Archive for the ‘Catholic Identity’ Category

I’m the Pope, I Am — Not

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

There’s an old joke that goes “there may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but there’s no shortage of vocations to the papacy”. The point being that few people seem willing to turn their lives over to God in service of His people, while lots of people feel free to consider themselves the ultimate authority about the validity of Church teaching.

This strange phenomenon was on display once again in a recent article in the Washington Post, in which they questioned parishioners at a local church about the Holy Father’s comments on condoms. The piece was oddly entitled, “Faithful Have Mixed Views” — which was strange, since they didn’t quote a single person who accepted and supported the Church’s teaching on contraception and sexuality. Typically, the reporter quoted only those who openly stated their disagreement with the Church’s teaching.

The upshot of the piece can be summarized in one quotation from a man who was an usher at the parish:

“As a Catholic,”…  he opposed the use of condoms. “As a John Doe,” he said he approved. “It’s strictly personal,” he added, “a singular decision.”

There’s a word for that attitude, and it’s not “Catholic” — it’s “Protestant”.

At the heart of Protestantism is the denial of the authority of the Church to define matters of faith in terms that are binding upon all, and the freedom of individuals to determine the content of the faith.  This principle is called “private judgment”.

The Catholic approach to the faith is quite different. We are called to listen to the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome — the successors of the Apostles, who together constitute the Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, exercised under the command of Christ Himself and in His Name. We have an obligation to adhere to the doctrines they teach us, and to set aside our personal reservations.

The Catechism puts this quite clearly:

“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”…  Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (85, 87)

This is not mindless obedience, but is instead an exercise of the virtue of faith.  We should be actively receptive to this teaching, always seeking to inform ourselves better and to seek a deeper understanding of the will of God. The teachings of the Church are absolutely binding upon me in conscience, but I must always strive to better appreciate them with my intellect, and carry them out with my will.

This is not easy, and it runs very much against my nature.  I’m a skeptic and cynic, and I have a hard time believing things that I cannot see and test for myself.  But to be a disciple of Christ, I have to let go of that, and step out of the boat in an act of faith.

Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict during his recent trip to Great Britain, described the difference between private judgment and Catholic faith, and the Catholic attitude to the teachers of our faith, as follows:

Now, in the first place, what is faith? it is assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, because God says it is true, who cannot lie. And further than this, since God says it is true, not with His own voice, but by the voice of His messengers, it is assenting to what man says, not simply viewed as a man, but to what he is commissioned to declare, as a messenger, prophet, or ambassador from God. In the ordinary course of this world we account things true either because we see them, or because we can perceive that they follow and are deducible from what we do see; that is, we gain truth by sight or by reason, not by faith. You will say indeed, that we accept a number of things which we cannot prove or see, on the word of others; certainly, but then we accept what they say only as the word of man… We keep the decision in our own hands, and reserve to ourselves the right of reopening the question whenever we please. This is very different from Divine faith; he who believes that God is true, and that this is His word, which He has committed to man, has no doubt at all. He is as certain that the doctrine taught is true, as that God is true… and it gives this assent not because it sees with eye, or sees with the reason, but because it receives the tidings from one who comes from God. This is what faith was in the time of the Apostles, as no one can deny; and what it was then, it must be now, else it ceases to be the same thing.

In this light, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that I can accept a teaching “as a Catholic” but reject it “as John Doe”. I can no more separate my Catholic identity from who I am as a human person than I can separate my body and soul.  Who am I, and who gave me the authority, to do such a thing?

As Catholics, it should be our fervent prayer that we not try to set ourselves up as the popes of our own church.  Instead, may we always have the grace to conform our hearts, minds, and wills to the will of God, as expounded to us in the teachings of His Holy Catholic Church.

Witnesses and Candidates

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Whenever the Holy Father speaks out on the role and obligations of Catholics in the public square, his words should be attended to very, very closely.  His Holiness is deeply committed to promoting a sense of vigorous Catholic identity among the disciples of Christ, and to inspiring us to work to bring the Gospel to the world in all arenas of life.

So, when Pope Benedict addressed the Pontifical Council for the Laity last week, his comments were definitely worth noting.  Among his remarks, he said:

The Church concentrates particularly on educating the disciples of Christ, so that, increasingly, they will be witnesses of his presence, everywhere. It is up to the laity to show concretely in personal and family life, in social, cultural and political life, that the faith enables one to read reality in a new and profound way and to transform it; … that the fundamental principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church, such as the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity, are very timely and of value for the promotion of new ways of development at the service of every man and of all men.

It is of the competence of the faithful also to participate actively in political life, in a way that is always consistent with the teachings of the Church… Christians do not seek political or cultural hegemony, but, wherever they are committed, they are moved by the certainty that Christ is the cornerstone of every human construction.

This obligation is uniquely that of the Christian laity — to bring the teachings of the Church into the public arena so that the world may be transformed in light of the Gospel.  All too often, Catholics compartmentalize our lives, and put our faith on the shelf when we step into “politics”.  But this is not consistent with authentic discipleship.  When people look at us, even when we are in the public square, there should be no doubt that Christ is indeed the cornerstone of our lives and our political positions.

Of course, this is not easy.  the world is deeply hostile to the Gospel, and the temptations are ever-present to compromise, compartmentalize, and marginalize our faith.  The Holy Father is all too aware of this:

The times we are living in place us before great and complex problems, and the social question has become, at the same time, an anthropological question… The spread of a confused cultural relativism and of utilitarian and hedonist individualism weakens democracy and fosters the dominance of the strong powers. A genuine political wisdom must be recovered and reinvigorated… A real “revolution of love” is necessary.

And so, it is all the more upsetting when we see the sad sight of ostensibly Catholic public officials who are deeply immersed in the cultural relativism and individualism of which the Holy Father speaks.  It is all too common for politicians who were baptized as Catholics and raised in Catholic families to take positions that are thoroughly at odds with the teachings of the Church — for instance, the fundamental obligation to respect the dignity of every human person, and to respect and defend authentic marriage.

We now are faced with the sad spectacle of Andrew Cuomo, who is running for Governor of the State of New York and who was baptized a Catholic, yet is completely committed to the regime of legalized abortion, who is an ardent supporter of same-sex “marriage”.

The meeting to which the Holy Father delivered these remarks was entitled, “Witnesses of Christ in the Political Community”.  He was calling all Catholics to be witnesses, to bring the teachings of the Church to bear on the difficult problems of our age.

Sadly, all too many men decide to be candidates, and not witnesses.

Et Incarnatus Est

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Last night at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, there was a significant and beautiful Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  The occasion was to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation.   It was significant because of the message it conveyed, and it was beautiful because… well, every Mass is beautiful in its own way, but this one was extra special.

The Mass was celebrated in what is known as “the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”, which is to say according to the Missal used by the entire Church prior to the Second Vatican Council.  Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has promoted the renewed and wider use of this form of the Mass in his letter Summorum Pontificum.

The principal celebrant was Fr. James Miara, assisted by a number of other priests, as well as a full complement of servers.  The devotion and solemn dignity with which the Mass was celebrated was a powerful focus of prayer for all those present.  There was a spectacularly beautiful choir and schola who offered the majesty of Gregorian chant and other ancient music, to help us raise our hearts and minds to the worship of our Lord. (If you’re interested in seeing pictures of the Mass, check here.)

In many ways the high point of the Mass was that it was presided over by Edward Cardinal Egan, who also preached.  In his homily, His Eminence communicated a powerful message, stressing the Christian virtue of humble obedience to the will of God.  He explained this in terms of the feast day itself, in the humility of Mary’s “yes” to God.  He also noted that it was the fifteenth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s great encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, which calls us to obey the truths of nature and reason in support of “the incomparable worth of the human person”, made in the image of God Himself.  And he emphasized our duty of humble obedience to the Church in accepting the celebration of the traditional Mass.

To me, the Cardinal’s presence at a pro-life Mass in the Extraordinary Form was significant in two other ways.  It served as a reminder to us all that the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life is held and professed from the most humble levels of the Church to the highest.  This is not a teaching only for popes or bishops, or for activists.  To be Catholic is, by definition, to be pro-life.  Having a “prince of the Church” at the Mass, together with all of us ordinary Catholics, spoke that truth very clearly.

Also, it was reminder that this Extraordinary Form is an ancient liturgy of the Church, that traces its lineage back to St. Pius V in the sixteenth century, to St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and beyond him even to the apostolic age.  To have a successor of the apostles, an elector of a pope, preside at such an ancient expression of the rite of our faith, emphasized that the Church’s defense of human life extends back to the earliest days, to the apostles and to Our Lord Himself.

The Mass was sponsored by my Knights of Columbus council, Agnus Dei Council (#12361), the special mission of which is to promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to the traditional forms of worship, particularly the traditional Latin Mass.  This particular Mass is intended to be an annual event, an expression of a project of the Knights of Columbus to promote the Solemnity of the Annunciation as a day of prayer for the unborn.

We wished particularly to offer the Mass as a commemoration of the Incarnation of Jesus, and thus to recall the time when Our Lord resided in humility and secret in the womb of his mother, Mary.  We hope that all Catholics will come to see this Solemnity as a profound pro-life feast day.

By adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and by receiving Him, body, blood, soul and divinity at Mass, we Knights, and we Catholics, join with all the saints in glory and in history, to proclaim, as we do in the Creed, “et incarnatus est” — the Word of God has become man!

Religious Sisters Stand by the Bishops

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Although in recent days there’s been news of some religious sisters who have betrayed the Church by endorsing the Senate health care bill, there is hope:  the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious has issued the following statement in support of the bishops:

March 17, 2010

In a March 15th statement, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke on behalf of the United States Bishops in opposition to the Senate’s version of the health care legislation under consideration because of its expansion of abortion funding and its lack of adequate provision for conscience protection. Recent statements from groups like Network, the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) directly oppose the Catholic Church’s position on critical issues of health care reform.

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the second conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the United States, believes the Bishops’ position is the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.

Protection of life and freedom of conscience are central to morally responsible judgment.  We join the bishops in seeking ethically sound legislation.

Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, R.S.M.


On behalf of the Membership of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious

These sisters recognize and understand that when our Bishops call on us to unite in defense of human life, the proper response is to rally around their flag.

Let’s all join them.

Failing the Test

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

When the battle has reached its critical stage, and you are trying to find the way to victory against all odds, that’s when you need your friends and allies to stand by you.  It’s a time when those bonds of loyalty are tested.

And so we come to the case of the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals and other health care entities, and lobbies on their behalf.  Given the dire financial status of many Catholic health care organizations, the CHA has a keen interest in the outcome of the debate on health care reform.

It’s important to note that the CHA considers itself to be more than just a lobbying group.  It states in its mission statement that its purpose is “to support and strengthen the Catholic health ministry in the United States”, and elsewhere asserts that “Catholic health care organizations treasure their relationship with the Catholic Church and strive to protect their continuing ability to serve the health care needs of the United States while remaining steadfast to Catholic values.”

So, one would also think that the CHA had a primary interest in standing in solidarity with the Catholic Church, which is to say with our bishops.  And an interest in protecting human life.  And an interest in defending the right to conscience.  One would think that these concerns would out-weigh economic interest.

One would be wrong.

After months of ambiguity, the CHA came out of the shadows the other day and endorsed the Senate health care bill.  That’s right, the same bill that would establish abortion as just another kind of health care, as if it were the same thing as bunion surgery.  The same bill that would:  provide federal money to health insurance plans that cover elective abortions; impose a mandatory payment on those who are covered by those plans, specifically to pay for abortions; and fail to include adequate conscience protection for religious institutions.

In endorsing this evil bill, the head of the CHA made several statements that are astonishing in their naivete and moral obtuseness.  First, she claimed that the question of whether there would be federal funding for abortion was a “technical issue”.  Excuse me?  Whether federal funds would directly or indirectly pay for the destruction of tens of thousands of lives each year is not a “technical issue” — it is a moral issue of profound significance.  It’s hard to believe that the head of CHA doesn’t see this.  Of course, this is the same person who gave an extended interview about health care reform recently and somehow managed never to mention abortion or conscience protection.

Second, she expressed confidence that Congress would eventually address and correct these flaws.  I’m sorry, but nobody with any realistic understanding of politics believes that this Congress and President will permit, much less support, a stand-alone pro-life bill that would embody true protections for the unborn and for religious organizations.  It’s just delusional to believe that.

In the final analysis, any bill that endorses abortion as a routine kind of medical procedure, and that forces us to pay for them, is an evil bill that cannot be tolerated, but must be opposed with all our strength.  The Bishops of the United States, speaking both collectively and individually, have made this clear.   The desire for health care reform that would truly be just and humane is a good thing.  But not at the expense of destroying human lives and endangering the integrity of our institutions.

The CHA, unfortunately, has decided to collaborate with those who are inimically opposed to the dignity of human life, and to provide political cover for those who wish to vote for this bill.  The CHA has betrayed the Church at an hour when She needs all the support that She can get.

They have failed the test.

Oh, Yes, So Very, Very Tolerant

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

The forces of “tolerance” are on the move again, and have found their most recent victim.  The Archdiocese of Washington, faced with an unjust law that would have required them to recognize the validity of same-sex “marriages”, has been forced to withdraw from foster care and adoption services.

The basic facts are very simple.  The District of Columbia government was dead set on recognizing same-sex “marriages”, and had little regard for anything that stood in their way or any of the consequences.   Remember, the City government refused to allow the proposed bill to be voted on as a referrendum, refused to grant a reasonable religious exemption despite repeated requests by the Archdiocese, and imposed such a rigorous schedule for compliance with the law that Catholic Charities had little choice but to close down their program.  This was accompanied by a propaganda campaign that accused the Church of turning her back on the poor, even though, all along, it was the City government that was shoving the Church out the door.

This is not unprecedented.  Catholic Charities in Boston was forced to surrender its adoption services in the face of the Massachusetts same-sex “marriage” law, after the state legislature refused to grant an exemption.  And a few years ago, here in New York, we were lucky that the Court of Appeals struck down a New York City law that would have required all city contractors to recognize same-sex “marriages” — but they rejected the law on technical grounds, not because of the infringement of religious liberty.

Nor will it be the last time that it happens.  Other cities and states are likely to try similar tactics.   The legal community is unlikely to help.  After all, the Administration has nominated a person to serve on an important federal civil rights panel who believes that when “gay rights” and religious liberties collide, the rights of churches should lose.

In his famous letter in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, President George Washington pledged that the government of the United States would respect the religious liberty of all, demanding only that they be good citizens.  The letter is worth quoting here:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

President Washington’s promise is not being honored, in the city that bears his name.  Will it be honored elsewhere?

Prophecy and Notre Dame

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Well, the President got a rock-star greeting from the graduating seniors at Notre Dame University, and much back-slapping from the president of the university.

Here is an institution named for the Mother of God to our nation’s most prominent apologist, facilitator, and advocate for the modern-day slaughter of the innocents.

I understand the requirement of our faith to show respect for the ruling authorities, which is clear from Christ’s words to “render unto Caesar”, and Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to show respect for the governing authorities. But what went on yesterday in South Bend went far beyond mere respect, and went way into the boundaries of adulation.

Is this how the early Church Fathers would have related to Caesar? How about the Prophets — anybody recall back-slapping by Isaiah to Ahaz? All Christians are all called to be prophets by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We certainly didn’t see much of that in South Bend on Sunday – except at the prayerful response meeting that was held on the campus by those who were opposed to the President’s anti-life policies.

What is it about this man who temporarily holds the office of President that merits this kind of reaction? Even if you are totally behind his domestic and foreign policy agenda, how can that possibly outweigh his absolute, unalterable commitment to legalized abortion? Remember, this is the man who said that he wouldn’t want his daughter “punished” with a child if she got pregnant out of wedlock — calling his own grandchild a “punishment”.

The Catholic blogger, Amy Welborn, puts the question this way:

That’s the basic question, with all of its many implications. Do you recognize the preborn baby, even in the midst of the complexities of its young life, dwelling within the body of another, living with her own complexities in a complex, pluralistic society – as “the least among us” worthy of civic protection or do you not?

It is abundantly clear from the President’s record, agenda, and statements that he does not view the pre-born baby as worthy of any civic protection whatsoever, and that he is fully committed to advancing the power of others to destroy those lives for any reason at all.

And remember, as with any politician, you have to pay closer attention to what the President does than to what he says. You have to realize that when the President speaks of reducing abortions, he’s talking about supporting bills like the “Prevention First Act”, which involves funneling money to Planned Parenthood, flooding the country with contraceptives, and polluting the minds of the youth with biased sex education. He does not support authentic measures to directly encourage women to keep their babies, like the Pregnant Women Support Act.

Sadly, I think the problem is that far too many Catholics just don’t care about abortion, or don’t care enough. Sure, many of them will say that they’re pro-life, but when it comes to doing anything about it, or saying anything about it, they’re nowhere to be found.

As Archbishop Charles Chaput has written:

If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or the unborn. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste one another’s time arguing whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow balanced out or excused by other social policies… We cannot talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and admit what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves, and to God by claiming to oppose personally some homicidal evil – and allowing it to be legal at the same time.

That’s prophecy, that’s what a modern-day Isaiah sounds like. And that’s what should have been said to Caesar yesterday in South Bend — and to the Catholics in attendance — in place of the standing fawning ovation and craven backslapping.

Catholic Culture and Abortion

Monday, May 11th, 2009

In the upcoming edition of First Things magazine, editor Joseph Bottum takes up a very important theme — Catholic culture and identity — in light of the scandal over Notre Dame University granting an honorary doctor of laws degree to the President. A shorter version of the article can be found already at the Weekly Standard website. I think it’s a must-read article for those who wish to understand what it means to be a Catholic in the public square in this age.

Mr. Bottum’s theme is really very simple. He argues that the leadership of NDU, along with many, many other prominent public Catholics, particularly the leaders of Catholic universities, have found themselves on the other side of a cultural divide from mainstream Catholics. He summarizes it as follows:

…they live in a different world from most American Catholics. Opposition to abortion doesn’t stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t even stand at the center of Catholic faith. It does stand, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who — by inclination or politics — fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that the antagonism must derive from politics. But it doesn’t. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of many ordinary Catholics that the Church ought to stand for something in public life — and that something is opposition to abortion.

I think that is absolutely dead-on correct. To be Catholic in this age is to be pro-life. The two are inextricably interwound. All of the most dynamic parts of the Church today — the new religious orders and ecclesial movement, the emerging Catholic colleges, the World Youth Day alums — are more orthodox and more pro-life than the generation that passed throught the 1970′s. That’s where the future of the Church is going.

Meanwhile, in a perfect illustration of Bottum’s thesis, Peter Steinfels wrote last week in the Times on the “civil war” in the Church over abortion, as illustrated by the NDU situation. Mr. Steinfels has been writing these same kind of articles for many years now, and this latest example is pretty much the usual kind of stuff you would expect.

He just doesn’t get it. He seems to think that a division on this point is a bad thing, that it threatens the unity of the Church unnecessarily. He manages to interview or quote several sources who take that position, but he just wasn’t able to find anyone who disagreed with the decision by NDU to honor the President. All he managed to do was to find a public address by a bishop, and use that as the example of all the opposition. Are people like George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Mark Shea, et al. really that hard to find? Or is that he just didn’t think he needed to look for them?

It seems clear to me that Mr. Steinfels (like a lot of Catholics of his and my generation) is living in a culture that is far removed from the average American Catholic. Perhaps he should put down his copy of America Magazine or Commonweal and get out into the parishes or youth events or Knights of Columbus councils or Rosary Convocations more often, to get a better sense of where the Church is today. Hint — it’s not 1975 any more.

What I think is particularly valuable, though, is the cultural mindset revealed by Mr. Steinfels’ use of the “civil war” analogy. Let’s play that one out for a moment. One side believes in the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings and that all human beings should be protected by the law (think of Abraham Lincoln here); the other side thinks that private parties should be able to treat some human beings as if they were mere property and that those human beings should have no legal protection at all (think of the Dred Scot decision here).

Is it really that hard to see which side of this “war” Christians and all people of good will should be on? Why would anyone want to be on the other side? And isn’t it a “war” worth fighting and winning?

It seems obvious to me that this “war” — which is ultimately over the importance of human dignity and the value of every single human life — is the struggle that God has given to our generation, in order to test our fidelity. And we will be judged based on how we wage it.

A Study in Contrasts

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I would like to invite you to consider some photographs, and consider which is a true expression of Christian discipleship.

First, let’s look at some pictures from Georgetown University, the site of the President’s recent economics speech. According to news reports, in order to make the room more to their liking for a Presidential address, the Administration asked the University to make some changes in the room. This is the image of the site before the University redecorated, at the White House’s request:

This is what the key spot in that scene looked like after the redecoration (sorry about the quality of the picture, it’s the best I could find online):

Notice what’s missing?

That’s right, the gold-lettered inscription of the Lord’s name, IHS, was covered over by the University.

Think about that for a moment. A Catholic institution, covering over the name of our Lord, at the request of the government.

I wonder if officials at Georgetown University have read Mark 8:38 recently: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” I believe that passage can still be found in Bibles “in the Jesuit tradition”.

For contrast, check out this image from the installation ceremonies of Archbishop Dolan:

So there it is, folks. We can be ashamed of the name of Jesus, or we can embrace the Cross.

There really are no other choices.

I’m Not Embarassed — Notre Dame University Should Be

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I’ve already written on the disgrace of the University of Notre Dame giving an honorary “doctor of laws” degree to the President, who believes that unborn children do not deserve any protection of the laws and can be killed with impunity. I’m not going to go over that ground again.

What interestes me now is the strong reaction by the actually Catholic Church to this act by a dubiously “Catholic” university.

As of today, over 245,000 persons have signed an online petition protesting the award. A peaceful, prayerful demonstration was held at NDU on Palm Sunday, and over 400 people were present. Many leading Catholic thinkers and writers have expressed their disamy and outrage. And at least 16 bishops have spoken out — including the Bishop of South Bend, and two cardinals, one of whom is the incoming Chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the USCCB, and the other is the President of the USCCB. Our own incoming Archbishop has said that the university “made a big mistake”.

The most prominent response was from Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago and the President of the USCCB. His statement is significant, not just because he does, in some respects, represent all of the Catholic bishops of the United States, but also because of the strong historical connections between NDU and Chicago. Cardinal George’s statement was clear and precise, particularly in this comment: “Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation.” Just so.

With all respect to the Cardinal, however, I have to take issue with another thing he said. He stated that NDU is an “extreme embarrassment” to Catholics.

Sorry, but that’s just not so. I’m not embarassed, but NDU should be.

I must have missed the memo in which we were all informed that this “Midwestern university” (to quote Fr. George Rutler) is the shining exemplar of Catholicism in the United States. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers, and not Indiana, but NDU has nothing to do with my identity as a Catholic, and thus cannot embarrass me.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I did not attend a rival school to NDU, I couldn’t care less about college football, and I did not receive a rejection letter from them. I received my “higher” education from the pagans at Columbia and Harvard, and, to be honest, I have no regard for either place. Don’t get me started on what they’re up to.)

This whole affair, including NDU’s sad and pathetic attempts to justify it, should be — but apparently is not — an extreme embarassment to the NDU’s lay-controlled board, administration, faculty, alumni and students. After all, it’s their school. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have embarassed them at all. But it does not and cannot “embarrass” ordinary Catholics — it scandalizes, outrages, upsets, disappoints, and betrays us.

This scandal should also serve as a clear lesson in what happens when an ostensibly “Catholic” entity fails to place a vigorous and clear Catholic identity at the core of its “mission statement”, and then devote its energies to ensuring that it is so. Without that, these formerly Catholic institutions will drift into some kind of “in the Catholic tradition” limbo, where they like the historic sound of their name but are ashamed to have the Crucifix of Our Lord on their walls, or are indifferent to the teachings of His Church.

In this time of economic stress, there is a strong temptation to “privatize” Catholic entities like hospitals, charities agencies, and schools, to make them financially independent under the control of lay boards. But we’d better be very careful about who is selected for those boards, because unless they are deeply committed to living out and expressing their Catholic faith, then we’ll have a whole host of new NDU’s on our hands.

Cardinal George was absolutely right. This scandal shows that NDU has lost sight of what it means to be Catholic. It should serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to be clear about what it means to be an authentic disciple of Christ in all of our activities. All of them.