The booing and then chants of “Yes, we can!” by graduates of the nation’s premier Catholic university in response to a protester’s shout of “Abortion is murder!” during President Obama’s commencement address sent a chill through me.
The president of Notre Dame rationalized inviting a speaker upholding — and in effect promoting — what the Church defines as murder. On the other hand, Bishop John M. D’Arcy protested the invitation with 70 other bishops and refused to attend the commencement. But his remarks, like a lay group’s open letter to Obama, revealed tunnel vision on the evil represented by his election.
It emanates from the changes in the Church. The change in style from high liturgy to the whiny adolescent voice accompanying the plucking of the guitar string of the new folk mass in the 1960s was accompanied by the change in content, reduced to a one-note protest against abortion. Perhaps that is why Obama received 54% of the Catholic vote.
Obama’s faux hip style would likely appeal to those who go for today’s kumbaya forms of worship, such as the holding of hands during the “Lord’s Prayer” in many masses. Or the priest I heard in Holley, New York, who had come off the altar and into the aisle to talk in a confidential, folksy manner to the congregation who looked like they had just stopped into mass between their other activities that required no more sartorial effort than stepping into a pair of jeans. In the flattering soft tones that Flannery O’Connor would have zinged, he went on about the “Father, Son, and Mother Spirit.” To my horror, he explained this new feminine conception to the approving nods of the congregation’s Eves.
In many homilies, the themes of “social justice” and multiculturalism echo the lessons of the classroom. Rare is the Sunday when a priest does not caution his parishioners about the evils of “prejudice” — directed of course only at the white people who make up the overwhelming majority of the congregation. Like Julian of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” they salve their consciences through superficial displays of “tolerance.” In this way, the Church promotes people as groups, not individuals.
And yet the Church expects her young to condemn a leader — who comes from the dark-skinned group they have been taught to uphold — on the basis of one issue: abortion. Is it any wonder then that those at the commencement applauded Obama’s statement that both sides can “join hands in a common effort” on abortion? Why fault 22-year-olds who have grown up in a religious tradition that says very little, if anything, about the increasing power of the state? Does the Church say much about other violations to personal freedom, like the seizure of business, the breaking of contracts, and the breaking of promises about campaign funds and informing the public about legislation? The coming rationing of government health care? The ridicule of those who “cling” to their “religion”?