Honor, Dialogue and Conscience at Notre Dame

When I was at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Grade School in Fort Wayne, in maybe the fourth or fifth grade, the principal came into our classroom to tell us that we should all be very proud because an alumnus, Tom Freistroffer, would be going to Notre Dame to play football. That is when I first became aware of the Notre Dame mystique.

I grew up an hour away from the South Bend campus, within the same northern Indiana Catholic diocese. Although our family allegiance went to Purdue, my dad’s alma mater and an in-state sports rival of Notre Dame, we did make several visits to Notre Dame over the years.

One of my mother’s relatives, Jim Danehy, taught chemistry at the school and was known campus-wide as the classical music host for the school’s radio station. While visiting the Danehy family, my siblings and I traipsed the beautiful grounds of Notre Dame, prayed at the Lourdes grotto, celebrated Mass at the school’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and raised our arms to acknowledge “touchdown” Jesus, the famous mosaic on the wall of the University’s library overlooking the football stadium.

Jim was both extremely smart and a devout Catholic. His basement was filled with books on a wide range of subjects, a wonderland for addicted readers such as me. As time has passed, I have met and have been inspired by other Notre Dame faculty and alumni who exhibit the same enthusiasm for faith and reason.

Their witness has helped to guide me in my professional and personal life, which has taken me down paths that require constant interactions with others who disagree with my core convictions. That is why the current controversy involving the decision of the University’s President and its Trustees to give an honorary law degree to President Barack Obama is more than just a headline to me.

The root question raised by the Notre Dame situation is how are we to deal with evil in the midst of good? It is a question that arises when we ponder the radical imperfections within ourselves, in others and in the world around us while at the same time wanting to acknowledge the good that we possess and see in others and in our world due to God’s providence.

For example, when I struggle with personal sins sometimes I find myself being tempted to focus on my good qualities as a way of avoiding the seriousness of what is spiritually at stake. I am not a bad person, I tell myself, in a manner that minimizes the wrong I have done.

One time, while contemplating this evasive maneuver, I happened to glance at a nearby crucifix, and a thought transfixed me. My sins caused Jesus to suffer. Why do I choose to act in a way that causes my Savior’s agony? Then it occurred to me that Jesus died for my sins because he willingly endured the pain caused by my sins. Why would He do that? He did it because of the good that exists in me.

I felt new courage in facing and taking full responsibility for my own weaknesses and, with the help of sacramental reconciliation, that courage became the source of a new and greater good within me. In that instance, the dying to self that my glance towards the cross occasioned did not dishonor whatever good I possess. Instead through God’s grace that good became stronger.

How does this apply to the recent events at Notre Dame? Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins explained at the commencement that the motivation for honoring President Obama was to recognize the good found in his personal qualities and achievements, in his success in breaking the color barrier to the presidency, and in various policies that his administration has initiated or will seek. Father Jenkins asserted that “if we want to enter into dialogue” on issues of disagreement, “then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others.”

In other remarks delivered during the program, after commending the “lonely, courageous, and conscientious choice” of Mary Ann Glendon to refuse an award and the opportunity to speak at the same commencement, Judge John Noonan said that while he respected her decision, “I am here to affirm that all consciences are not the same.” “We can recognize great goodness in our nation’s president without defending all of his multitudinous decisions,” Judge Noonan continued, and therefore “we can rejoice on this wholly happy occasion.”

I could not and did not rejoice. To me, in the bestowal of the honor and the justifications given for it, there seemed too little of the cross and self-denial. Instead I was left with the impression of a minimizing of injustice conjoined with, as the local ordinary Bishop John D’Arcy observed, a suggestion of a desire for greater prestige.

Among the unjust proposals threatening the dignity and sanctity of human life espoused by the Obama Administration, the White House has moved already to expand federal support for abortion and embryo destruction. In his commencement remarks, Father Jenkins touted the President’s initiatives on healthcare, the economy, and the climate among other laudable but secondary concerns. It was as if, when comparing good and wrong, advances on these fronts could outweigh the President’s full-scale retreat from protecting innocent human life itself.

Moreover, the argument that bestowing an honorary degree is essential to dialogue fails to consider all of the ways that a relationship suitable to dialogue can be built. Such an argument cannot adequately explain why Notre Dame and other Catholic institutions have not and will not likely ever bestow honors recognizing the good qualities of advocates for racism, for example. In the end, honors employed and justified in such fashion will only dull the recipient’s conscience and encourage the continued bifurcation between morality and policy that plagues our society today.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy and Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.

World
Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Nation
Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

Nation
People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Nation
Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

Nation
CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

World
The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

World
Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

World
Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Nation
Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Nation
Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Nation
Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

World
Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Nation
Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

World
Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

World
God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

World
Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

World
Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Nation
Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

Nation
N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Nation
Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Nation
Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Nation
Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

Nation
#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Nation
Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Nation
Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

World
Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...