Questions Still Linger About Obama and Notre Dame

South Bend Prelate Invites Universities to Reflect

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana, AUG. 25, 2009 ( According to the bishop of South Bend, there are still questions to be answered about the turmoil that arose when the University of Notre Dame bestowed an honorary doctorate on President Barack Obama.

In an article in the Aug. 31 issue of America magazine, Bishop John D’Arcy spoke of some of the issues surrounding Obama’s May 17 reception of the degree and the commencement address he gave at the university.

The prelate contended that the turmoil was not about Obama or political parties. Rather, he said, “the response of the faithful derives directly from the Gospel. In Matthew’s words, ‘Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your heavenly Father.'”

Before Obama’s appearance, Bishop D’Arcy spoke out against the Notre Dame decision and was backed by some 80 bishops and 367,000 Catholics who publicly echoed his concerns, saying the university’s president was compromising the school’s Catholic identity by honoring Obama.

In the America article, the South Bend prelate noted that the university president did not consult him about the decision to invite Obama. And, he continued, pointing to 24 years as bishop of the diocese, “I have never interfered in the internal governance of Notre Dame or any other institution of higher learning within the diocese.”

“However,” Bishop D’Arcy affirmed, “as the teacher and shepherd in this diocese, it is my responsibility to encourage all institutions, including our beloved University of Notre Dame, to give public witness to the fullness of Catholic faith. The diocesan bishop must ask whether a Catholic institution compromises its obligation to give public witness by placing prestige over truth.

“The bishop must be concerned that Catholic institutions do not succumb to the secular culture, making decisions that appear to many, including ordinary Catholics, as a surrender to a culture opposed to the truth about life and love.”

What’s to come

The South Bend prelate went on to note the “so many ways” in which Notre Dame is “a splendid place.” But he said, “the questions about the relationship of the university as a whole to the Church still stand, and what happened on campus leading up to and during the graduation is significant for the present debate about Catholic higher education.”

“In this time of crisis at the university,” the bishop affirmed, “[a group of] these students and professors, with the instinct of faith, turned to the bishop for guidance, encouragement and prayer. This had nothing to do with John Michael D’Arcy. It was related to their understanding of the episcopal office — a place you should be able to count on for the truth.”

In the spirit of recognizing bishops as “teachers and pastors,” the prelate concluded with questions for “Catholic universities in the diocese I serve and to other Catholic universities.”

“Do you consider it a responsibility in your public statements, in your life as a university and in your actions, including your public awards, to give witness to the Catholic faith in all its fullness?,” he asked. “What is your relationship to the Church and, specifically, to the local bishop and his pastoral authority as defined by the Second Vatican Council?

“Finally, a more fundamental question: Where will the great Catholic universities search for a guiding light in the years ahead?”

Regarding the last question, Bishop D’Arcy mentioned Pope John Paul II’s “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” which, he said, “speaks constantly of truth and the pursuit of truth. It speaks of freedom in the broader, Catholic philosophical and theological tradition, as linked to the common good, to the rights of others and always subject to truth.”

And on these three questions, the bishop declared, “rests the future of Catholic higher education in this country and so much else.”

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