The site Notre Dame Scandal has gathered more than 260,000 signatures protesting the invitation, including my own.
Considering the president’s immovable and extreme position on abortion, the protesters have just cause for their ire.
Yet their reaction suggests they could be playing a role in a vicious cycle which can end only in defeat:
1. The most rigorist Catholics stop supporting a Catholic school because of its dubious actions.
2. This makes the school more dependent on lax Catholics and non-Catholics’ support.
3. This leads the school to perform still more dubious actions...
4. Which then prompt more Catholics to withdraw support.
If this description is accurate, anybody who wishes to steal another Catholic university from the faithful who built it would simply have to instigate one or two large scandals to begin the negative feedback loop. The Cardinal Newman Society or the Catholic League could even be baited into helping alienate concerned Catholics from their institutions.
Granting that this cycle exists or threatens to begin, how could it be reversed?
Archbishop Chaput recently said we are witnessing the fruit of decades of complacency and bad catechesis.
Perhaps many Catholics and their organizations are spending too much time throwing rocks at the malodorous fruit instead of watering the tree’s roots.
Come commencement time, we can imagine that a few dozen protesters will leave Chicago, which spawned Obama the politician, to waste a day or two by padding an ineffectual crowd in South Bend. They’d be better off inviting their neighbors and lapsed Catholic friends and relatives of ChiTown to dinner or even to prayer.
Protest is often the opposite of evangelization. While evangelism proclaims the Good News that Christ is risen and has forgiven sins, the sentiment of protest can boil down to the statement “You’ve messed up big-time, jackass!”
Protest, too, falls short of that fraternal correction which is best done in the context of an existing relationship.
Until Catholic communities produce more committed student and academic leaders, higher education will want for such salutary relationships. For every internet comment trying to “scold a new church into being,” ten times as much energy needs to be expended to advance genuine Catholic renewal.