A House Divided

There were two commencement ceremonies at Notre Dame on Sunday. One was the media event in which alleged prestige trumped the truth that you cannot honor a man, president or not, whose policies are unabashedly pro-abortion without honoring abortion.

The other took place at the grotto and on the west mall, untelevised, in the shadow of Rockne Memorial, at which the Mass and prayers, principally the rosary, were offered in reparation for the administration’s unconscionable sleeping with the enemy. And speeches were made, most notably by Father Wilson Miscamble, CSC; Professor David Solomon, director of the Center for Ethics and Culture; Chris Godfrey; and Father John Raphael. The Orestes Brownson Society gave their Bishop D’Arcy award in absentia to Mary Ann Glendon.

Of course the administration has tried to call black white and portray its betrayal as somehow a statement of its largely muted pro-life outlook. The fallacious defenses on the part of a once stellar philosopher, Father John Jenkins, continued in his introduction of the president, exhibit how corruptive of clear thinking holding high office can be. Not since the local lands were wrested from the Indians has a white father spoken with such forked tongue.

It is the students who have stood tall, retained clarity of mind, and refused to accept that their Catholicism could be switched off in order to sup with the devil. Among those at the alternative commencement, the one in fundamental continuity with the noble tradition of a great Catholic university, were some graduating seniors.

It might be thought that it would require something far less momentous than this moral crisis to make absence from a commencement ceremony, even one’s own, unattractive. Nonetheless, most seniors, many with misgivings, attended the equivocal occasion under the dome of the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center. There, smooth talk reigned and listeners were invited to view this shameful occasion as fulfilling the wishes of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. (In a later column, I will discuss the notion of "dialogue" that was invoked in the Joyce Center.) The senior class was divided by this unfortunate invitation; so was the university, so were the alumni and so were Catholics throughout the nation.

This division among Catholics has been widening for more than forty years. How did it come about that so many Catholics have such a mushy notion of what it means to be a Catholic? The teaching of the faith since the close of Vatican II in 1965 has been scandalously inadequate. In many cases it has been the deliberate substituting of stones for bread. It began with waffling on contraception when theologians, real or self-proclaimed, impudently rejected Humanae Vitae, one of the great encyclicals of modern times. The scandal of the encyclical was that it placed Catholics on one side of a line and the zeitgeist on the other. Yet dissent from it was allowed to flourish. Moral theology went into steep decline and the official body of Catholic theologians issued Human Sexual Morality in which doubt was cast on the long tradition of teaching on pre-marital and extra-marital sex, abortion, masturbation, homosexuality, divorce – a systematic dismantling of Catholic moral teaching.

All that is an old and oft-told story, still largely ignored officially. There grew up the notion that dissent from clear Church teaching was okay. With time, the difference between the moral teaching of dissenters and what was dismissively called "official" teaching blurred. Generations have been given a distorted notion of the faith. It is no wonder that Catholic politicians undertook to support policies in flat contradiction to what they purportedly believed privately. And so it was that on Sunday at Notre Dame faithful Catholics were regarded as dissenters. To such disfavor we have come.

If the Obama invitation has stirred such passionately prayerful reaction from an heroic band of students, from alumni and Catholics across the country, and – mirabile dictu – from more than seventy bishops, it may prove to have been providential, an opportunity for Catholics to recognize that their house is indeed divided.

Anathemas have been called for. Some long to have Notre Dame declared non-Catholic. Perhaps it will come to that, but the awakening of the laity, simple priests, a large number of the bishops, suggests that this is a possible epiphany. The sad fact is that people act contrary to the faith without realizing that that is what they are doing. A heretic chooses the opposite of the faith, but when in the present confusion as to what is in and what is out, heresy is not the appropriate word.

And so, on Sunday, surrounded by priests and all the panoply of Notre Dame, the smiling Caesar, thumb turned down on life, was engulfed in allegedly Catholic applause. Elsewhere on campus, faithful Catholics gathered and sent up prayers of reparation.

Ralph McInerny is a writer of philosophy, fiction, and cultural criticism, who has taught at Notre Dame since 1955.

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  • John S.

    Dialogue has a place with those good will with differing opinion on issues not touching on intrinsically evil actions. Would Fr. Jenkins invite, honor and dialogue with the president of a pro apartheid regime?, the leader of an anti-semitic group?, or any number of other intrinsically evil positions?

    In addition, it is remarkable that a Catholic priest, a representative of Christ, was arrested on the campus of Notre Dame, for protesting honor being given to a pro abortion politician.

  • Dustan Chaff

    Dr. McI,
    It would seem to me that what you say is true about the poor catechisis of the laity in the past 40 years. I was afflicted with this as part of the back end of the boomer generation but have been in orthodox recovery for about two decades. The leadership of Notre Dame and other “Catholic” institutions cannot be excused by the same diagnosis. I am just an old soldier wth no letters behind his name but this sure looks like in-your-face disobedience, pride and heresy.

  • Loe’


  • denton

    From an old Marine convert to Catholicism who happens to be an armchair Thomist, to a great Thomist Catholic philosopher who’s also a Marine, Semper Fidelis, Dr. McInerny, Semper Fidelis.

  • Andrew

    It seems to be the honest pursuit of man to aim at truth…Catholics (by definition of being Catholic) maintains the Catholic Church’s magisterial teachings on Faith and Morals is Truth. To intentionally and willfully disagree with a Truth of the Church is to cease to be Catholic. To oppose official church teaching IS ipso facto to reject Catholicism… I don’t understand why people think they can be Catholic yet NOT BELIEVE WHAT CATHOLICS BELIEVE…what else is there to being catholic?

  • Harriette

    Bravo. Professor McInerny! I was appalled by Fr. John Jenkins’ introduction of Pres. Obama to the Notre Dame audience. I doubt if there is to be found anywhere a finer example of obsequiousness in the annals of commencement speeches. Obama presemted himself in his usual warm,articulate style. Giving forth lovely, hopeful words belied by his actions.

  • Joe

    Unfortunately, we have to face the facts ND can no longer be considered a Catholic insitution. I was talking with a woman who had financially supported ND, but no more. A shame that Jenkins has no clue of what he has done. And for Mr. O, talking about “common ground” on abortion at ND –he knows there is no such thing. And as he has made evident with all his speeches, it is his way or the highway. Pray and pray hard.

  • William Dennis

    Where is Screwtape?
    Dr.McInerny your article portrays well the scandal in our Holy Church. One doesn’t have to look at ND to find this same scandel. How often does one hear from our Catholic friends, ” I don’t believe in confession or the Real Presence or we should have female priests?” These comments elicit that common thought, “who died and left you boss?” Well the fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ died and left his Church boss. Like it or leave it. ND and others have substituded our God for the state god.

  • William H. Phelan

    In 1967, Notre Dame and other “Catholic” colleges and universities told everyone very plainly they were no longer Catholic. Now we see impotent Bishops struggling with what they and their predecessors did not do, to whit, address and resolve this fraud which was allowed to thrive for forty years. Abp. Weakland’s book could not be more timely as it describes the caliber of “men” who have been leading the Church for decades.

  • Bradley

    We can do better
    What does this anger accomplish? It does not clarify Church teaching, which is already clear. It does not help true believers, who need no help. It does not convert those living with/in the zeitgeist, as most human beings don’t respond kindly to invitations to accept the Truth if they are addressed to the devil. Will a woman contemplating an abortion today be converted by this column? Conversion is hard work, and we too are culpable if we turn our backs on those who seek truth with sincerity.

  • Tom Cabeen

    What drew me, a new (2006) convert to the Catholic Church from Protestantism, is the assurance that the Church retains the teachings received from our Lord by the apostles and passed down intact from generation to generation. Dissent is not new; it has been here from the beginning. We will always have a sure touchstone by which we may confidently stand for and live by something more than our opinion. The Church will remain solid; let us pray for strength to remain faithful to her teachings.

  • Angel

    We have Catholics over the past 40 years who have grown up with dissent from Catholic teaching, most notably in sexual ethics. Little wonder most ND grads went. They haven’t seen the Catholic faith lived at home. Why would they sacrifice their grad? They likely haven’t seen parents sacrificing to have many babies or even one other baby. Faith is strengthened by living it fully. What they have witnessed is contraception, abortion, sterilization and the pursuit of the material.

  • Laura

    In one book that presents an interview with Cardinal Ratzinger (I belive it is Salt of Earth) he says that he sees that in the future the Church will have less but more engaged members. I think that the members that leave the Church after this kind of situations are the ones whose belives are not profound. those who doesn´t study the doctrine or attend frequent sacraments. So the loss will not be much.
    The ones that remain will need to work harder to be Light of the World Salt of the Earth

  • Beth

    Thank you.
    Dr. McInerny, Thank you for this excellent statement of Truth. It is this type of argument–straightforward, no apology, clearly stated–that draws people like me toward Rome. The RC Church offers what few, if any, evangelical churches offer any more: a stand to take. I find it a blessing to read that which is true, and not merely “sincere” with “warm fuzzies” to tickle the ears. God bless your work for His Kingdom.

  • William H. Phelan

    There is no anger in my e-mail, Bradley, and I know your comment was not directed specifically at me. We should be very grateful to this confluence of events as it helps to explain how we Germans, I am sorry, we American were comfortable standing by while 50 million of our fellow citizens were murdered. A friend just returned from Akita, Japan where he met the seer (a Japanese nun) who was told in 1973, in an apparition from the Blessed Mother, there would be a Great Chastisement!

  • Stella Milam

    What a fantastic article. You clarified the problems of the division seperating the Catholic faithful. We, in the pews on Sunday, see this division and lament it. Those of us who remain faithful to the teachings of the church are sometimes looked upon as out casts. We don’t belong in most American Catholic churches. May God bless our country and our heritage. May we return to being a nation under God, and may the Catholic faithful return to their true Catholic roots. Again, thank you!!

  • Lynn

    I don’t have anything to add except my thanks for your continued efforts. Those of us who are faithful to the teachings of the Church need more voices like yours.

  • Ed Peters

    Beautiful essay.

  • Bradley

    To Mr. Phelan
    Mr. Phelan,
    Sorry to disappoint, but my comments were actually directed at the author, Prof. McInerny.
    P.S. You must be losing your touch. There was no way to weave the AIPAC story into this article?

  • Michael

    Well, one thing that has changed since V. II is the fact that “salvation comes only through the Church”, and that Church is the Roman Catholic Church. If some want to leave the church and jeopardize thier mortal soul for eternity that fine with me..As for me I believe in the Holy Mother Church, and the traditions that have been handed down from Jesus and the apostles.
    Jenkins and his kind have placed their souls in mortal jeopardy.

  • Joan McGittigan

    wonderful article
    All I can say is thank you. This helps although I do not believe my faith will sustain this latest disobedience and disreguard! We are surely a Church in crisis.

  • Shawn

    I do wish that the bishops would be more vocal and do more to ensure that at least the basics of Catholic faith are taught clearly. In one sense it was heartening that a large number of bishops spoke up about Notre Dame. On the other hand, it is a bit worrying that more than 2/3 of the U.S. bishops did not bother even to comment on the open and notorious flouting of a rule that they established only five years ago.

  • Liz

    Yes, this did start over 40 yrs ago – and our Catholic leadership has been quiet about it until the past few years. When the likes of a Fr. Drinan & Co. show the Kennedy family how to “make aborrtion ok” – or when the Land O’Lakes group makes policy – and Catholic hierarchy does not step in – or when Canon 915 is ignored – what do you expect!! Cafeteria Catholiics think they are good Catholics because NO ONE has told them otherwise! Our Church needs strong leadership- NOW!!

  • Laura

    Thank you Professor McInerny. Beautifully stated.

    I just got my weekly email from America Magazine and asked myself one more time … why? They are so far on the left that they are almost unrecognizable.

  • Achilles

    Wil P., The two men leading The Church for decades, John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict, are perfectly representative of the cognative dissonance that the gross generalizations you make here promote. It seems to me you are speaking of the “caliber” of men leading the church based primarily on the negative scandals. It must be convienient to ignore the high percentage of high caliber men to support your ranting. I might agree that we can see tendencies of totalitarianism, but call us Germans?

  • Fr. Michael Lyons

    Prophetic Fight Song
    Keeping in mind that “Notre Dame” is French for “Our Lady,” who, we are promised, will crush the serpent’s head, the Notre Dame Fight Song can prove to be prophetic and inspiring:
    Cheer, cheer for ol’ Notre Dame, wake up the echoes cheering her name.
    Send a volley cheer on high, shake down the thunder from the sky.
    What though the odds be great or small,
    ol’ Notre Dame will win over all
    While her loyal sons are marching onward to victory!

    This decribes the event Mr. McInerny attended.

  • Guillermo Bustamante

    Major purge needed
    The Notre Dame scandal should be a MAJOR WEAPON to be used by dear Abp. Burke in Rome, for purging the hundreds of lukewarm (and I’m being gentle) bishops, and millions of Cafetería Catholics in USA.

    Please support his efforts: talk the talk AND walk the walk.

  • William H. Phelan

    After the Nuremberg Trials, Gen. Eisenhower DEMANDED the German people see the concentration camps to see what they had allowed. Their response “I did not know it was happening” and “I was following orders” The best reply-“we would have been killed”. NOT HERE.. I wonder who will insist we visit the abortuaeies after the Notre Dame Trials?

    By the way, thanks for the nudge on AIPAC! They were with Mr. Netanyahu in the Oval Office this morning giving Mr. Barack his orders on attacking Iran..

  • Brad Miner


    The management would like to remind those who write comments at this site that: 1) civility is essential; 2) comments should address the day’s column; and 3) The Catholic Thing reserves the right not to post comments that fail to be civil and/or pertinent.

    Brad Miner, Senior Editor

  • Charlie

    Thank you, Prof. McInerny.

  • David

    Some consistency please
    Brad, re. your note on civility: should this not also apply to columnists? Today, Professor McInerney referred to President Obama as “the devil.”

  • Susan

    Excellent analysis, Dr. McInerny, except….why do you remain at Notre Shame? What would finally have to happen to induce you to leave an institution that is so thoroughly corrupted? Is it possible that you also are being used to tempt people to rationalize that there is “balance” at Notre Shame in the same way that Mary Ann Glendon was? I feel like a firefighter pleading with someone to leave the burning building before others (new students) endanger themselves rushing in to the rescue.

  • Brad Miner

    Brad’s response to David

    The standards of civility apply to all. As to Ralph McInerny’s evocation of Dr. Johnson’s famous quip that he “who sups with the devil must use a long spoon,” it was not, in my opinion, aimed at POTUS but at the willingness of Catholics to welcome public officials, laws, and policies that abide abortion and other anti-life, anti-Catholic principles.

    Brad Miner

  • Kate Ernsting

    It has been impressive to see some of the bishops and Mary Ann Glendon take stands on this. In the long history of taking stands on faith principles that have political implications, there have been some really classy ones. This one reminds me of Pope Gregory at Canossa, receiving the Henry the Holy Roman Emperor in sackcloth and ashes. May we all be able to act on our convictions with the same kind of courage and class.

  • Rick Hnat

    Great job Mr. McInerny. Our house is divided as in the Arian Heresy and during the reformation. As a Protestant who reunited with the Church of Our Lord it scares me to see Bishops making the m
    Mass more Protestant. I did not join the Church to become Protestant again. The changes in the m
    Mass that started with Vatican II are the root to the poor catechises of the faithfull today. Tradition was cast away. Vatican II has caused a second reformation. Satan continues to divide the faithful.

  • Bob Cheeks

    Postmodern Conservative.c
    I intend to make it a habit to turn to Dr. McInerny for wisdom and clarity, both of which were exhibited in the finest essay on the question of the Enlightened One’s pilgrimage to Notre Dame. I shall link to this essay on my next blog over at pomocon (First Things).
    It is because I believe in miracles and in the hard work of people like Dr. McInerny that I think Notre Dame can, indeed, be ‘saved!’

  • therese

    “Perhaps it will come to that, but the awakening of the laity, simple priests, a large number of the bishops, suggests that this is a possible epiphany.”
    I’m sorry, I have to disagree. I know you work for NDU & so this has to be hard on you but I’ve lost a daughter to abortion, so its hard on me too. She’ll never have a chance to ‘dialogue’ or ‘stand tall’ with the other students on your campus. The time for fence-sitting is, as you rightly point out, over. That’s what got us into this mess.

  • John Jay Hughes

    A searing critique, fully merited and elegantly framed.

  • mwa

    To Susan (comment 32)
    Dr. McInerny is retiring from ND this June; see his article “Is Obama Worth a Mass?” on this site

  • Achilles

    Brad, I owe Wil an apology. I disagree so fundamentally with his conclusions that seem to me to be grand sweeping generalizations based on myopic, peripheral and minute evidentiary facts. It is obvious that Mr. Phelan is sincere and intelligent. While we are brothers in Christ we seem not to share first principles when it comes to logic and Truth claims. I thought this would be an excellent forum to dialogue to common ground. I only comment on Wil’s statements because these very issues are . . .

  • Achilles

    Student, continued
    . . . these very issues are so important today. If I have been inappropriate or rude, I sincerely apologize to all who are rubbed the wrong way and especially to Mr. Phalen. Achilles

  • Brad Miner

    To Achilles
    My comments regarding civility were not aimed at anyone in particular, and we at The Catholic Thing want spirited comments. Your response to my post speaks well of you, and I certainly hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts with us. -Brad

  • Andrea Maciejewski

    How wonderful are the works of the Lord! Thank you for this articulate article, which has brought so many of us together!

    What happened Sunday was disgraceful. My husband and I watched on tv, and we payed attention. It was truly sinister.

    But how many united as true Catholics as a result! Who are we to say how most Catholics should act? God’s grace touches us all in different ways, and maybe this mass Catholic lunacy is the fire that lights the Church militant into loving action!

  • Randy Watts

    My prayer is that God will send us bishops and university presidents with the clarity of thought and the moral conviction of Ralph McInerny.

    Professor McInerny rightly cites God’s penchant for choosing “the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” and “weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”. My money is on the faithful at the Rockne Memorial and their God.

  • Susan

    Thank you for clarifying mwa (no. 41) and apologies for presumption and my congratulations to Professor McInerny.

    My question still stands for those teachers who consider themselves Catholic but are teaching within such a deeply Protestant university. Please leave the burning building lest a naive soul think it safe to enter. Please let go of the prestige and be willing to become “a fool for Christ”!

  • Patricia Samodelov

    Isn`t this all to be laid at the foot of the bishops, most of whom feared speaking truth after Vatican II? At a time when the people needed the strongest voices of modern times, they heard almost nothing. And as for pastors, those men so good at raising large buildings, they and clerics under them usually proclaim little of value, and with styles of speaking that nearly put one to sleep. O well the Spirit is not near.

  • Randall Milburn

    Canadian citizen
    This is truly a tragic event but be grateful that in the United States you at least get to voice your opinion. The situation is even worse in Canada where people are not even allowed to discuss this for fear of being charged with crimes by the Human Rights Commission.

  • Peter F. Hughes

    Thank you Dr. McInerney. I too have often wondered why holy mother church has failed to act. Many years ago a close friend and priest told me that by the year 2000 we would not know the Catholic Church

  • Diane Louise Antoni

    Notre Dame Shame
    In my small opinion, the past forty years of mushy catachesist has contributed greatly to this lack of Catholic unity. I am very proud of the bishops who spoke up and of the many students who did the same, however. Notre Dame is no longer a Catholic University in my thinking.

  • Simeon Stylites

    pole sitter
    What is mushy are these essays that lump dissent from HV with dissent on abortion. Abortion is infallibly condemned in Evangelium Vitae sect, 62 and Humanae Vitae was introduced at its press conference as non-infallible twice by the papal spokesman, Msgr. Lambrushini. Are people making money off this fake conflation? Moral theology tomes allow prayerful and studied and counseled dissent with the non-infallible issues but not with infallible issues. Stop with the essays that conflate the 2.