Interview: Can Notre Dame Turn Back the Tide?
Fully Catholic without compromise. That's the approach to Catholic higher education that Pope Benedict proposes.
Patrick Reilly is the founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to renew and strengthen the Catholic identity at colleges and universities across the United States.
In this interview with ZENIT, he shares his perspective on the recent controversy surrounding the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Barack Obama at its commencement ceremony, and explains how this issue can be a springboard for strengthening Catholic identity at colleges.
Q: Many stories have been emerging about the pro-life response to the Notre Dame commencement ceremony. What kind of response did Notre Dame see that day from students and others who came together for the pro-life cause?
Reilly: The response to the Notre Dame scandal was immense and unprecedented.
More than 367,000 Catholics signed the Cardinal Newman Society's petition against the honor at NotreDameScandal.com.
Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the local ordinary for Notre Dame, boycotted the commencement ceremony.
Nearly 80 bishops, representing about one-third of the dioceses in the United States, spoke out against the honor, and none publicly supported it.
Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who was to receive Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal, declined the honor rather than share the stage with America's pro-abortion leader.
Notre Dame students organized prayer rallies, a Mass and an alternate ceremony for graduates.
I prefer to call it a Catholic response, since Americans tend to use "pro-life" as describing a political position. For the bishops and for the Cardinal Newman Society, this was not a political protest against the president, but a protest against Notre Dame's disobedience and betrayal of Catholic values.
Certainly the concerns about honoring President Obama centered on his support for abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research and U.S. funded family planning programs. But the outrage was directed at Notre Dame and its refusal to abide by the U.S. bishops' 2004 policy against Catholic institutions providing honors and platforms for public opponents of Catholic moral teaching.
It was American Catholics drawing a line in the sand, after decades of harmful dissent and declining Catholic identity at leading Catholic colleges and universities. It is the political left in the United States that tried to portray the scandal in a political context, while hypocritically accusing the bishops of political motivations against the president.
Q: Do you think it met the expectations of the organizers?
Reilly: It depends how one defines success. In the end, Notre Dame ignored the bishops. President Obama was honored by a Catholic university and delivered a well-received address, despite reasserting his pro-abortion position.
That has done significant damage, not only to the pro-life movement but to Notre Dame's integrity as a Catholic university. And it has caused many of us great anguish.
But as Christians, we have to see God's plan in everything. We share a Eucharistic faith; it is through the betrayal of Judas and the Passion that Christ is risen, and the Church is no stranger to suffering and betrayal from within.
These skirmishes only bring the truth to light in a culture that would rather avoid it. In the context of political power and worldly prestige, the Church lost this battle, and secularist educators and the political left enjoyed a minor victory. That victory is illusory, though, in the light of faith.
I believe this may have been a graced moment that gives us an opportunity to move forward in the renewal of Catholic higher education and the pro-life cause.
The extraordinary witness of the bishops and lay Catholics has brought much needed attention to the lack of Catholic identity at many U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.
Faithful Catholics are more committed than ever to a renewal of Catholic higher education.
I predict that the Notre Dame scandal will someday be looked upon as a watershed moment in the project begun by Pope John Paul II with "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" and continued by Benedict XVI with his vision for Catholic education, presented at The Catholic University of America in April 2008.
Q: Now that the graduation day is over, has the controversy ended? Or where do you see it going now?
Reilly: Already some university leaders have indicated plans to lobby the bishops to weaken or perhaps even rescind their 2004 policy against Catholic honors for opponents of Catholic moral ...
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