Given the problems he’s faced with these days -- health care, Iraq and now the exodus of Democrats such as Patrick Kennedy and Evan Bayh from the House and Senate -- President Obama probably looks back fondly on the days when the biggest problem in his life was a bunch of angry Irish Catholics at Notre Dame.

Last year, Obama was invited to give the commencement speech at the Catholic university famous for its Fighting Irish sports teams. Some people applauded the invite, since colleges are supposed to be a forum for debate.

Others, however, were outraged.

Ralph McInerney, an Irish American professor at the college, wrote, “Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law. That abortion and its advocacy violate a primary precept of natural law reinforced by the Catholic Church’s explicit doctrine is a mere bagatelle.

“Wackos of all kinds will kick up a fuss, of course, but their protest will go unnoticed in South Bend. The pell-mell pursuit of warm and fuzzy Catholicism will continue.”

McInerny died last month at the age of 80. He was also a popular novelist who inspired the Father Dowling TV series, starring Tom Bosley, in the 1980s.

It might seem tempting, if a little disrespectful, to see this passing as symbolic -- yet another old school Catholic moving on to what is hoped to be a better place, leaving the church down here slightly more tolerant and open-minded.

But that’s a simple-minded way to see things, even if you disagree with the likes of McInerny. When it comes to religion -- among the Irish and Irish Americans in particular -- things are a lot more complex.

You might even say there is a Tea Party of sorts going on within the American Catholic Church.

For many of us, yes, the abuse scandals and the outdated sexual rules have made the Catholic Church as it exists today a dinosaur. It is slouching towards extinction, and if it doesn’t reform itself, it may stay that way, at least in the U.S.

Liberal Catholics from Susan Sarandon to Kerry Kennedy espouse beliefs similar to this. But there is another wing of Catholics is the U.S. You might call them Tea Party Catholics.

Whatever you think of the current Tea Party wing of the Republican party, we can agree they didn’t throw their hands up in disgust and walk away from the debate. They got angry and they organized.

McInerney was one such Irish Catholic. Tom Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza founder, who donates millions to conservative Catholic causes, is another.

Patrick Reilly, founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes “authentic” Catholic college education is still another.

These thinkers don’t agree on everything. But rather than seek the spotlight, they have found solace in medieval philosophy and refuse to believe such a worldview is irrelevant in the 21st century.

When not churning out best-selling mystery books, McInerny founded a magazine called Crisis, which sought reform in the Catholic Church, but not Kennedy-style reform. The church was not intolerant, but too tolerant, McInerny and his followers believed.

I think it is even fair to say these guys would not have a problem if such changes forced, say, half of the Catholic Church’s current members to abandon the faith. This, I think they believe, would be a fair price to pay for spiritual purity.

Such thinkers may not seem popular or glamorous. But they are now so influential that a New York Times Magazine cover story last December reported that their philosophy “has found support among a group of Catholic bishops who have become some of the most persistent critics of President Obama.”

The article continued, “Alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, the group had come together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. (They) promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience.”

You say you want a revolution? Well, we just might have one. Where it stops, nobody knows.

(Contact Tom Deignan at or