In the 1960s, the American Catholic Church, like the rest of the nation, underwent a period of tremendous upheaval. Proceeding from, though not limited to, the willful misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council by some in the clergy, thousands upon thousands left the Church; older members who could not withstand the confusion, and the younger ones who could not perceive an enduring faith amid the calamitous changes.
But as has happened countless times in her long history, the Church has, by the grace of God, seen good priests and bishops arise to bring her back. Yet still today, far too many American Catholics are like far too many other citizens of their country: they have a vague notion of their history or of the tenets on which they were founded, but not much more than that. Sadly, many of them get serious about the faith a few times a year, much like Americans who recall our founding principles only briefly on the Fourth of July, if at all.
Faithful, practicing Catholics are already painfully aware that, in addition to having to defend their faith to others, they must also sometimes explain it to their fellow Catholics. And, just as knowledge and respect for the U.S. Constitution and capitalism -- which were ingrained upon the American psyche for decades -- have faded into the past, so too it seems incomprehensible that today's Catholics need to be reminded that adultery, euthanasia, and the murder of the unborn constitute grave sin.
Upon this scene comes Barack Obama, the first American president to embrace abortion both personally and politically. Not only does he support a "right" that seeks to cut short innocent life, he has made the case that such life might be the "punishment" for sexual "mistakes." This goes beyond what even some of the most strident advocates of abortion have been willing to say in public, but such is the sorry state of morality in our country.
Now given Barack Obama's radical support of abortion -- even to the extent that he has voted that the lives of the survivors of this heinous act should also be snuffed -- you'd think that he would be wary of alienating the great majority of practicing American Catholics. Yet, spurred on by exit polling that suggests he won the overall Catholic vote by a slim margin, he has managed to elevate some of the most notoriously pro-abortion Catholics to important posts in his administration.
He has even reportedly gone so far as to try and nominate such nominal Catholics as Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to the Vatican. These choices, of course, have been rejected. Try this stinging rebuke from a Vatican source:
The Holy See has always set a very simple standard: the person should not be in opposition to fundamental teachings of the Church that belong to our common shared humanity. He or she may not believe in Catholic dogma if he or she is not a Catholic, but we could not accept someone who is in favor of abortion, or (human) cloning or same-sex unions equated to marriage. That is a fairly simple principle that governments like, say, Spain and Cuba, or Mr. Clinton's administration, have been able to understand without a problem.
Unfortunately, Obama's reward for all this is that he will be the sixth president to speak at Notre Dame and the ninth to receive an honorary degree from that formerly venerated institution. This despite the fiat from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that "…Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
No doubt Notre Dame and its leadership think that they are being courageous in honoring one who has so publicly spit in the eye of Mother Church, but it's hard to imagine why. In reality, true courage lies in opposing popular opinion in defense of principle. As Jesus explained:
If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:19)
And here is where we find that God does indeed continue to work in mysterious ways. Notre Dame and Barack Obama have combined to supply the Church with an opportunity to exercise one of its fundamental missions; to provide the faithful with a true teaching moment. Dozens of American bishops have issued statements condemning the Obama invitation and other indiscretions at Notre Dame, perhaps none more eloquently than Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska:
Permit me to add my name as well to the long list of Bishops of the Catholic Church who are utterly appalled at your dedication to immorality and wrong-doing represented by your support for the obscenity called "The Vagina Monologues" and your absolute indifference to the murderous abortion program and beliefs of this President of the United States...I can assure you of my prayers for your conversion, and for the conversion of your formerly Catholic University.
Harsh words indeed, but most welcome to the ears of faithful Catholics everywhere. Let us hope that more and more of our brethren will heed the voices of these brave bishops who understand that one's faith cannot be checked at the church door. And let us all pray together with Pope Benedict XVI who said in America last year:
Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means...rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, "there is no human activity -- even in secular affairs -- which can be withdrawn from God's dominion."