NOTRE DAME, Indiana (Glob)– Sometimes the story in a story is not the story everyone thinks it is. Sometimes the important story is not recognized at all in its time. In this particular case regarding the Scandal of Notre Dame
the hype occludes something far more interesting.
For those arising fresh to the Notre Dame/Obama fricassee, here is a brief summary: Notre Dame (which means Our Lady) has a long storied history. It is a highly respected university, not the least reason of which is the theology inherent in an institution billed as a Catholic University.
Obama will be the sixth president to be the commencement speaker at Notre Dame. This gives you some idea of the prestige of this institution. It has been something of a tradition for lo these many decades to invite a newly elected president to speak. In reality, there is every indication that this is nothing more than a continuation of this tradition. However, this year is a little different.
Like many other things traditional in this nation, the 60s were hard on Notre Dame. It was during the 60s that many Catholic Bishops and Priests publicly dissented from Pope Paul the VI teaching on contraceptives. The board of directors for Notre Dame, working with a compliant priesthood nominally in charge of the University, responded to the changing world view brought by the 60s. As a result of direction taken by this board, there has been in many minds a precipitous loss of certain conservative values such that there are many Catholics today that question whether or not Notre Dame deserves the moniker ‘catholic’.
Which brings us to now. Obama is seen by many as the most pro-choice President ever to reside in the White House. This belief is based on both his campaign promises prior to election and his actual deeds since elected. The fact of his Presidency has prompted a vigorous and focused response from the pro-life side of the world.
As there are many high-profile politicians that state they are Catholic while holding views inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching, more and more attention has been focused by Bishops and the like regarding the Catholicity of these politicians. So much so that directions were even given to various Catholic organizations advising them to not scandalize the populace by honoring such public figures. The word scandalize here has a more nuanced meaning to Catholics than the dictionary would suggest. Scandal in the Catholic world is anything that might lead one into sin. So, if your Representative is both Catholic and Pro-choice, then to honor this Representative could lead others to believe that killing babies is really OK. And thus be lead into sin.
Perhaps you can see now why the uproar over Obama. Here is the most pro-choice man ever in the White House selected to be the commencement speaker at the most prestigious Catholic University in the country. The scandal potential is quite high.
But, I don’t think that is the story here.
The far more interesting story can be found in the answer to a question I heard on the radio. The show is Catholic Answers Live and the question was “Can’t the Pope simply rescind the invitation to Obama?” There were variations on this theme, including essentially sacking the priest that made the invite, taking over the University, etc. The answer from the professional apologist was “No. The Pope does not have that authority.”
Not said, but nevertheless the case, is that Pope Benedict the XVI would not do so even if he could.
The Authority of the Pope is nothing more than a teaching authority. The Pope is not going to send Imperial Storm Troopers (the Swiss Guard) to take over Notre Dame. The teaching authority of the Pope is not one of coercion. Why do I find this so interesting?
Because it says something about a world view fallen from favor that needs to be re-discovered. Coercion denies free will. Yet, coercion proves free will. You cannot coerce something that can’t desire to do their own thing. Because coercion is possible, it must be avoided out of respect for human dignity. Far far more damage would be done to Notre Dame and Catholics in general if the Pope were to force the University to rescind its invitation. A certain credibility would be lost to the ages. A certain moral authority is necessarily abrogated by the use of force. Pope Benedict is all too cognizant that the quote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was said about the papacy.
The authority of the Pope is nothing less than a teaching authority. There is no purer nor higher authority, there is no greater privilege and responsibility available to a human being than to teach truth. The truth is that abortion is murder and killing is wrong. Both are abuses by one in power over one defenseless. The Pope’s respect for this is in the fact that he does not tell people what to do or else. No, he exhorts. Allegiance due to coercion is not allegiance. Coerced belief is not belief.
Though people want things fixed right now a forced fix is a false fix. You don’t prevent the abuse of power by abusing power. True power, true authority is found when one helps a mind come to know the truth. The Church is now presented with a Teaching Moment. But, teaching takes time and real teaching never happens without charity.
Notre Dame, Obama, and Everything. We find here a microcosm of our society and the world. The lessons to be learned and taught in response to this event are the answers to everything.