial that was pulled from the SUperbowl that pointed out how great it was that Obama was not aborted!!

    “He is in favor of infanticide”

    Well he voted for something close to it

    “and euthanasia and will usher in the killing of the sick, the elderly, and the disabled.”

    I have never heard that from pro-lifers that Obam was pro all that. I think there are concerns that Govt Healt Care might lead to rationing but those end of life issues were not a big part of the pro-life arguement against Obama. In fact I think he said he was against euthanasia

  29. April 5, 2009 9:27 pm

    I got some criticism for a similar post contrasting the reception and honors shown Sarkozy with over-the-top reaction to the UND invitation of Obama.

  30. Kurt permalink
    April 6, 2009 8:11 am

    The LSU Board of Supervisors does not take a positon on abortion or the Mexico City Policy in the Defense of Marriage act or gay marriage. In fact out of the 5 Catholic non negotiables [sic] they are silent on all of them.

    Based on the anti-Obama rhetoric, it would seem they do take a position on these issues if they invite the President — the very act of allowing him to speak is a statement condoning these positions.

    Shouldn’t LSU resent and oppose their university making a statement in favor of abortion? Other actions of the state that support or condone abortion are opposed by the Pro-life Movement, why the silence here?

  31. April 6, 2009 9:07 am

    Are people here as willing to criticize the Vatican for the honors bestowed on Sarkozy as they are Notre Dame for its honors bestowed on Obama?

  32. April 6, 2009 9:19 am

    I’m trying to understand, MM, if your idea that it’s more conservative (and I get the impression generally admirable) from your point of view to present additional honors to those holding public office regardless of their moral stances is a general one, or simply one that’s useful at the moment in defending Obama.

    You’ve mentioned examples such as the Emperor Phocus here, and in the past as I recall Justinian, Clovis, Charlemagne, Napoleon, etc. All of these examples would seem to suggest we should support presenting people with additiona recognitions and honors simply because they hold great power and have achievements of scale (though not necessarily ones we admire morally.)

    And yet, as I recall, you’ve also repeatedly expressed your admiration for Anscomb’s stance in denouncing the awarding of an honorary degree to Truman. (Surely Oxford could have claimed that since it was not a degree for excellence in a-bombing that it didn’t relate to that specific action of his.)

    So aside from pointing out what you see are the contradictions of American conservatives (one more point out, BTW, that since we’re talking about American conservatives one would expect them to “conserve” the republican values on which the country was founded, which didn’t exactly include a respect for royalty) what is you actual position on granting honors to those whom you believe to have immoral actions or positions?

  33. April 6, 2009 9:56 am

    Darwin,

    First, yes, I think the appropriate conservative reaction is one of deference to the secular leader, for his role in the social order. Perhaps the fact that this seems strange in America is because America is, in many respects, the quintessentially liberal nation. My point here is that American conservatives are not conservatives at all.

    Second, as I noted in a previous post, I have divided opinions on this. One one hand, I have a bit of the European Christian Democrat in me, and so would haev no problem honoring Sarkozy (for the record, I personally have no time for Sarkozy). But I also have some of the Anscombian radical in me, who thinks that public figures need to me held accountable under the moral law. But perhaps we should distinguish here– Truman’s crime was of the highest order, and he was directly responsible for it. Neither Sarkozy nor Obama meet that threshold.

  34. David Nickol permalink
    April 6, 2009 10:35 am

    A number of questions were discussed in a thread over on dotCommonweal that were interesting. These are the questions in a slightly different form than I listed them over there.

    1. Does the Church’s position of what the law in a democracy ought to be regarding abortion carry anywhere near the same weight as the Church’s position on the impermissibility of abortion itself?

    2. Is a Catholic in serious dissent who would never have an abortion, never assist in the performance of abortion, and who professes to believe abortion is the unjust taking of an innocent life, but also believes criminalization is not the solution?

    3. Is it an infallible teaching that supporting legal abortion is a sin when a Catholic believes that criminalization would make the problem worse, not better?

    4. How did support for legal abortion become such a serious sin that politicians who support it are considered subject to denial of communion under Canon 915?

    I would say that the answers to the first three questions are “No,” and the answer to question 4 is a historical or sociological matter, not exactly a religious one.

    So in my opinion, all the controversy from some quarters over pro-choice politicians arises because many feel the Church has given a more clear-cut answer to how politicians in a democracy must deal with abortion than is actually the case.

    This is not to say that every Catholic pro-choice politician is acting legitimately according to his or her own conscience rather than doing the politically expedient thing. It is to say that it is a “prudential decision” for a politician how he or she should deal with the matter of abortion in a pluralistic democracy. The fact that abortion itself is “intrinsically evil,” and that all Catholics are morally bound not to procure an abortion or participate in the performance of an abortion does not make it clear how a politician (or a citizen) should vote on matters dealing with abortion.

  35. April 6, 2009 2:01 pm

    MM,

    I guess it strikes me that when one speaks of “American conservatives” the first word provides a context to the second. To the extent that the US was founded in the context of 18th century liberal republican ideals, it’s only natural that “conservatism” in the US refers to those seeking to “conserve” that which they consider admirable about that foundation (rather than “progressing” to some other system, whatever that might be.)

    Conservatives in another national or historical context might seek to support a different caust. In the English Civil War, the cavaliers who were supporting (to varrying degrees) absolute monarchy, the interests of the landed gentry over those of the towns, and a more high church approach to religion were the “conservatives”, yet it’s hardly surprising that in our own different time and place the values of conservatives are different.

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