The truth about the Bishops and Notre Dame

Posted by Niall O'Dowd at 5/4/2009 4:11 PM EDT

South Bend, Indiana. It is hard to find a spot more idyllic in Spring time than the campus of Notre Dame. But all is not well on the hallowed turf which has become a battleground over the May 17 commencement speech by President Barack Obama and the honorary degree the college is awarding to him.

For once the football team’s spring practice is not the main topic of conversation. Instead, everyone has an opinion on whether the nation's leading Catholic university should have invited Obama.

The answer seems plain to me. It is a great honor to have a U.S. president come and speak to students and college president Father John Jenkins did the right thing.

Yes, there is profound disagreement with this president on issues such as abortion and stem cell research. But there was also profound disagreement with George W. Bush on the death penalty and he spoke here. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan also spoke here to little protest. So why is Obama being treated so differently?

Jenkins is being castigated in many quarters because of Obama's position on abortion. Anti-abortion advocates are also furious that the college is granting a degree to a man who does not share Catholic doctrine on this issue.

Apart from pointing out the obvious that Obama is not Catholic and that he has measured up to church teachings in so many other ways, such as compassion for the poor, it is interesting to examine just who is leading the charge against him and Jenkins.

Two of the most strident opponents to Obama are local prelates Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne Indiana, and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

They have peculiar backgrounds to be lecturing Obama about morality.

D’Arcy chose to keep quiet in the Boston sex scandals that almost brought down the church in the 1990s. A close associate of the disgraced Cardinal Law there, the evidence is clear that he knew pedophile priests were abusing thousands of young children in the diocese. He warned Law about several of them but did nothing when Law refused to act. In a time of great moral crisis he choose to go along with the cover-up.

The most notorious case involved Father John Geoghan whose presence was tolerated by Law and D’Arcy even after it was clear that he was abusing children in every one of the 10 parishes they rotated him through. In the end, D’Arcy felt it necessary to warn Law about Geoghan but by then the damage had been done.

This is the man who now seeks very publicly to lecture Notre Dame on morality issues and to question the ethics of Father Jenkins and the Notre Dame board in inviting the elected president of the U.S. He has no moral standing to make such accusations.

Cardinal Francis George put himself forward as a major opponent of the pedophile priest rings, until it was revealed that he too had covered up for one of his own priests who was charged with sexually abusing two minors.

Father Daniel McCormick was allowed to stay in his church even thought George knew that serious allegations had been filed against him. Later George apologized for his actions.

Is there anything more hideous than covering up child sex abuse? George of course, has no problem moralizing about Notre Dame and the invitation to Obama. Like D’Arcy he has failed the fundamental test of protecting above all the most vulnerable.

I think opponents of the Obama visit have every right to protest and to make clear their opposition, but the campaign is headed by two men who have no moral standing whatever to accuse Obama of looking the other way.

Ironically Catholicism works at Notre Dame better than it does anywhere else in America. That is clear from the 80 masses celebrated on campus every day, the steady stream of applicants for the priesthood from students there and the open and tolerant religious discussion that takes place there every day.

Instead of castigating Jenkins and Notre Dame, George and D’Arcy should take a hard look at why the college has been so successful for so long in creating the Catholic ethos. Then they should look at their own lamentable failings as shepherds of their flock and the most vulnerable in that flock. How they can keep a straight face when it comes to lecturing others on morality issues is beyond me.

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