In the last few days a handful of "agents of intolerance" have piped up to criticize the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to address commencement this Spring.
FOX contributor Newt Gingrich even twittered it writing, "It is sad to see Notre Dame invite president obama to give the commencement address Since his policies are so anti catholic values." (The typos are verbatim.)
This criticism is almost becoming an annual event that is, as one Catholic priest put it, as predictable as "tulips in Spring."
This is an effort by a small cabal of ultra-conservative partisans to separate Catholicism from its calling for social and economic justice and peace. A Republican operative who has simultaneous roles at other Right-Wing groups founded the group attacking Notre Dame.
There are similar efforts housed in Right-wing institutes and non-profits that seek to influence protestant churches and Judaism. Their goal is to undermine religious social thought that might tilt things towards progressive policies rather than the now-failed conservative policies. And this isn't about abortion. For the funders of these groups this is about the giant fights in Washington right now over the economy, health care and the future of our planet.
These Obama and Notre Dame critics are not speaking for a serious number of the tens of millions of American Catholics who voted for Barack Obama--nor even probably most of those who voted for John McCain.
As an alumnus of Notre Dame (Class of 1997 and one-time class president) who has gone on to a career in Democratic and progressive politics I am proud that my alma mater is welcoming our president.
There is no doubt that Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, will disagree with the president on specific issues like abortion. But there is a great and large swath of Catholic teaching that addresses policies for people who are poor, sick, aged, immigrants, those with disabilities, war enemies and those in prison. These attacks on Notre Dame are an attack on Catholic social teachings.
And there are several Catholic thinkers and academics recognizing that at this moment in our history perhaps we need a renewal--or in religious terms--a revival of Catholic social thought.
Professor Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, a Catholic scholar, professor of law at Notre Dame for nearly 20 years, a staunch pro-life Republican and a former Reagan administration legal official made just this case in endorsing Barack Obama during last year's presidential campaign. He wrote recently in response to a reporter's query that:
Given the jolt of the present conditions, all of us will have an opportunity to re-think the extent to which we in our individual lives have become servants of money and thus allowed the agents of debt finance to wrongfully-direct our vast technology and personal talents simply toward the multiplication and satisfaction of consumerist and materialist attitudes. There is a real chance of redirecting our know-how to the preservation of the environment, a more soundly balanced work-family relationship, and energy policies that will make it unnecessary to occupy foreign nations--from which, by the way, the President is bringing our troops home--yet, another, campaign promise, if not moral achievement, to praise....
The charges by the Cardinal Newman Society and their ilk are not representative of Notre Dame students or alumni--nor the vast majority of weekly church-going Catholics like myself. They should be dismissed for what they are--a radical ultra-conservative cabal driving a political agenda through Catholicism.
Those of us who support Notre Dame need to rally behind the university at this moment. The Christian Right (made up of evangelical protestants) is now getting behind this effort with a phone calling campaign. They have a tremendous organizing capacity that is matched on the other side only by secular groups who won't instinctively weigh into a debate like this.
I urge my fellow Notre Dame alumni, family members and supporters to contact the university and show your support for Notre Dame and President Obama.
Rev. John Jenkins,
CSC400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Yours in Notre Dame.