Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Appealing and Hopeful "Catholic America"

In his regular Washington Post column, “Catholic America,” Anthony Stevens-Arroyo (pictured at right) takes a “closer look at Church, culture, and change.”

Now, I must admit that up until quite recently I’d been unfamiliar with Stevens-Arroyo’s writings. That’s all changed thanks to the
Progressive Catholic Voice and, specifically, my friend and fellow PCV editorial team member Rick Notch’s daily compilation of news and views links.

I particularly appreciate Stevens-Arroyo’s recent column on “Obama, Discrimination, and the Catholic Right” - highlighted today by the PCV. Why? Well, this particular commentary by Stevens-Arroyo is positive in tone, well-informed, pragmatic, at times humorous, and well-written throughout. Not surprisingly, it conveys a refreshingly astute and engaging sense of humanity. There’s no stridency or snarkiness; no one’s belittled – all of which I find appealing and hopeful. Oh, and I got a chuckle out of Stevens-Arroyo’s observation that the selectivity of the bishops and other protesting Catholics in this matter makes them “cafeteria Catholics”!

Following is an extended excerpt from Stevens-Arroyo’s “Obama, Discrimination, and the Catholic Right.”


It appears that some bishops live in a bubble, surrounded by yeah-sayers. Pronouncements are made with the apparently unfounded assumption that no one – not even those outside the Church – will dare to question authority or deliver consequences to questionable actions. Such a mentality covered up pedophilia among the clergy and has tarnished not only the reputation of Catholic bishops, but of all of us.

I think the attack on Notre Dame and President Obama is unwise. I’m not accusing these bishops and their allies of being too political – I think they are not political enough. There are certain basic rules to public pronouncements about religion that are foolishly being violated here.

Rule One is to choose a terrain on which you can prevail. Taken from military strategy, it applies to politics as well. The university is too well-known, too strongly established as a Catholic institution to be threatened by boycotting bishops or snide letters ridiculing a long history of Catholic intellectuality [Archbishop Nienstedt, please take note!]. By insisting on a duty to be open to different opinions, the university makes the protesters seem only one step away from book-burners. Protest against academic openness comes across badly in the media.

Rule Two of Politics 101 is to avoid the numbers game unless you have an insurmountable lead. When right wing bloggers brag about 166,000 plus protesting emails, they need to remember there are 54 million U.S. Catholics. A percentage of .003% response is not intimidating. Likewise 150 right-wing students hardly stir ripples on a campus of 8,000. Even two dozen bishops writing letters doesn't compare to more than 400 bishops in the country. In each of these cases, non-protesters greatly outnumber dissenters. As St. Thomas More insisted: Qui tacuit consentire. The failed strategy of the right-wing leaves the door open for Notre Dame to claim that it represents the “silent majority.” Moreover, the campus newspaper reported that 97% of the student letters supported the invitation to the president, while most of the complaints came from off-campus. No pitch-fork revolution here!

Rule Three is to avoid claiming your demand is motivated by a higher morality unless the opposite position is clearly immoral. The university has made the case that the invitation to President Obama is in keeping with similar invitations to past presidents. He is honored as president and not for any specific moral position of his like abortion or stem-cell research -- the dissenters’ most mentioned issues. The protesting prelates are claiming that no Catholics can honor a U.S. president whose stated positions deviate from the ones those bishops hold. This stance would represent the higher moral ground, except for one important detail: there was no protest over Bush’s Republicans speaking at Notre Dame. With the toothpaste out of the tube, it’s too late to claim moral superiority.

Let it be said that in contrast with the previous administration, President Obama agrees with much of the Church’s teaching on matters like unions, social justice, the unjust Iraq War, government-sponsored torture, disarmament, immigration reform, health care and the like. Thus, these bishops and their allies are in the untenable position that the university may honor someone who disagrees with say 97% of Church teaching (Condoleezza Rice) – as long as the 3% of the issues supported include abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. This selectivity makes the bishops and the dissenters into Cafeteria Catholics – those who choose only certain Church issues in partisan politics. Moreover, by tolerating a 97% violation of Church teaching, the protesters also prove they can’t count.

Obama is enjoying extremely high popularity ratings and is not seen by most Catholics as being the “agent of evil” denounced by the right-wing of Catholicism. The single-wing game plan against Notre Dame is going to lose this one.

To read Anthony Stevens-Arroyo’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What the Notre Dame Controversy is Really About and What’s Really at Stake
A Mountain Out of a Molehill
What Does It Mean to Be a Catholic University?
A Not So “New” Catholic University

1 comment:

crystal said...

I like him. I've been reading his posts at On Faith.