Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

May 19, 2009

Followup to Notre Dame

The best article I have found thus far on the Notre Dame commencement is from Joseph Bottom at First Things. Catholic Culture and the Notre Dame Protests builds on an earlier article in The Weekly Standard, and his published article in this month's First Things.

The bishops didn’t want this fight. The battle over the Catholicism of America’s Catholic colleges was coming, one way or another, but no bishop (or serious commentator, for that matter) hoped it would break into public view over a visit to Notre Dame by the president of the United States, who is owed respect simply for the office he holds.

Nonetheless, the bishops were forced into the fight—and they were forced into it from below. The incompetence and petulance of Notre Dame’s president, Fr. John I. Jenkins, didn’t help—as I observed in the pages of First Things this month, he had to work hard to turn “an unhappy situation into a disastrous one.” But the impetus for criticizing Notre Dame came at the bishops rather than from the bishops.

Maybe that’s why, if we shed the political view, the whole mess at Notre Dame reveals itself as a fight over Catholic culture. The protesters are certainly a minority among self-identified Catholics, but they are also the wire through which the most current is flowing in American Catholicism today. “Opposition to abortion doesn’t stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t even stand at the center of Catholic faith,” I noted in the Weekly Standard. Still, at the current moment, “Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life.”

Should it be so? Catholic theology would be peculiar if it had at its root a negation rather than an affirmation. Catholic faith would be unreal if at its deepest heart lay opposition to abortion rather than embrace of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to travel far in theology or faith to arrive at knowledge of the absolute evil of abortion, but neither theology nor faith properly begin there.

Still, Catholic culture—and the Catholic intersection with the princes and powers of earth—must always be adversarial in some ways. We have in this world no perfect home, and if right now the adversarial element is expressing itself most forcefully in opposition to abortion, then the culture of the faithful is manifesting something that deserves respect—something that deserves agreement.

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