Monday, April 13, 2009

Notre Dame and the Protest Cycle

The announcement of President Barack Obama’s invitation to give the commencement speech at Notre Dame is the occasion of the latest furore among internet Catholics.

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.


Daniel Kenney said...

Kevin: Great post. Protesting at Notre Dame because of their decision is not a bad thing. Getting on a bus to go to D.C. in order to protest Abortion Rights is not a bad thing. Certainly a lot of good can come from both. However, I have often thought that really finding pro-abortion people, striking up relationships with them, real relationships; and getting to the heart of what we are disagreeing about....may well be the more effective route to real change. And I think certainly would be the more heroic course. Same thing for the Notre Dame situaion....although, I hope Protesting and evangelization are Not mutually exclusive and I would hope we could do both. Keep up the great work Kevin...I enjoy your humor via Twitter!

Dan Kenney

eneubauer said...

I think it is a both and / not an either or. We should protest in mass and loudly...We should also work hard at true and loving evangelization and develop well formed Catholic Christians. Do both well and you will live in a world that will actually have to give an account to someone...

JRD said...

On the contrary: The Apostle admonishes, "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid," and again, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them:" "For what participation hath justice with injustice? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness?" "Go out from her, my people; that you be not partakers of her sins."

Todd said...

"They’d be better off inviting their neighbors and lapsed Catholic friends and relatives of ChiTown to dinner or even to prayer."

Not to mention volunteering at Birthright or some similar venue.

Chris said...

The problem with the "fraternal correction" over a cup of coffee standpoint, is that the breakdown begins with Fr. Jenkins and his associates and ends with the student body/sympathetic alumni. By not protesting, we send a message of validation not only to the supporters, but to the people who had the power to make this possible. God loves every one of us equally, but it doesn't stop him from using the power of discomfort to point us in the right direction.

Whether or not the protest cycle leads to further dimunition of ND's Catholic foundation (what's left of it) is subordinate to the obligation of every one of us to proclaim the Truth. I don't need to point out that Jesus didn't come to unite people (families, friends, etc) but to divide them by the sword of Truth. It's sad that it's gotten to this point, but here we are. We didn't choose this battle, it's been chosen for us.

Peaceful protests are appropriate and, frankly, a spiritual act of mercy at this juncture. Of course it needs to be paired with fasting and prayer and almsgiving, but any retreat from the obligation to proclaim the Truth, and ND will be lost for good.

Rdr Joseph Rice said...

i'm not Roman Catholic (i'm Orthodox), so forgive me for this question: but, as was pointed out on chris matthew's show recently, was there no brouhaha over pres. gw bush addressing ND when he signed many death penalty warrants as governor of Texas, and flatly ignored HH the Pope over the war in Iraq? in other words, why are many, if not most, pro-lifers (of which i am one) consistent pro-lifers and as equally against capital punishment and war as Catholic catechesis is?

thank you.

reader joseph rice

G said...

Mr Rice, Please do not equate the deaths of 4,000 per DAY in this country over the last 35 yrs with the war in Iraq or all the wars ever fought in the history of this country. Just do the math.
Kevin, Your post reminded me of the Lord saying "What did you come out into the desert to see?" to the Pharisees. In case missed it, prolife Catholics have been trying to have coffee & work for Birthright with pro-abort Catholics for the last 35 yrs. The upshot is where we are today. I've done & am now doing both myself but, I'm telling you, until we refuse to move to the back of the bus, we will continue to be expected to go there. For myself, I could care less but for children with NO voice, I have to be a voice. Period.

Sempringham said...

To reader Joseph Rice:

As I understand it, Bush spoke before the war in Iraq -- even before the 9/11 attacks. As to the other issues, the Church does not place the death penalty in the same category as induced abortion. The Church teaches that abortion is inherently wrong -- it is always the taking of an innocent, defenseless life -- whereas the death penalty is generally unnecessary and often cruel.

As to the questions about pro-lifers, war and capital punishment, most prolifers see this as a red herring, however sincerely it is asked. It changes the debate (and people's attention) from "what's wrong with abortion?" to "what's wrong with right-to-lifers?"

As someone who opposes the death penalty, and who marched against the first Gulf War, I must say that no-one ever asks me how people can oppose those without being pro-life. The idea that we must be consistent never comes up, except in the context of abortion. So it has been one of the abortion industry's most effective PR strategies.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has sought to work therapeutically with the paranoid and the guilt-ridden knows that a CONSCIENCE saturated with strict prohibitions becomes sterile, the opposite of creative, and so does the life of the person thus governed. The conscience challenged by norms what are contradictory, and yet that seem not to allow flexibility (no exceptions, no "epikeia", no "oikonomia"), is literally sickened, with devastating consequences for the relationship with the lawgiver God. Overcome by this "rigorism", (they) live in constant torture and fear of wrongdoing, but lack the power to see opportunities for doing good above and beyond the law. The capacity to love dies out. Building a creative conscience means getting to know Jesus, and through him the meaning of love; it rescues us from mechanistic images of the conscience and immunizes us against fanatical legalism.

Bernard Haring, CSSR, Building a Creative Conscience (article), "Commonweal", 8-11-89.


Jimmy Mac

Kevin Jones said...

Good comments, thanks to all contributors.

Regarding the lack of protest at other political figures: I myself have been considering the hypothetical of a President John McCain being invited to speak at Notre Dame shortly after overturning Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

Also, a politician who is pro-life except in "hard cases" could appear to be disqualified by some of the standards used to disqualify Obama.

Arguably, that pro-life-with-exceptions pol would still improve the present order, while our new president is certainly working to worsen it.

But then it's still a matter of quantity, since both are willing to allow an innocent to die.

Turning to other comments, obviously I'm not opposed to all protests. But the momentum of the pro-life Catholic establishment wasn't able to win the last election. Its members' alliances with and apologias for Iraq war hawks may have crippled political pro-life efforts for a generation.

Pro-lifers' considerable virtues have been used against themselves. Let's keep that from happening again.

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, I hadn't known that Notre Dame was in a state of flux, and thus worth fighting for.

I suppose that I am so used to Catholic organizations being devoured from within by parasitic leftism, that by the time I came around, there is nothing but an empty shell.

There isn't much sense in expending too much energy in admonishing the willfully deaf. The problem with such a protest is that it's silly. They don't care about you, only your money.

By protesting, you might get them to give a smarmy, patronizing attempt at an apology, but they don't care and aren't listening to you.

If you must, write a letter or call them on the phone, expressing your distaste for their actions, then let them wither and die when they fail to correct themselves. Anything more is wasted effort and looks absurd to onlookers.

Todd said...

There are degrees of cooperation with and engagement in direct evil. Like it or not, abortion is the choice of hundreds of thousands of American women--the responsibility doesn't begin and end with a president.

Capital punishment and unjust wars are much more directly the acts and the responsibility of the executive, governor or president. Nobody forces women (except in a few cases of parental notification, or in China) to abort a child. It's still a horrific situation, but a president's culpability in waging war has more grave implications than not denying women abortions.

The mental health of the pro-life movement is being tested. Is it possible to disagree on peripherals and maintain a certain unity with people who oppose abortion, but are unwilling to utilize certain strategies and tactics?

c matt said...

Is it possible to disagree on peripherals and maintain a certain unity with people who oppose abortion, but are unwilling to utilize certain strategies and tactics?I suppose that depends upon what you mean by "oppose abortion" and what particular strategies ans d tactics you would propose.

Todd said...

c matt demonstrates, willingly or not, the very point I'm attempting.

If some people took time to listen to other pro-lifers, let alone their ideological adversaries, they wouldn't have to sit up, scratch their head, and say, "What?" when presented with a new idea.